Monday, September 24, 2012

What Book(s) Changed Your Life at OBU?

We've hit pretty hard lately. Our post on the religion/ministry dean's unilateral search for a fundamentalist Bible prof is already the most-viewed post in Save OBU's history.  We've revealed President Whitlock's departure from the rigid orthodoxy of SBC elites on women deacons and the Baptist World Alliance.  I'm sure his boss, Dr. Jordan, and his friend, Dr. Norman, have corrected his liberal heresies by now.

Time for a softball question -- one that I hope many of you will answer.  In Friday's post on OBU's new Women in Ministry course, an anonymous commenter noted that his/her life was changed after reading The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan.  I received several emails to the same effect.  (Let's see how long it takes for Provost Norman to ban the book from OBU's curriculum...)

It got me thinking... What books changed my life at OBU?  And I want to ask: What books changed yours?

To me, it seems overly dramatic to describe reading a book as life-changing.  (Maybe I just haven't read the right books?)  Maybe the problem is that I tend not to read many novels.  Since college, I've probably only read 8 or 10.  It's hard for books on sociology or politics to change your life!  But one book from Western Civ has loomed large in my mind and imagination over the years.  The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton is a beautifully-told story of a young man who struggles to reconcile the desires of his heart with the expectations and obligations of his family and community.  It's one of the few books I've read multiple times.  For many emotionally difficult years of my life, I resonated with the angst of the protagonist, a young lawyer named Newland Archer.  Ultimately, I hope to find the right balance between reason and passion, monotony and adventure, responsibility and excitement -- all themes the novel explores.  Also, though there is no sex, the story oozes with sexual tension.  Kind of like Bison Hill, haha!

It sounds cliche, but the most life-changing book was and is the Bible.  I had read it a lot over my 18 years, but usually only a sentence or two at a time.  At OBU, I really read the Bible.  OBU encouraged me to read the text seriously rather than literally, and I guess you could say my life was never the same after that.  I also read books about the Bible that helped me synthesize my new knowledge with a theology that I could believe honestly and with integrity.

While on a date with my girlfriend at Zio's in Bricktown, we met a waiter who mentioned that his pastor was preaching a series of sermons about a new book, Stealing Jesus: How Fundamentalism Betrays Christianity.  The book made sense of what I was learning and what I had experienced.  It argues that the divide in American religious life is between legalistic and compassionate religion --- between the "Church of Law" and the "Church of Love."  I eventually ended up accepting this stranger's invitation to attend his church, where I worshipped regularly during the later part of my time in Oklahoma.  Though I am unknown to him, I count the church's minister, the Rev. Dr. Robin Meyers, as the pastor who influenced most greatly and most positively.

Around the same time, I came across the writings of the Rt. Rev. Jack Spong.  On a summer road trip to Alaska in 2001 with my best friend from back home, I read Spong's book, Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism: A Bishop Rethinks the Meaning of Scripture.  In this book and a dozen others, Spong lays out a vision for what theology might look like if we take the Bible seriously rather than literally.  Of course, few of my classmates affirmed this kind of thinking or believing, and none of our professors would have endorsed it.  But for me personally, as I was struggling to reconcile what I was learning about the Bible with what I believed about God, salvation, ethics, and the church, Spong was tremendously helpful to me.  On page 24 of this book, Spong writes,  "A literal Bible presents me with far more problems than assets.  It offers me a God I cannot respect, much less worship; a deity whose needs and prejudices are at least as large as my own.  I meet in the literal understanding of Scripture a God who is simply not viable, and what the mind cannot believe, the heart can never finally adore."

So, that's my story.  Now I'd like to hear from you.  Please share in the comments below, or on Facebook or Twitter, what book(s) changed your life at OBU!

Friday, September 21, 2012

OBU Evolving on Women in Ministry?

In the past, we've expressed some disappointment and dismay at the blatant and not-so-blatant sexism in the OBU universe.  I took a crack at the topic early on in the Save OBU era.  Veronica followed up with a post on the plight of two specifically disadvantaged classes of women at OBU: administrators and students pursuing a ministry vocation.  Veronica also did a great post on women at CCCU universities, pointing out that if you're a female administrator in Christian higher education, it's best if you're at an institution that isn't "intentionally Christ-centered," because they are significantly less likely to have female presidents  I also took a light-hearted look at a book on "biblical womanhood" by an SBC seminary president's wife.

