Tuesday, January 31, 2012

We Give More to OBU than the BGCO Does!

Our young movement has reached a significant milestone.  Though we are a diverse coalition OBU stakeholders including alumni, parents, and retired faculty, some of our most passionate supporters are current OBU students.

The revenue paid to OBU by students who have expressed support for Save OBU now exceeds the BGCO's annual subsidy!  That's right!  We paid more to OBU this year than its owner/operator, the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma.

Individually, students unfortunately didn't have any recourse against the recent disastrous changes at OBU (faculty dismissals, gutting core curriculum areas like philosophy, a fundamentalist litmus test for hiring, the bookstore, censorship of course materials, etc).  Students also found that, while a needed step, anonymous protests were easily dismissed by the administration.  Six weeks ago, students began emailing us saying they supported our mission but were afraid to "like" our Facebook page for fear that somehow they could get in trouble.  But those fears quickly subsided.  OBU students now know they are free to hold their own opinions about the university's relationship to the state convention.  Thankfully, many dozens (soon to be hundreds) of courageous students have raised their voices in support of OBU distinctives like academic freedom, open inquiry, and liberty of the conscience -- distinctives that are being quietly but deliberately eroded.  Individually and anonymously, students were easy to ignore.  Collectively and publicly, however, they have ratcheted up the pressure on the administration to stop turning its back on OBU's liberal arts heritage.

It only takes 93 students to provide the same amount of annual revenue ($2,500,000.00) as the BGCO.

We easily have that many student supporters already, and that number will inevitably continue to grow as the word spreads.

In the weeks and months to come, we will be flexing our muscle in more significant ways.  After all, we will provide OBU more revenue this year than Oklahoma's 700,000 Southern Baptists.  We may not elect  any trustees (yet), but we will have a seat at the table.  The faculty (current and former) want the provost out, and since his fingerprints are all over the disastrous changes we oppose, it seems a near certainty that he will eventually move on.  But make no mistake, our strong, principled, and public stand is a big part of what will give the president and trustees the cover they need to stop OBU's descent into fundamentalism, which will enrage the BGCO.

For now, let's celebrate how far we've come in such a short time!  Thanks, OBU students, for your courageous, thoughtful, and prayerful support.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Money Monday: BGCO Evangelism Conference

We've noted before that the BGCO spends less than one-tenth as much on "personal" and "ethnic" evangelism as it does on OBU.  So today, as Oklahoma Baptist clergy, church staff, and laypeople gather in OKC for the State Evangelism Conference, we are asking people to consider how many more souls could be won for Christ if the BGCO invested heavily in evangelism rather than subsidizing a huge institution with its own $80 million endowment.  Even when you include the BGCO's spending on "student evangelism," the convention still contributes six times more to OBU than it does to evangelism efforts.

Since Oklahoma Baptists are very serious about lostness, it seems that they should want to invest as heavily as possible in evangelism efforts.  Instead, they send 18 cents on every Cooperative Program dollar to OBU, where 99% of students and 100% of faculty are already Christians!

Not only does OBU not save souls, even it is present form (descending headlong into fundamentalism), it still drives more young people away from literalism, strict orthodoxy, and fundamentalism than it indoctrinates.  Empirical evidence shows that Baptists who attend Baptist colleges are more likely to identify as moderates and less likely to be fundamentalists than Baptists who attended secular universities.

Given the fact that hardly anyone who works in evangelism or collegiate ministries for the BGCO came from OBU, Oklahoma Baptists should ask themselves why they are throwing so much money at a school with such a moderating influence on students.

The State Evangelism Conference provides a great opportunity for Oklahoma Baptist clergy and laity to become informed and start a discussion about just how OBU fits into the convention's stated goals and purposes.  They have long worried that OBU is "liberal."  It's not.  Given how dramatically the convention has moved toward fundamentalism in the past 25 years, it's easy to see why they might think that.  But it's not easy to see why OBU is a good investment for the convention.  Sure, it produces a lot of missionaries (who were called to missions at Falls Creek, not at OBU) and a few fundamentalist pastors.  But mostly it produces graduates who leave OBU much more moderate than when they arrived.

OBU graduates will participate in soul winning ministries with or without the BGCO's annual institutional welfare check ($2,500,000.00)  But imagine what more Oklahoma Baptist pastors, evangelists, clergy, and laypeople could do for the Kingdom with $2.5 million to invest in training, education, and equipping activities.

