Thursday, December 6, 2012

Save OBU One Year Later

Last December 6, I took to the Web to raise awareness about fundamentalist encroachment at OBU.

Funny how much can happen in a year.

Thankfully, things seem mostly stable at OBU right now.  No more firings seem imminent, though you can't blame professors who still fear for their jobs.  2009-2011 saw significant deterioration in trust between administrators and other OBU constituencies.  2012 has been calmer.  If the Lord tarries, we'll make it through this calendar year without any unethical dismissals or overruled faculty committees.

As I look back on that inaugural blog post, I have to confess that some of my perceptions have changed, too.  I was so angry about how absolutely shamefully two well-loved professors were treated that I went looking for any and every reason to be upset, saying "There may be dozens of reasons to be upset about OBU's direction."  That was hyperbolic.  Really, it all boils down to two key issues:

  • Academic freedom -- Are professors free to teach and students free to learn?  Do ideology and dogma threaten the pursuit of truth in the classroom?
  • Ethical administration -- Are decisions about hiring, curriculum, and program direction collaborative or unilateral?  Is faculty experience, expertise, and judgment sought or ignored?

I'll add a third, only because some at OBU seem to have followed the post-Takeover SBC in gleefully holding reactionary attitudes:

  • Gender -- Are women fully free to hold all administrative, religious, and faculty positions for which they are qualified?  Are female students actively encouraged to listen for and heed God's call on their lives?  Or does the institution implicitly hold out an image from a sexist era and say, "This is what a Christian woman looks like. Be like her."

There have been serious violations in all three of these areas.  Let's not kid ourselves.  When professors are installed and removed over adherence to fundamentalist dogma, academic freedom is grossly infringed upon.  Administrators are behaving unethically when they violate the Faculty Handbook and unilaterally redirect vital academic programs and regularly overrule faculty committees that unanimously recommend highly qualified, devoutly faithful candidates in order to hire less qualified yes-men.  Gender discrimination occurs when a college president refuses to even consider hiring a woman to teach certain subjects.  And suspicions arise when a well-loved and long-serving female administrator is essentially demoted to make way for the new guard.

Our message is simple:  When these things happen, administrators will be called out.  Publicly.  Every single time.  This isn't the OBU we know and love.

During the past year, we've reached thousands and thousands of people.  New friendships have formed, even across generations.  Old friendships have been rekindled.  We've connected with hundreds of moderate Baptists all over the U.S. and the world.  Friends at other post-Takeover Baptist institutions have sought our counsel and friends at schools that rejected the Takeover have offered their support.  Significantly, our sister blog at Shorter University in Rome, GA became a national news story after administrators there launched an unprecedented attack against faculty.

We'll do a more in-depth year-in-review piece closer to Dec. 31.  And we'll continue to provide innovative (though probably not daily) content, including an upcoming guest post about a student protest in the early 2000s and a Fine Arts Fiasco series on bizarre happenings in the College of Fine Arts.  We continue to see growing student awareness about the 2009-2011 issues.  Students and alumni alike are delighted to learn that OBU has a long and distinguished history of academic excellence and collaborative governance that has only recently begun to suffer.

In the year to come, we look to formalize a leadership structure, continue raising awareness, and be vigilant in our watchdog function.  If things get worse, we'll move from awareness to actual activism.

On a personal note, thank you for your kind words and encouragement.  I am certainly an unlikely leader for this effort.  But in addition to leading an effort I believe we can all be proud of, I have rediscovered my own wellspring of affection for OBU.  For me this has been an enriching personal, professional, and spiritual experience.  Though I wish things could have been otherwise at OBU in key ways during the Whitlock era, I am most grateful for the opportunity to engage with you in this effort.

As always, our prayers are with all with all who work and study on Bison Hill.