Yet this week's Bison had two stories of interest to the subject of women in ministry.  Briefly, the first story really surprised me (page 9).  It was about a female United Methodist minister and her life of service.  I grew up in the UM Church, and had an absolutely gifted female pastor from 1988-1992, during which time I made my Confirmation.  The UMC has been ordaining women since 1956.  I was pleased that the Bison article focused on this clergywoman's ministry and took as a given the authenticity of her call.  Most SBC pastors and almost all SBC elites disparage women's calls to pastoral ministry.  W.A. Criswell, when asked about a woman who believes God called her to be a Southern Baptist pastor, said, "She is mistaken.  God never called her.  Her own personal ambition, or longing for recognition, or a thousand other things led her into that persuasion."

The second story (on page 10) describes a new course being offered on women in ministry.  Naturally, most people expected this class to be the typically restrictive "So ladies, do you want to be an organist or a children's director?  You could marry a pastor..."  But the article indicates that the class is actually much more than that.

There are two required texts, according to the Tree of Life bookstore.  One is The Feminine Mystique, which I would be amused to see on the shelves at Tree of Life.  The other is a 20-year old evangelical takedown of feminism.  Well, takedown is too strong a term.  Presumably there are other readings.  And the class no doubt includes a lot of discussion of the issues raised.

I don't know what perspective the (adjunct?) instructor is coming from, and, contrary to what some of Save OBU's critics believe, I don't really care.  The news account indicates that the course is going well.  Students at least have the option to come away affirming that God calls women to  be pastors, bishops, professors of theology, and any number of ministerial vocations that the SBC and much of Christendom has obsessively restricted women from entering.

This new ministry class is happening in the context of other issues and events that suggest that OBU is relatively more progressive on gender than most Baptist institutions.  A number of female OBU graduates are admirably serving as ordained pastors.  On OBU's Facebook page over the last year, I've seen at least a couple women preaching in the Raley Chapel pulpit.

Perhaps most significantly, President Whitlock may not be nearly as retrograde in his views on this subject as his BGCO and SBC elite friends would like.  Most of the H.R. problems regarding women originated in the provost's office, not the president's.  And, significantly, multiple sources report that Whitlock told a group of laypeople at First Baptist Church of Oklahoma City that he didn't see anything wrong with women deacons.

The context of this admission was a speaking engagement at OKC, First shortly after OBU put Herschel Hobbs's name on the religion and ministry department.  Showing his relative ignorance of Baptist politics, Whitlock asked, "Why have people been upset in the past with FBC?"  Of course, anyone who knows anything about this subject knows that FBC has for decades been relatively moderate and virulently hated by the BGCO.  It elected women deacons for at least a few years in the 1970s and early 1980s.  This prompted the Capital Baptist Association to refuse to seat FBC's messengers at its annual meeting.  FBC also had a few relatively liberal pastors since that time.  Whitlock is on record as affirming "complimentarianism," so all in the conversation were shocked that he would affirm women deacons.  He would never utter such blasphemy in the presence of, say, Rev. Dr. Anthony Jordan.

I'll be the first to admit that I've perceived OBU to be quite backwards in its attitude toward gender.  I've thought this from the first days I spent on Bison Hill until now.  But maybe things are changing.  If David Whitlock isn't a sworn fundamentalist who wants to send women back to the kitchen, he may yet be a great leader as OBU evolves on this issue.  From women deacons to the Baptist World Alliance to allowing a course for students to explore the issue of women in ministry, Whitlock is proving to be quite the moderate.

To which we say: Come on in, the water's fine!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Bob Agee Returns to Bison Hill

Thanks for helping make last Friday's post, on an OBU dean going around faculty to fill a vacancy.  The post made the rounds on hundreds of computers, tablets, and smartphones in Shawnee and OKC, of course.  But it was also seen by alumni and friends in 2 dozen U.S. states and many foreign countries.

This week, we turn to a happier subject.  OBU President Emeritus Bob Agee is speaking in Raley Chapel this morning.  His sermon text is the 91st Psalm ("He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.")  Given that, there's no reason to assume Dr. Agee would publicly address the problems that faculty, students, and alumni who care about academic freedom, integrity, and respectability have been concerned about over the past two years.