Ask yourself: Did any of the SEC '12 speakers besides the current BGCO president graduate from OBU?  And while you're in OKC, ask the BGCO power brokers why six of your hard-earned offering plate dollars go to OBU for every one that goes toward student, ethnic, or personal evangelism.

Get updates from the conference here.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Faculty Friday: Games Administrators Play

Note: I had intended to follow yesterday's post about how the fundamentalists destroyed journalism in the SBC with a post on censorship of student journalism at OBU.  But like any good journalist, I need to do some fact-checking before I finish my report.

Since we've had hundreds of new readers in the past week, some people may not know that on Fridays, we usually focus on faculty-related issues at OBU and in SBC "academic" life more generally.  Last week, we documented the administration's hostility toward faculty on Bison Hill.  Previously, we looked at fundamentalists' penchant for unethical and unwarranted firings and how administrators can use faculty turnover to diminish an institution's academic strength and turn a moderate-to-conservative faculty into a fundamentalist one in just a few years.

Today, let's examine a new tactic administrators are trying to use in order to gain leverage over faculty and tip the balance of power in the fundamentalists' favor.  We've already discussed how administrators have ignored faculty search committee recommendations and offered positions to candidates who were not our first or second (or even third or fourth) choices.  In this way, OBU now shows a clear preference for fundamentalists in its hiring practices, as the provost's recent job interview questions obviously demonstrate.

But they are also using tenure ("senior faculty status" in OBU parlance) as a weapon in their war against moderate professors building a career at OBU.  One current faculty member explains:
The administration's actions raise a red flag as to whether tenure and academic freedom are being consciously eroded to vest more power in administrators to change OBU from within.  Along those lines, the administration is beginning to move away from granting continuing contracts for newly tenured faculty to more five-year contracts.  The latter were rarely used before, only in those cases where the faculty member was deemed fit to join the senior faculty, but needed to improve in some way, usually related to classroom performance.  Now it is being used for highly regarded candidates who receive a strong affirmation from the tenured faculty vote and have strong student evaluations.
The first ideologically-motivated firing was indicative of this changed outlook.  The administration wanted the professor to accept a multi-year contract (rather than a continuing contract) but did not allow the professor to stand for tenure and would not guarantee the possibility of standing for tenure at the end of the multi-year contract.  Unsurprisingly, denying someone the opportunity to stand for senior faculty status is itself a violation of the Faculty Handbook.  So if anyone tells you that OBU parted ways with a wonderful, well-loved Christian philosopher over a "contractual dispute," that is a lie.  He was treated in the most shameful and insulting manner possible.  I know what you're thinking: It's getting difficult to actually keep track of all the violations and unethical actions administrators have taken against our beloved OBU faculty!

The current faculty member continues:
The standards in the Faculty Handbook, based on nationally accepted guidelines, are designed to protect academic freedom -- the integrity of the academic program, professors' right to teach and students' right to learn, according to the best standards of each discipline.  In theory at least, once a professor is deemed integral to the academic community through the tenure (or senior faculty) process, he or she can only be removed for serious and demonstrated causes, such as incompetence, dereliction of duties, moral turpitude.

This standard was ignored in the case of the second faculty dismissal.  While the faculty was justifiably outraged after the first dismissal, it was the second dismissal that truly rippled through the faculty.  This collective outrage led to Faculty Council resolutions sent to the administration.

Fortunately for OBU (I guess), we have not suffered the kinds of consequences that typically accompany these kinds of actions.  The first victim could have publicized his situation and brought widespread shame and embarrassment on OBU.  The second victim could have gotten a sizable settlement (based on violation of legal guidelines set forth in chapter 2 of the Faculty Handbook).  Not one but several attorneys with knowledge of the case believe that the second victim would have easily won a judgment against OBU in court, or at least a settlement out of court.

Obviously these two victims have much more integrity than they were shown by OBU administrators.

But the main point of today's Faculty Friday post is not actually about the two well-known dismissals.  Rather, the point is that administrators are now open to using tenure as a weapon in an ideological war to make the OBU faculty more fundamentalist.  Now that this practice has become widely known, there is a chance they will back down.  But don't be surprised if fundamentalist professors are fast-tracked for tenure and continuing contracts (just like they are now fast-tracked for hiring against the professional judgment of their colleagues) and moderate professors are denied their right to stand for tenure and/or asked to agree to multi-year or annual contracts.  The implications are huge.  OBU could become a majority fundamentalist faculty relatively quickly.  Of course, this would please BGCO elites (and at least one current administrator) to no end!

