Monday, November 12, 2012

A Report on the Save OBU Strategy Session

I posted Saturday morning, Saturday night, and Sunday afternoon about my wonderful experiences at Homecoming Weekend.  But I felt compelled to return to Bison Hill to continue raising awareness about and pushing back against lapses in ethical administration and suppression of academic freedom at OBU in recent years.  To that end, I convened two strategy meetings today.

The first included retired and active faculty.  For obvious reasons, I am keeping the participants' identities and our deliberations in confidence.

Veronica met with several current students in the GC this afternoon, some who had knowledge of her involvement with Save OBU and, somewhat to my surprise, some of whom had never heard of Save OBU until they saw a poster on campus advertising the meeting.

In the days and weeks to come, Veronica, I, and perhaps other Save OBU leaders will offer some perspectives about what changes will be necessary to be an effective watchdog moving forward.

Veronica ('11) and me ('02) with
Bill Jones ('73) of Texas Baptists Committed.

Some of the items discussed at the public strategy session were:

Mission/purpose.  From the beginning (and frankly since my freshman year at OBU), I have believed that the BGCO's legal stranglehold over OBU (it owns the property and elects the trustees) is, ultimately, the root of all these problems.  Furthermore, separating from the BGCO is the only necessary and sufficient condition to making the problems go away.  But there are a few problems.  First, almost no one (including many people who would otherwise be inclined to support OBU) believes BGCO separation is possible.  And second, while we find BGCO Executive Director-Treasurer Rev. Dr. Anthony Jordan's fingerprints on some of the problem issues we've addressed, we do not have a BGCO-elected Board of Trustees that is trying to remake OBU in the image of the post-Takeover SBC.  In fact, we have generally impressive and solid board.  In any event, we have more pressing problems.  We have professors who literally fear for their jobs.  Until the convention proves untrustworthy (e.g., starts packing the board with fundamentalists who want to turn OBU into a mini-Southwestern Seminary), we're inclined to trust that there are still good pastors (including some OBU alumni) who will use their influence in the BGCO nominations process to see that the convention elects trustees that support OBU's mission and respect its traditions.  In short, we'll be backing off the issue of BGCO separation somewhat.

Sense about where things stand.  Things seem to have quieted down this year, thankfully.  It's been gratifying to hear from current and retired faculty who believe that Save OBU's advocacy has been instrumental in dissuading the administration from violating faculty contract rights and using ideology as a litmus test.  We have a sense that, at least at the moment, there are no plans afoot to use the tenure process as a weapon to weed out moderates, though we are concerned that offering 5-year contracts rather than senior faculty status is a disappointing trend.  The faculty are pursuing redress of their grievances through their own channels, and we want to let those processes continue without doing damage to them.  We are investigating rumblings in the Fine Arts department, and are still horrified at the abysmal treatment a former chief academic officer has suffered.  Yet in spite of all this, we feel it is more appropriate to be a watchdog than an attack dog.

Building alliances and coalitions.  One surprising blessing has been the connection's we've made.  OBU is back on the radar screen of Mainstream Oklahoma Baptists and the Cooperating Baptist Fellowship of Oklahoma.  We've shared and received stories from friends at other Baptist-affiliated universities who are fighting their own versions of these same battles.  Alumni/ae of different generations are connecting, networking, and building relationships.  We want to continue this vital work as a sign of our commitment to integrity and excellence in all Baptist institutions.  Unfortunately, integrity and excellence are too often compromised when fundamentalists take over.

Current students.  I had erroneously assumed that most students simply aren't interested in Save OBU.  After speaking with some students yesterday and meeting with students interested in Save OBU today, I now know that most OBU students do not yet know about Save OBU!  So we have our work cut out for us.  Students will need to educate themselves about the issues at stake, but they need to remember that their professors are not yet free to speak openly about what has happened.  Therefore, we now have plans in place to increase students' awareness of what has happened to their university.  Of course, some students will oppose academic freedom and ethical administration, claiming "OBU is a godly school where godly  administrators are hiring godly men to teach godly things."  But we trust that most students will be horrified to learn what has happened.  OBU students have a fierce love for their professors, and we trust that their love will translate into support for Save OBU.

Our message to the president, provost, and certain deans is clear: If you continue to violate the agreed-upon norms of OBU with respect to policy, personnel, or any other matter, we will call you out on it publicly every time.  And when you respect those norms, we are here to support you.

Here is my prayer from our meeting today.  It is also my prayer for OBU moving forward.

Almighty God, we are united before you this day by our overwhelming love and gratitude for this place.  We praise you for the ways each of our lives have been changed and shaped here.  We especially praise you for your ineffable and sublime Truth -- so inscrutable that we can spend a lifetime pursuing it yet so simple that even a child can understand.  We wonder at the world you imagined into being -- the order, the beauty, the randomness, the mystery, all of it.

Yet even as you have given us minds to know, our hardened hearts do not always understand.  We have not always lived up to your purposes for our lives, and we humbly confess our shortcomings.  I especially confess that I have at times been too harsh in criticism and too quick in judgment.  For these and all other transgressions, we plead for forgiveness.

We give you thanks for the great history and traditions of our beloved OBU.  And we pray that her greatest days may yet lie ahead.  In spite of setbacks, problems, and mistakes, we pray that this institution may live up to the highest ideals of its founding.  We pray wisdom, guidance, health, and success for President David Whitlock and for OBU's trustees and administrators.  We pray for the professors, that they might live out their calling as Christian scholars.  We pray for students, that they may be inspired to pursue truth wherever it is to be found -- for all truth is your truth.

Be with us, Lord, as we risk ourselves in faith, hope, and love and engage the life of the mind.  Make us fearless seekers not merely of information, but true wisdom.  Meet us in the gaps in our knowledge and the places where our faith truly seeks understanding.

Finally, O Lord, we pray for the courage, wisdom, grace, and strength to advocate plainly and with conviction for this cause which you yourself have laid upon our hearts.  Be present among us even now, and grant that we may be found to be faithful disciples of your son, the Master Teacher and savior of us all.

We pray all these things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

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