We can only hope and trust that Agee brings a message of inspiration, challenge, and encouragement to the OBU community.  Considering that Baptist higher education has been his life's work, the speech should be a treasure.

Yet we wonder what advice Agee might offer President Whitlock, Provost Norman, Dean McClellan, and the few others who have abided the recent fundamentalist encroachment at our beloved OBU.  Previously, we've held out Agee's presidency as a golden era of excellence at OBU:
The 43-year old president found faculty morale to be low when he arrived in 1982 (though nowhere close to how low it is today).  He forged personal relationships with faculty and made three brilliant appointments to the position of chief academic officer (Shirley Jones, Pat Taylor, and Joe Bob Weaver, respectively).  These gifted leaders each earned and sustained the faculty's trust and confidence.
Significantly, President Agee kept OBU safe from the denomination's Fundamentalist Takeover even as he maintained good relations with the increasingly fundamentalist BGCO.  Though the BGCO's subsidy (as a percentage of OBU's budget) was cut in half over Agee's tenure (a fact we will revisit later), Agee managed the university's relationship to the convention skillfully.  He befriended Rev. Joe L. Ingram, who was BGCO executive director from 1971-1986.  It was Agee who announced with pride that OBU would name the religion department in Ingram's honor.  (Sadly, fundamentalists later formally censured Ingram months before his death for "consorting with moderates.")  Agee also worked well with Ingram's successor, Rev. Dr. Bill Tanner, a former OBU president.  By the time the Rev. Dr. Anthony Jordan took over the BGCO in 1996, it seems the young gun (Jordan) had to defer to the elder statesman (Agee) somewhat.  Obviously, in time Jordan would learn to work behind the scenes to wield power in OBU governance and affairs. 
President Whitlock owes his election, in large part, to two traits he possesses (along with Agee) that his predecessor (Rev. Dr. Mark Brister) lacked: a background higher education administration and a natural ease with Oklahoma's Baptist clergy and laypeople.  Yet for all his considerable talents, we must hope that Whitlock will be willing to learn from Agee's example.
Agee remains close to Bison Hill.  His consulting company has helped with OBU's pending acquisition of our Yellowstone Retreat Center Campus.  As a senior advisor to Union University President David Dockery, Agee surely has aided Dockery become the Baptist university president who is widely acknowledged to be the best at an increasingly impossible task: mediating between the needs of faculty and students at a legitimate educational institution and the wishes and demands of increasingly fundamentalist SBC and Baptist state convention leaders.

(Incidentally, Dockery's Union is where Whitlock reluctantly dispatched Norman to learn how to be a provost after faculty incredulously complained in 2010 about Norman's meddling in personnel decisions.  Upon returning to Bison Hill, Norman annoyed and insulted faculty even more.  He kept talking about how everyone at Union was "on mission," implying that somehow OBU faculty were not.  Frankly after all these problems -- and finally and reluctantly performance evaluations that included faculty input -- it's a wonder Stan Norman is still working at OBU.  But that's another story for another day.)

Whitlock set out to be a Baptist college president in the mold of Agee and Dockery.  But times have changed.  He isn't dealing with your grandfather's BGCO, and Agee knows this better than most.  Agee saw the proportion of the BGCO's subsidy to OBU's operating budget drop off significantly.  Painfully, he also saw his friend, legendary BGCO Executive Director-Treasurer Joe L. Ingram, censured by the BGCO for exercising his conscience and expressing reservations about the Fundamentalist Takeover.  But in the end, Agee held the line, stood up for faculty, assuaged Oklahoma Baptists' misguided fears about liberalism at OBU, and retired a hero to many.

Once a tireless defender of academic freedom in Christian higher education, many perceive that Agee has shifted somewhat along with the times.  After all, Dockery's Union may have figured out how to play nice with the fundamentalists, but it's not nearly as moderate as OBU was during the Agee years.  Apples and oranges, perhaps.  Agee met with the OBU religion faculty before Whitlock's election and told them that they needed to change to satisfy the BGCO.  Of course, the faculty left the meeting dejected because they could see what was coming.  So Agee is clearly singing a different tune today than in the 1980s and 1990s.  But who can blame him?  In Southern Baptist life, you have to go along with the big boys or become irrelevant.