I truly hope that these unethical practices stop at once and that the two forced dismissals do not bring more shame and embarrassment on our alma mater (or harm our future application for re-accreditation). But what has happened is wrong.  There is no way to spin it.  It's just plain wrong.  While Save OBU brings together a number of constituencies (parents, students, alumni, etc.), our most passionate concern is for OBU's greatest asset: its dedicated faculty.  All the rest of us are free to raise our voices in protest against unjust actions and encroaching fundamentalism.  But in the current climate, professors' voices are effectively silenced.  We know many of them are cheering us on, albiet silently and anonymously, from the sidelines.  But let it be known to everyone: Until academic freedom is fully restored at OBU and all threats against it are eliminated, we will not stop advocating tirelessly for our wonderful faculty.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

SBC Uses "Journalism" as Propaganda

The media play an important role in democratic societies.  We depend on them to provide information that we could not gather on our own.  They have immense power to help set agendas, determine the salience of issues, and form and reinforce our opinions.  Baptists used to have a first-rate press office.  But, as in so many other areas, after the Fundamentalist Takeover, the SBC's effort in this critical area deteriorated significantly.

Everyone should buy the Kindle edition of The Fundamentalist Takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention for 99 cents.  The chapter on the Baptist Press is omitted from the new version, so I'll summarize the story of how Baptist Press was silenced by the fundamentalists.  This is a story that must be told, repeated, and never forgotten.  The chapter is quoted in its entirety at the conclusion of this post.

Baptist Press was a highly competent, professional, and cost-effective news organization.  It provided reporting and photography to dozens of Baptist newspapers and received unanimous praise from Baptist journalism professors, other denominational media officials, and Baptist state newspapers.  One person who did not appreciate Baptist Press, however, was Judge Paul Pressler.  Pressler, as you know, was one of the two main co-conspirators (along with Rev. Paige Patterson) of the Fundamentalist Takeover.  (You might have seen Pressler's name in the media lately because he hosted the meeting of conservative Christian leaders two weeks ago that endorsed Rick Santorum for the GOP presidential nomination.)

Pressler personally intervened and launched a crusade against Baptist Press.  Its crime?  Reporting honestly on the fundamentalists' takeover effort in the 1980s.  Eventually, the SBC fired two senior editors in a closed-door Executive Committee meeting.  In 1994, SBC President Ed Young (father of Ed Young, Jr. of fundamentalist sex manual fame) called for an end to investigative reporting by Christian editors and reporters.

Thus, in addition to a spate of independent Baptist papers run by Rev. Jerry Falwell and others, the official SBC communications channels became (and remain) committed to the fundamentalists' agenda.  There is no free press in the Southern Baptist Convention.  There is no free press in the BGCO.  And, as we will see in our next post, there is no free press at OBU.  We've said it before, but we must say it again in regard to journalism: Fundamentalist will not tolerate anything they cannot control.

Fortunately, Associated Baptist Press fills a much-needed void.  We'll tell the ABP story another day.

For now, read the startling account of how fundamentalist leaders destroyed the Baptist Press:

The right of every Baptist to know is based on the equality of believers in Christ Jesus and upon the democratic nature of our church and denominational life. Every believer has a right to serve his or her God, his or her church, and his or her denomination intelligently.  This can be done only as the right to know is respected. -- W.G. Stracener, editor of the Florida Baptist Witness from 1959-70

Baptist Press, the news service of the Southern Baptist Convention, provides daily releases, news features, and photographs to 37 Baptist papers, to other religious journals, and to the secular press.  The press service is an arm fo the SBC Executive Committee.

A long-term participant in and observer of Baptist life has wisely stated, "The largest, most productive, and most cost-efficient communications effort of each and all the Baptist state conventions is the 37 state Baptist newspapers."

Almost without exception, Baptist Press consistently received the highest commendation from its many and varied constituencies.  These included college and university journalism professors, religion writers and reporters from the secular media, public relations professionals, and denominational leaders.

