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.

37 comments:

  1. If it were not for the fact that you are slandering brothers in Christ, I would find your post humorous.

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  2. Thanks for reporting on this. Your insights are spot on.

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  3. Strong criticism of public actions is not slander. Can we all please grow up and stop selectively hiding (anonymously) behind Christianese rhetoric?

    I'm the Hebrew Bible scholar at UW-Madison that is quoted above. I don't mind that being public info. It's true: If Mudliar earned a PhD at Hopkins, he's a very bright guy and he got a first-rate education. He must be immensely competent in his field. But that's almost more damning: he should know better, yet he continues to believe things which are demonstrably counterfactual.

    As somebody who is on the job market in Hebrew Bible, I can attest that it is ferociously competitive. That OBU would hire somebody (with automatic tenure) who has such a thin publication record (and practically nothing peer reviewed!) without a public candidacy process can only mean that he wasn't hired for his competence (such as it may very well be) but for his ideology. Your read is spot-on.

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  4. Who really cares if he is a young earth? So what?

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    1. a spooky fundamentalistSeptember 14, 2012 at 5:10 PM

      Then according to Jacob and jones he has to be an idiot. We all know academic freedom is omly for libs

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    2. Do I not specifically say he must be very bright and immensely competent to get a degree from Hopkins? The issue is that, on the basis of academic credentials, he is far from the most qualified candidate for an instant-tenure position, which means the hire is ideological. It's not about academic freedom. It's about hiring somebody for the wrong reasons.

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    3. All institutions have ideologies they hire on. When I was at OBU the civ profs had ideologies they pushed. One prof was beside herself that anyone would agree with conservative resurgence. My point is all profs teach from an ideology. You and Jacob have repeatedly bashed anyone who is young earth although carbon dating has been proved wrong. As a Christian I would rather accept the Bible by faith than accept science by faith. The Bible has never proven wrong science has.

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    4. "Who really cares if he is a young earth? So what"? The reason I care is that young persons coming to OBU as freshmen are looking for a first rate education that will prepare them for success in a respected profession. They expect that their education at OBU will be faith centered, surely, but fact based. As Ronald Reagan said, "facts are stubborn things." Geological facts have been discovered over the years that prove conclusively that the earth is billions of years old. Just as tree rings reveal the age of a tree, rock strata reveal the age of the earth. At the South Pole, ice cores reveal the factual evidence for snow and ice accumulation over millions of years. The claim of young earth die-hards that the grand canyon was created in the great flood is only accepted by those ignorant of facts uncovered through years of geological science.

      It is the responsibility of Christian universities to guide their students to an understanding of how faith and science can coexist or they will be forced to choose one or the other. Hiring professors who have a contempt for science will make a mockery of the entire university enterprise.

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  5. I think okbu should hire atheists to make things more fair....

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    1. Don't be ridiculous. No one is suggesting that.

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  6. I think it is fair to say that much of what makes Mudliar unfit for OBU is his insistence that a literal, six-day Creation is essential for a truly Christian understanding of the world. This ignores not only the vast majority of Christians alive today but also Christian history. Mudliar's beliefs stem from a recent movement in evangelical Christianity that are not even two centuries old.

    One of the hallmarks of my OBU education is that my religion professors allowed me the freedom to explore my own relationship and understanding of God regardless of whether or not they agreed with me. I was never told that I was un-Christian for exploring the diversity of Christian tradition and history as I tried to understand my identity. It is both what made OBU an excellent Baptist institution and a powerful witness to the gospel.

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  7. Why would someone come from Southwestern to OBU? OBU professors start at what these days—31k or so? Surely Southwestern is paying better than that, and they're part of the same Southern Baptist family. I don't get this at all. I mean, surely associate professors get better, but it can't be that great. I'd say for "fit" purposes, but it seems that if you fit at one you'd fit at the other these days.

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    1. Interesting. Back in the "glory days" before the Takeover, one might think that the colleges were places you start off at, and the seminaries are places you hope to end up at. But now, with the seminaries having become so fundamentalist, maybe the thinking profs find the colleges to be more attractive options. I'm sure that undergrads at OBU, Samford, Baylor, Union, etc. are -- on the whole -- significantly more intelligent and intellectually curious than SBC seminarians. Maybe he just jumped at the opportunity to teach better students.

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  8. I think OBU should hire atheists, agnostics, communists, and socialists to make things more fair. We will call it, "The fairness doctrine of a Baptist University."
    Who is with me?

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    1. As I said above, no one is suggesting that. We need conservatives, moderates, and liberals. What we DO NOT need are fundamentalists. They bring little of value to the project of honest inquiry and the search for truth.

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    2. Jacob none of what yall are calling fundamentalist are. Fundies are KJVO indapendent baptists

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    3. Any time I've been around "fundies" Jacob, they've been open and honest. I was in seminary and found them to be more open minded than some of the liberal professors I had at OBU.
      Also, there is no need to search for truth, we know the truth. The truth is, God created the world, he created night and day, he created the stars, sun, moon, space, apes and even human beings.
      The job of a professor is to teach a student what he or she needs need to know in order to open his or her mind. My mind was opened more in the short time I was in seminary then the 4 years I was at OBU.
      Anyways, I defend your right to write this blog and blast so "fundamentalists" but a lot of what you say is ignorance and character assaults.

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    4. Kevin, I would encourage you to read the posts we did a little while back on exactly what qualifies as fundamentalism. Remember that there is a vast difference between fundamentalism and conservatism. The too often do not go hand in hand.

      Recently, SBC elites (Al Mohler specifically comes to mind) have taken to emptying the term fundamentalism or simply using it to refer to "those more conservative than us." This is a concerted effort to re-write the history of American Christianity and to rid themselves of that historically appropriate label. KJVO Independent Baptists are generally fundamentalists, but so are most SBC leaders. Their beliefs all flow from the same stream.