Insiders are divided on the degree to which Whitlock owes his presidency to Agee.  It it beyond dispute that Agee and his friend/protege, Dr. Pat Taylor (former OBU VP and Whitlock's boss at Southwest Baptist University) helped pave the way for Whitlock.  Did Agee help convince Anthony Jordan that Whitlock would do what President Mark Brister would not completely do -- essentially change OBU to reflect SBC fundamentalism?  Some have suggested it and it seems likely, though it is impossible to prove because Agee and Jordan are the only ones who know for sure.

Of course, Whitlock largely outsourced the project of turning the School of Christian Service into a fundamentalist preacher boy camp to Norman and McClellan.  Dismissing faculty "in a winsome way" (Whitlock's words) has been more difficult and politically costly than he probably anticipated.  The blowback in terms faculty morale and support were (and still are?) a huge challenge for Whitlock.  Indeed, Dr. Whitlock disrupted two mens' careers and angered literally thousands of students, faculty (current and former), and alumni.  I hope it was worth it to put a smile on Anthony Jordan's face.

I'm sure the presidency can be a lonely place.  And Whitlock will undoubtedly confide in Agee this week.  With age comes wisdom, and we can only hope that Agee dispenses wisdom based on his tenure at OBU and not the politics and ideological rigidity of today's SBC.  If President Whitlock wants a legacy anything like President Agee's, he'll heed his counsel.

Friday, September 14, 2012

A Disaster for the Hobbs College and for OBU

I really did not want to write this post.  We've known since May that a fundamentalist professor from Southwestern Seminary was coming to teach at OBU this fall.  We discussed the matter briefly this summer when the new professor, Rev. Dr. Ishwaran Mudliar, contributed to a series of essays in the Oklahoma Baptist Messenger (which we critiqued).  Prof. Mudliar implied that believing in a literal six-day creation is integral to and requisite of a "Christian worldview."  More alarmingly, he approvingly cited a website called Answers in Genesis, which attempts to discredit every branch of human science, achievement, and knowledge that points to the fact that the earth is more than 6,000-10,000 years old.

In our recent discussion of new hires at OBU, we were quite positive.  Every indication is that the deans filled the vacancies with the candidates the departments wanted, without undue influence from Provost Stan Norman.  But we did not discuss the Mudliar hire in that post.  I had been inclined to give Prof. Mudliar the benefit of the doubt.  Maybe his Messenger essay was just an attempt to appease the fundamentalists in the Baptist Building and around the state.

But a recent profile in The Bison (page 9) makes it crystal clear that this is an absolute disaster for OBU.  It confirms many of our worst fears about the administration of the Hobbs College and the university in general.  Dozens, then hundreds, then thousands of OBU students will receive a sub-par (to put it kindly) education in Old Testament studies, all because the Hobbs College does not even bother pretending that it has a fair, ethical, or normal search and hire process.

Given that the Hobbs College still has a number of professors who take the Bible seriously, not literally, it's inconceivable that any of them could have been party to selecting someone who so blatantly disdains their lives' work -- integrating serious, honest biblical and theological scholarship into the framework of a searching, fearless Christian faith.

Indeed, Mudliar makes it clear that he was sought specifically for his fundamentalist views:
"'Dr. McClellan,' whom he had never met, "Contacted me, and told me about the changes that have been going on the past couple of years, and that there was an opening in the area of Old Testament.'"
Rather than advertising the position through the normal channels in order to hopefully get the best possible applicants, McClellan went fishing for his next fundamentalist darling.  He obviously bypassed the vital process of involving faculty colleagues in the process.

You don't have to be very imaginative to know what "changes" McClellan discussed with Mudliar.  We got rid of two moderates, and are waiting for the rest to retire or move on.  We are only hiring fundamentalists now.  The university is focused on a capital campaign and expanding athletic and graduate programs.  So we're flying under the radar and putting literalism in the religion curriculum.  We're finally free to fill vacancies with avowed fundamentalists.  We just bypass the normal search process now.  We have clearance from my old buddy Anthony Jordan, from the provost, and from the president to do this.