Executive Committee trustee Paul Pressler was a notable exception to this generally positive evaluation.  This powerful leader of the teakeover effort had been an intense critic of Baptist Press for many years.  He was not pleased with former Baptist Press director W.C. Fields; nor was he pleased with Alvin C. "Al" Shackleford, the committed, capable, and experienced director of Baptist Press who took office in March 1987.

Periodically, Pressler expressed his negative evaluation of Baptist Press's work by letter to the staff or to other persons who might have influence with the staff.  Often, he insisted that "public apology" be made to him for Baptist Press statements concerning himself or the takeover effort he was leading.

In an encounter with Shackleford during the May 1987 Conference on Biblical Inerrancy at Ridgecrest, North Carolina, Pressler angrily waved a Baptist Press news release at Shackleford's face that reported, in a thoroughly fair and professional way, what had been said at one of the sessions.  As the two men stood in the Ridgecrest cafeteria line, Pressler demanded, "What are you going to do about this?  I want to know what you're going to do about this."

In its February 1988 session, the SBC Executive Committee received the report and recommendations of a special committee that had been authorized at the 1987 SBC in St. Louis to evaluate Baptist Press.  The Executive Committee took action "generally affirming" Baptist Press.  Also during the February meeting, the Southern Baptist Press association, composed primarily of Baptist state paper editors, commended Baptist Press for "a fair, accurate, and comprehensive job of reporting events in Southern Baptist life."

Despite these affirmations, Pressler continued his determined effort to restrict the freedom of Baptist Press during a meeting of the Executive Committee during the June 1988 SBC.  He chose that time because he knew that trustees elected during the SBC would be fundamentalists and would probably suport his effort.  However, his motion to add restrictive guidelines to govern Baptist Press failed -- but only by a vote of 31-29.

Following those eventas at the 1988 SBC in San Antonio, Ed Briggs, president of the Religious Newswriters Association and religion editor of the Richmond Times-Dispatch, sent a strong letter to the chairman of the SBC Executive Committee.  The members fo the Religious Newswriters Association cover religion for newpapers, news magazines, and wire services in the United States and Canada.

In his letter, subsequently published, Briggs expressed the praise of American newswriters in lavish terms: "Baptist Press enjoys high credibility, if not the highest, when compared to news operations of other American denominations."

Briggs also expressed the newswriters' uneasiness about the restrictive guidelines Pressler proposed in San Antonio.  "We are concerned any time efforts are made to stifle freedom of expression and place restrictions and limitations on news organizations."  The letter went on to invoke the example of "Baptist saints who faced jail rather than bow down to dictated religion."

An emasculated Baptist Press of managed and manipulated news would be an affront to all persons who believe in the competence fo the individual to deal directly with God, the priesthood of every believer, religious liberty, and local church autonomy.  An emasculated Baptist Press would also mean that Southern Baptists would be far less likely to learn anything about their denomination's affairs -- except the things the controlling group wanted them to know.

Pressler and other fundamentalists continued to claim Baptist Press wrote stories which "persecuted" fundamentalists.  Baptist Press reporters are hired by and can be fired by the persons and agencies about which they write.  Pressure is, therefore, on reporters to write stories with a certain "spin" to reflect well on supervisors and their agencies.  Only the most courageous reporters write the truth, good or bad, and they quickly become targets.

Finally, in June 1990, the administrative committee of the SBC Executive Council directed Executive Committee President Harold Bennett to ask for the resignations of Al Shackleford, 58, and Dan Martin, 52.  They refused to resign and wrote a Baptist Press story on the request.

In response, the outraged officers of the SBC Executive Committee demanded a called meeting on July 17, 1990.  The meeting cost a reported $45,500, including $500 for five armed guards from the Nashville Metro Police Department, who guarded the doors to the meeting room.  The two embattled men were again asked to resign, and again they refused.  As 200 concerned editors, agency personnel, pastors, lay persons, and others sang hymns outside the closed doors of the conference room, Shackleford and Martin were fired "effective immediately."

Of the firing, Don McGregor, editor of the Mississippi Baptist Record, wrote, "Today, we have seen the final destruction of freedom of the press among Southern Baptists... They were fired because the majority of SBC executive committee does not want a free-flowing, objective and accurate news service."

Immediately after the firing was announced, a Nashville attorney, who said he was speaking on behalf of "concerned editors, pastors, and laypersons," announced the formation of a new press service, to be called the Associated Baptist Press (ABP).