      For more detail, check out the last post in our Understanding Fundamentalism series: http://saveobu.blogspot.com/2012/06/fundamentalism-and-future-of-baptist.html

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  9. Jacob, You're attacking several of my familiy members who are in Seminary. My brother n law is a 3rd year student at Southwestern in Fort Worth, though I may disagree with some of his views, he is by far one of the most articulate and intelligent men that I know, lots due to his experience at the Seminary.
    My pastor is a Southwestern Graduate, very intelligent, very wise, knows the bible, probably more than you, Brian Jones, and myself.
    There are many former OBU grads that I am friends with who are graduates of Southern Baptist seminaries, though we disagree on some secondary issues, they all are very intelligent, know how to read the scriptures and know a lot more than me in regards to Hebrew, Greek and so forth.
    I have my disagreements with Southern Baptist Seminaries and universities, but I'm not one to say that as a whole under grads from the universities you listed are more intelligent than those in SBC Seminaries. Your statement is ignorant, and flat out wrong!

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    1. Thanks for your comment. Whether OBU students are more intelligent than SBC seminary students is an empirical question. I suspect it's true. But the broader point, I guess, is that fundamentalism tends to resonate with people who have relatively lower levels of intelligence. That is a verifiable fact, and one which I doubt you would dispute.

      But people believe all kinds of things for all kinds of reasons. My comment above that OBU students are probably smarter than SBC seminarians is probably true, but really not that important to the point I was making. I was just trying to say that teachers who are able often seek to move from lesser schools to better ones. Even if the money is not as good, a lot of teachers derive intrinsic pleasure from teaching better students. At least that has been my experience.

      Clearly I have a fair amount of hostility toward fundamentalism. I try not to let that color my writing too much, but sometimes I say things that don't need to be said.

      I know there are tons of great people who have attended and taught at SWBTS and the other seminaries -- past and present.

      But my broad concern is that the academic culture of these places has changed, and not for the better. As one friend recently pointed out, these so-called intellectuals are held in high esteem among their constituencies, but that is an ever more insular group. When their supposed brilliance is scrutinized at even the most basic level, it soon becomes apparent that all their fancy degrees haven't helped them much.

      I sometimes felt "less than" at OBU and subsequently for never learning the ancient languages. Language work definitely helps with interpretation. But I'll tell you one thing. Knowing Greek and Hebrew doesn't amount to a hill of beans if you think the earth is flat, or 6,00 years old, or whatever. Or if you believe things about the text that are demonstrably untrue. For many people, I'm sure it's a thrilling intellectual exercise that leads to a depth of wisdom and understanding that few of us can know. But for other,s the language expertise is just a way in to a club of supposed intellectuals who frankly suck at interpreting the Scriptures.

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  10. Jacob carbon dating as had mixed results noone can prove forsure the earth is millions of years old. You are puttung things into battle with scripture that cannot be proven. So you are accepting things by faith same as yec folks differnce is our faith is ib the word not man

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  11. Here's the real question: should faculty present what is best for students or what is best for constituents (BGCO, parents, pastors, alumni)? And, ultimately, who decides what is best -- faculty or administrators (deans)?

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    1. Yes, that is the question. But remember, in the Agee years, the administration did not feel it had to attack and undermine faculty as it is doing now.

      This isn't your grandfather's BGCO/SBC.

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    2. PTL that it is not my grand parents generation was hijacked by libs

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  12. It's pretty sad that you are attacking "fundamentalists". Flat earth? Really? Also not all "fundamentalists" believe in YEC.

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    1. This isn't about beliefs. It's about the process. It's about how Dean McClellan, according to Prof. Mudliar in the Bison article, declined to involve faculty colleagues in the search. This is unprecedented and really not in the spirit of a collaborative department.

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    2. You keep talking out both sides of your mouth. One moment you say there is no room for fundies the next you say it is about the process. Which is it? For the record the colleges have generally paid better than the seminaries have and OBU is no exception.

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    3. Let me be clear. There's no place for fundies in legitimate higher ed (in my opinion). Conservatives, moderates, and liberals -- yes. And I assume OBU has always had some of all of the above.

      But yes, the process stinks to heaven. I can't make sense of it. The other departments got the people wanted. In religion, the dean apparently doesn't even bother consulting with faculty colleagues. I guess he's just waiting out what few moderates remain. Sad.

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  13. Can OBU be saved? Or is it too late?

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    1. Would welcome the dialogue. But let me be clear: We have no issue or agenda with any individual. It's the PROCESS that concerns us. We have heard many good reports about Prof. Mudliar in the classroom. But the fact remains that under any normal faculty search process, he would have not been selected.

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  15. Mudliar left SWBTS because he is Reformed in his theology. As McClellan, to the best of my knowledge, is also Reformed, I believe this had more to do with his hiring.

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    1. Yeah, I understand that Dr. Patterson likes his fundamentalists, but not his Calvinists. Our point, to reiterate, is that under the usual norms and procedures under which OBU's religion/ministry department operated for decades, there's no way this unilateral hire would have ever been made.

      Dean McClellan is stacking the deck with fundamentalists, so he may be able to return to a more collaborative hiring process soon. Everyone knows that he, Provost Norman, President Whitlock, and Dr. Jordan would fire the 2-4 remaining moderate professors tomorrow if they thought they could get away with it.

      Because of the push-back against the previous two unethical dismissals (in 2010 and 2011), the new leadership will just have to wait for the remaining moderates to retire or die. But make no mistake: They will eventually be replaced with fundamentalists. I'm pretty sure we have already lost this battle.

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