It didn't have to be this way.  Prof. Mudliar, as a Ph.D. student at Johns Hopkins University, had access to an absolutely first-rate education.  Hopkins has for many decades had an outstanding reputation for excellence in Hebrew Bible, the Ancient Near East, and biblical archaeology.  He says in the Bison profile he's grateful for the language study he did there.  I'm not sure how he was there for years without any of the rest sinking in.  An OBU alum who is a Hebrew Bible scholar at the University of Wisconsin aptly pointed out recently that "You can't contribute to the project of biblical criticism if you reject its principles."  And so it has been with Mudliar.  His publication record is shockingly thin considering how many promising teacher-scholars we could have considered for the position if only we'd tried.

Another question concerns his tenure status.  He left Southwestern as an assistant professor but comes to OBU as an associate professor.  Does this mean he already has "Senior Faculty Status" at OBU?  More importantly, could this suggest that he was denied tenure at Southwestern?  One could hardly imagine anyone has to do anything other than believe the right things to be tenured at SWBTS.  We'll know (and report) these facts soon enough.  But we remain concerned that the tenure process at OBU is changing.  It was and should be a way to protect faculty members who have demonstrated excellence in teaching and scholarship.  But it seems to be devolving into a weapon and, maybe in years to come, a rubber stamp for fundamentalists who would be unemployable elsewhere in legitimate academia.

All this to say: Nothing against Prof. Mudliar personally.  He's just a man who was offered a better job than the one he had and took it.  I'm sure I disagree with his interpretation of the Hebrew Bible, but that, of course, does not disqualify him.  What disqualifies him is that his commitment to an ideology (fundamentalism) causes him to completely discount facts, science, reason, and learning.  He is completely antithetical to the entire project of higher education.  There are places for people like Ishwaran Mudliar, but Oklahoma Baptist University, until David Whitlock came along, has not been one of them.

I regret any discomfort that results from our bringing wider attention to the administration's radical redefinition of what passes for "Christian scholarship" in the Hobbs College of Theology and Ministry. But this story needs to be told.  Though we believe OBU students would be better served by a professor who was actually committed to responsible biblical interpretation, it's true that Mudliar may be the biggest loser of all.  Unlike another Hobbs College colleague who found out later that he was the search committee's second choice, Mudliar knows that he owes his position to his ideology and not to his accomplishments.  He wasn't selected because he was the best candidate or the best fit, but rather because he believed the right things and had connections to the right fundamentalist SBC elites.  I imagine that's not a good feeling for a new professor, particularly one of the few ethnic minorities among a lily white faculty.

The real culprit here is Dean Mark McClellan.  His administration of the Hobbs College, especially with respect to personnel, has been a disaster for OBU.  By ignoring the norms of search-and-hire processes, he is essentially spitting in the faces of colleagues who have collectively devoted many decades to authentic, serious Christian higher education at OBU.  That era is over.  And Anthony Jordan, Stan Norman, and David Whitlock are patting him on the back.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

A Note of Thanks to Our Readers

Though it indicates a great deal of thoughtfulness and Christian charity in our growing community, it is not necessary to email me and ask if the reason there hasn't been a new post today is that the BGCO sued me.

I assure you, I have not been sued or even approached by the BGCO or any OBU administrators or trustees.  A number of people expressed concern in July, when posting was sparse.  And others of you have written since that time, which I appreciate.  But I want to let you know there is no need for concern.

Although, if I ever get a legal threat, summons, order, or injunction, I'll post it right here for your viewing entertainment, Dear Reader!  It might help get the word out.  So far, we haven't pursued media attention.  Our friends at Save Our Shorter were quite successful with their aggressive media strategy.  If things get much worse at OBU, I suspect we'll have no trouble raising awareness among a large audience.  But for now, we are trying to make connections with students and alumni.

I'll offer a few comments on the relatively less frequent posting.  First, we're fairly satisfied that things are somewhat better right now than they were this time a year ago.  (If we're wrong, please let us know immediately.)  This is not to say that things are as they should be -- the damage already done is significant.  Second, Veronica is a newlywed, I'm a new father, and we're both consumed with the demands of a new semester of graduate student life.  Third, we haven't received much multiply-attested inside information since last spring.