Dan Martin was named interim director with a launch date of September 1990.  Don McGregor, who hard retired as editor of the Baptist Record, was named executive editor of ABP in March 1991.  Greg Warner, associate editor of The Florida Baptist Witness, was named editor of ABP effective May 1, 1991.  After several years as a freelance writer and pastor of a North Carolina church, Martin was named executive-director of Texans Who Care, a statewide anti-gambling coalition, in December 1992.

Ed Young, SBC president, in an address to the SBC Executive Committee in early 1994, called for an end of "investigative reporting" by Christian editors and reporters, saying they should major on the "fabulous things" that are happening in the kingdom.  Jack E. Brymer, Sr., editor of the Florida Baptist Witness, responded that "As long as Baptist leaders continue the use of 'executive sessions' to cover up their actions, Baptist journalism will need more, not less, investigative reporting."

After Young's speech, the SBC Christian Life Commission (CLC) severely criticized the Biblical Recorder, the newsjournal of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, in a four-page letter mailed to 3,547 North Carolina pastors at a cost of about $1,300.  Baptist Press reported the mailing was the first time a SBC agency had sent a letter to state pastors chiding a state agency.

The SBC Executive Committee began publishing SBC LIFE in 1993 to replace the Baptist Program, published since 1925.  Since it is published by the Executive Committee, SBC LIFE, an official SBC publication, is a full-color public relations news journal with articles to promote the fundamentalist agenda and attack all opposing views within the SBC.  In the June-July 1994 issue, editor Mark Coppenger blasted the CBF, Religious News Service, Christianity Today, Baptist Press, and Baptist state papers, with the exception of the Indiana Baptist, with what one Baptist state paper editor said was a "scissors and past tirade."

In December 1987, Jack U. Harwell, long-time editor of The Christian Index, state paper for Georgia, took early retirement in protest of a fundamentalist board of directors restricting editorial freedom.   He was named editor of BAPTISTS TODAY in June 1988 and served in that position until his retirement at the end of 1997.

in September 1994, Jack Brymer, editor of Florida's state paper, The Baptist Witness, cited threats to his professional integrity before resigning in protest of continued attempts by the board of directors to restrict his editorial freedom.  Among other things, the board was pressuring not to use news stories from Associated Baptist Press.  Brymer was named to a newly created post of director of publications at Samford University in Alabama in September 1995.

The lesson here is that fundamentalist strength at the national and state levels has eliminated a free SBC press.  SBC and most state convention media arms are now little more than propaganda machines.  I hope the story of the destruction of true journalism in Southern Baptist life will inspire all of us, but especially journalism students at OBU.  They need to know that before Baptist editors and reporters were P.R. hacks for the fundamentalists, there were actually courageous journalists who pursued and reported the truth without fear of recrimination.  As we will see in the next post, fundamentalist tendencies in OBU's administration have been all to evident in their attempts to censor and control student journalism on Bison Hill.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

OBU Chapel: Compulsory, Sexist, and Fundamentalist as Ever

It's really beyond the scope of Save OBU to say much about OBU chapel services, especially since many of our supporters have not attended them in years.  But insofar as chapel services reinforce OBU's descent into fundamentalism, we will make note of them.  This especially important because we are trying to make the case that OBU's troubling trend is systemic and organized, and not just a result of one or two powerful men's personal preferences.

Until today, I had not heard the name Voddie Baucham in over a decade.  But I am absolutely certain he spoke at chapel when I was at OBU.  (Who could forget a name like Voddie?)  Actually, as I've perused lists of recent and upcoming chapel speakers, it's amazing how much recycling goes on.

Now, I have always believed that making religious worship compulsory was bizarre and counter-productive.  But as I experienced OBU as a student and then as an alum, I have come to realize that OBU is surprisingly authoritarian and somehow gets near-universal conformity with minimal questioning.

Why the fuss about today's chapel speaker, then?  Because Voddie Baucham is not your typical Baptist minister.  Instead of partnering with the mainstream Baptist General Convention of Texas, Baucham's congregation is part of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.  Whereas fundamentalists succeeded in taking control of the BGCO and most other state conventions, they failed to take control of the BGCT.  So they formed an alternative state convention, putting politics and fundamentalist dogma ahead of mission and ministry cooperation.  Even now, the SBTC encourages "stealth" fundamentalist pastors to remake churches from within and endorses ethically dubious tactics to lure unsuspecting congregations away from the BGCT.