If you're interested in doing some guest writing on the blog, send me a note and let me know what you have in mind.  If you want to help with research or promotion, let me know.  And if you're a current or former trustee, faculty member, or administrator, I would, of course, be most eager to hear from you.  I assume most faculty members think their careers could be in jeopardy if they publicly advocated that OBU separate from the BGCO.  And maybe most faculty members are okay with BGCO control in principle, but are just angry about how it has manifested itself in recent years.  In any event, one faculty member even created a pseudonymous email account to communicate with me, though s/he eventually learned to trust my discretion.

However you prefer to communicate and whatever you have to say, I'm all ears.  My email address is jlupfer -at- gmail -dot- com.  I'd love to hear from students, alumni, or anyone else.  But there's no need to ask if I've been sued by the BGCO!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

9/11/01: In Memoriam

In the fall of 2011, I was in my third and last year at OBU.  I had just returned from a 6-week road trip to Alaska with my best friend.  I had bought an engagement ring for my college girlfriend.  I was enjoying my studies in religion, and surviving my minor in business administration.  On the morning of September 11, 2001, I woke up for a business management class.  I saw the news of the first attack online in my dorm room.  It didn't really sink in.  I wasn't even sure it was real.

On my way to breakfast, I noticed that a crowd had gathered around a big-screen TV in the lower level of the Geiger Center.  This was around the time the second plane crashed into the tower.  My management class was in the Bailey Business Center, which had a large projector on which we watched the news reports in stunned silence.  When news broke of the Pentagon crash, my professor immediately left the room to call his daughter, who at the time worked for the Defense Department in counterterrorism (she was unharmed).

Later that morning, I had an hourlong ministry seminar.  The other students were all freshmen, and I didn't know any of them.  (I changed my major to religion halfway through my second year, so I hadn't taken Intro to Ministry as a freshman.)  The professor, Rev. Dr. Tom Wilks, convened a prayer session in Stubblefield Chapel.  This was the only time I ever went into that building.

Later in the day, I had a Bible class (maybe Pentateuch? maybe Exegesis of Acts?).  I do remember the professor deliberating about whether we should have class that afternoon.  There was nothing we could do, after all.  The attacks were intended to incite terror.  If we abandoned our studies, would the terrorists win?  Anyway, we went on with the lecture and discussion.  It seemed the right thing to do.

That night, I remember watching President Bush give a comforting address to the nation on TV, quoting the 23rd Psalm.  The next day, OBU President Mark Brister spoke to the university community in chapel.  I don't remember which Oklahoma Baptist minister was scheduled to give the sermon that day, but he knew that OBU needed to hear from its leader in that moment.  I thought that was pretty classy.

I had become more interested in politics in the previous year.  My study of the Bible was helping me form values that had serious political implications, challenging some of them and crystallizing others. I had been following the national debates over stem cell research and tax cuts.  I had also become interested in the sociology of religion, and particularly how people of the same religious faith could arrive at such vastly different social and political views.  A few months after 9/11, I sat in the library and read an essay in The Atlantic by David Brooks, "One Nation, Slightly Divisible."  Looking back, it's amazing how 9/11 ushered in a moment of national unity.  Yet in the years that followed, our response to 9/11 accelerated an already palpable polarization.

In the 11 years that have come and gone since then, I have spent a lot of time reflecting on those issues. I'm eternally grateful for OBU.  The experience, knowledge, and wisdom I gained there have been invaluable as I've grappled with moral, ethical, theological, and political issues in my personal and professional life.  Like everyone, I've made mistakes and poor judgments.  But when I've been at my best, OBU's influence on my life has been most profound.

For my generation, 9/11 was a tragic part of our coming-of-age.  Over the years I've met many people who were personally affected in much more dramatic ways than I was as a 20 year old college senior in Shawnee, Oklahoma.  But on reflection, I do see how greatly that day affected the unfolding of my own life.

Yet today I remember my countrymen, the loved and lost.  In all that we do, let us seek to honor their memory.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Dr. Whitlock Blocks @SaveOBU_Blog on Twitter

Funny how things change.

Previously, our Twitter account had been blocked by Truett-McConnell College President Emir Caner after we criticized him for shepherding the fundamentalist takeover of a troubled Georgia Baptist Convention-affiliated school.  (Last fall, they had a big ceremony headlined by Paige Patterson in which all faculty signed the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message.)  Yet recently, Rev. Dr. Caner unblocked us!

Closer to home, however, we now find ourselves blocked from following OBU President David Whitlock on Twitter.  Off the top of my head, I can only think of two things I learned by following Rev. Dr. Whitlock.  First, OBU's board of trustees has (had?) two M.D./Ph.D. medical researchers.  I thought this was great news -- the fewer people affiliated with a university who believe in young earth creationism the better!  We may now take flat young earthers in the Hobbs College of Theology and Ministry, but hopefully we can still keep these people off the Board of Trustees.  The second thing I learned from Whitlock via Twitter is that he was "proud" that a junior religion prof "represented OBU" at the Baptist World Alliance gathering this summer.  I was, of course, shocked that Whitlock would publicly defy all the SBC leaders over the years who so openly loathe the BWA (for its alleged liberalism and, of course, the unpardonable sin of admitting the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship as a member).  But as far as I was concerned, it was just more proof that deep down, David Whitlock is not a post-Takeover Baptist culture warrior/crusader who is trying to cleanse the world of moderates.  Still, I guess I should say: Sorry, Dr. Whitlock, if you had to endure a talking to from your boss-who's-not-really-your-boss-but-kind-of-is-your-boss Anthony Jordan or any of the other SBC elites who may have decided to set you straight about the evils of the Baptist World Alliance.

Just for fun, I'd like to ask everyone to attempt to follow Dr. Whitlock on Twitter.  See if he deigns you worthy to read his updates.  I'm curious to find out who else is on the outs with him.  Did you ask a tough question at a "Fireside Chat" last year about why your favorite religion profs are disappearing?  Were you in last spring's production of Hairspray (which prompted a certain dean to end OBU's longstanding collaboration with Shawnee Little Theater)? Or does Whitlock just not handle criticism very well?  What does it take to be denied access to 140 characters of someone's thoughts?  I'd like to know.

For the uninitiated, Twitter is a lot of fun!  Until I founded Save OBU, I had never used it before.  Since last December, our account @SaveOBU_Blog has been an invaluable tool for communicating with friends and foes alike.  I even started a personal account (@jlupf) so I could end the awkwardness of having the culture wars fought on my Facebook page.  (Facebook was a lot more fun before everyone's parents and grandparents joined and, in any event, at my age it should only be used for sharing cute baby pictures.)

Dr. Whitlock, I thought you were unflappable.  I actually didn't know we'd made any kind of impact on you, let alone gotten under your skin.  Still, even though I don't know you, I believe in my heart you're the kind of guy I'd love to have a beer (or a Dr. Pepper) with.  And even though Save OBU can't follow you on Twitter, if you're ever in Washington, I've got a $250 donation (the real D.C. way...) if we can hang out and talk OBU's mission and direction sometime.

And the first round's on me.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

2012 Forbes Data (Part 3): More Comparisons

When the 2012 Forbes colleges rankings came out last month, we noted that OBU declined from #299 to #390.  Later, we compiled some data on state convention-affiliated colleges that OBU considers peer institutions.  OBU's decline stood in stark contrast to other Southern Baptist colleges that are holding steady and even increasing their reputations and profiles.

We want to make a few points.  First, OBU's decline was NOT inevitable.  Conscious decisions were made that adversely affected OBU's performance on the metrics that Forbes uses to compile its rankings.  Second, there is nothing about being distinctively Baptist that impedes our ability to stand out among Christian and secular institutions.  Some other Baptist schools are doing just fine.  Third, many intentionally Christ-centered (to use the CCCU's definition) institutions rank exceptionally well, as OBU did before the current administration came to power.  And fourth, it should come as no surprise that schools that have severed ties with Baptist state conventions excel in the rankings.  The charts below illustrate these latter two points.

As recently as 2009, OBU was undisputedly one of the finest Christian colleges in the United States.  A lot of our detractors try to argue, "Well, who cares about rankings? We're being faithful to the gospel."  There are so many things wrong with that argument.  First, fidelity to the gospel does not require unethical and unprecedented H.R. practices.  Were OBU Presidents Raley, Scales, Cothen, Tanner, Hall, Agee, and Brister and their academic officers being unfaithful to the gospel when they abided by Faculty Handbook provisions and sought and valued faculty search committee input in hiring decisions?  Of course not!  Are schools like Union and Ouachita, not to mention Wheaton, Gordon, and Calvin unfaithful to the gospel because they are not precipitously declining in national rankings?  There is no inherent conflict between Christian identity and excellence.  

With the formerly Baptist schools, the situation is more complicated.  On the one hand, there's absolutely no chance that Wake Forest, Furman, and Richmond would have become some of the best colleges in America if fundamentalists were still meddling in their affairs.  But you could argue that those schools' Christian (and Baptist) identities are less explicit now.  Still, I'd rather OBU take the path of William Jewell College or Stetson than end up like some of the Georgia Baptist Convention colleges that are on the brink of losing their accreditation.  For a long time (the Agee years), OBU was able to keep fundamentalists out, attain excellence, and survive without the OBU-BGCO relationship breaking down.

But those days are over.  The battle lines are clearly drawn.  Fundamentalists don't share power very well.  All they know is total control.  And they don't mind wrecking institutions along the way.  So as long as OBU has meddlers in Thurmond (or the Baptist Building), we need to be constantly vigilant.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Labor Day 2012: Is OBU a Good Place to Work?

We've already discussed at length the many problems OBU faculty have faced as a result of the new regime.  And we continue to provide context and comparative information about OBU's generally declining performance in the various college ranking publications.

OBU is rightly proud of its performance in the U.S. News rankings, which continually point to OBU as one of the best regional baccalaureate colleges in the Western United States, not to mention a "best value" university.  And OBU had been doing quite well in the new Forbes rankings, which began in 2008, though we have slid badly under President Whitlock's tenure:
Instead of bringing attention to the continuing decline (from #299 to #390 in the past year, down from a high of #109 in 2009), OBU's P.R. shop wisely decided to sieze on being named a Princeton Review "Best of the West" college for the umpteenth year in a row.  What they don't say is that being on the "Best of the West" list is a lot more like a participation ribbon than a blue ribbon.  There are some pretty unimpressive schools on that list, and our inclusion doesn't really mean a thing.  Also unreported is the fact that students' "glaring" complaint was a "severe lack" of communication between administration and students:

Anyway, in honor of Labor Day, I'd like to point out a list that OBU didn't make but should aspire to.  The Chronicle of Higher Education recently released its 2012 list of "Best Colleges to Work For."  I don't really know whether OBU is a great place to work.  I suspect opinions vary.  But there's no reason OBU can't aspire to this kind of recognition.  A number of Christian colleges made the list (whether you measure Christian identity by confession, affiliation, or the almighty CCCU, the final arbiter of which institutions are "intentionally Christ-centered" (hint: the colleges that pay CCCU dues tend to make the cut in the CCCU's eyes).

The only Baptist-affiliated colleges to make the list were Baylor, Hardin-Simmons, and Howard Payne.  All three are affiliated with the Baptist General Convention of Texas -- the state convention that SBC fundamentalists love to hate.  No other state convention-controlled Baptists schools were recognized.  In our neighborhood, both Oklahoma City University and the University of Central Oklahoma made the list, which was based on performance across 12 categories.

A brief look at some of the categories make it all too clear why OBU is nowhere near being recognized as a great college to work for: Collaborative Governance, Diversity, Confidence in Senior Leadership (hahahaha), Tenure Clarity and Process.  (Look for the tenure process to become Provost Norman's favorite way to weed out whatever moderates may have snuck through the hiring process.  It the debacle surrounding one professor's dismissal, the administration showed complete disregard for rules governing the tenure process.)

Now, this is not to say that I am suggesting OBU employees do not or should not love their jobs and the university very much.  It has been my experience and observation that they are the most devoted and faithful teachers I have ever seen.  But the university does not have the right to take them for granted.  It's not right for them to say, "Well, historically we always ask for faculty input and weigh it heavily in hiring decisions, but this time, we've already found our man so we're not going to bother" or "Well, these people are mostly moderate Baptists, but we're going to constantly make them listen to speeches and sermons by men who loathe moderate Baptists" or "These people have mortgages and their spouses have jobs in the community, so we know they're stuck here no matter how much we try to remake the institution in our own image," etc.

As we celebrate labor, let's make sure we're racing toward the top, not the bottom.