Thus OBU has given a platform to someone who openly loathes Southern Baptists' long history of mission and ministry cooperation in Texas and felt so strongly that the conservative BGCT was not conservative enough that he aligned with a controversial splinter group.

Here is Rev. Baucham on CNN in 2008 lamenting the fact that Sarah Palin left the kitchen to pursue a career of public service.  You have to watch this (it starts about 1 minute into the video).  It's pretty breathtaking.  The anchor (who knows her Bible better than most) is truly taken aback.

Apologies to all if Rev. Baucham has miraculously moderated his extreme views in recent years and preached an inspiring sermon in Raley Chapel today.  But somehow I doubt that's the case.  It's just a shame that the Raley Chapel pulpit continues to be a platform for extremism, sexism, and fundamentalism.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

How Do You Solve a Problem Like Stan Norman?

I'm very grateful for all the support our fast-growing and far-reaching movement has received in just a few short weeks.  However, it's going to take a long time -- years -- for the idea that OBU needs independence and autonomy from the BGCO to become the obvious way forward for each entity.  I'm quite sure I can't keep up the daily blog postings for that long -- something my faithful Baptist Building readers are certainly grateful for.  (Hi, guys!)

But, short of a self-perpetuating Board of Trustees, there is one solution that almost everyone I've talked to believes would solve all the problems brought on by fundamentalist encroachment at OBU over the past 18 months: Removing Dr. Stan Norman as chief academic officer.  I'm skeptical, but many people strongly believe this.

I don't know if his position was just a consolation prize because Norman didn't get the SCS deanship, or why anyone but the most ardent fundamentalists ever thought he would be a good fit at OBU.  But even for OBU's conservative tastes, I think it's safe to say that he overreached and mistook his hiring as a mandate to remake OBU into a fundamentalist Bible academy.  Perhaps the president could send Dr. Norman on his way with a sterling recommendation, noting the provost's zeal and effectiveness at censoring course readings, ignoring Faculty Handbook policies, keeping female lay leaders in their place, spinning ideologically-motivated firings as contract-related resignations, and generally being Arbiter and Enforcer of Truth.  As heartbreaking as it is, I'm sure there is a Southern Baptist college or "seminary" out there that is looking for a hatchet man.

As much as I hate to admit it, such a move would put Save OBU out of business and help restore thousands of people's lost faith in OBU.  Students and faculty would immediately throw President Whitlock a ticker-tape parade on the Oval.  And if Anthony Jordan didn't like it, this could be the moment Whitlock finally realizes, like Mark Brister finally did, that Anthony Jordan isn't his boss.  The faculty, who are near the point of open rebellion because of administrators' incessant hostile actions, would finally have a champion.  Students, too, would rally around their president.  Dozens of retired faculty would withdraw their concerns, and nearly everyone who signed the alumni petition would be satisfied that their concerns were heard and acted upon.

Now, I coud be wrong, but I maintain that ultimately, nothing short of total independence from the BGCO will make these problems disappear forever.  I believe that even if we get a chief academic officer that students and faculty can support, eventually fundamentalism will rear its ugly head in OBU's affairs and/or governance.  Sure, we might enjoy a multi-year respite from the attacks on integrity, academic freedom, liberty of the conscience, and soul competency, but one day soon the fundamentalists would be back to do battle again.  They will not tolerate anything they can't control.  It's just their nature.

Still, given how many problems a personnel change in the provost's office would solve and the massive amount of confidence it would restore, it's hard to see the downside.  Speaking just for myself, I don't think this solves the most pressing problem.  But a lot of people believe it does.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Money Monday: The Cooperative Program and the Great Recession

As everyone knows, the economic contraction that began in 2007 has been the worst in generations.  Churches and denominations, like families and businesses, have been hit hard.  Budgets have shrunk, contributions are down, and tough decisions have to be made.

The Georgia Baptist Convention, situated in a state with above average unemployment, has particularly struggled to fund ministry priorities and meet obligations to the SBC.  Oklahoma's employment and housing valuation statistics are not as bad as most of the rest of the nation.  Thus, the BGCO has had a somewhat easier time funding ministries and missions.  Of course, state convention elites are under tremendous pressure from Nashville to fund the SBC at the highest possible level.

Yet whether states are struggling a lot or a little, Baptist leaders have thus far been unwilling to defund the colleges and universities they subsidize and control.  We have already discussed how the BGCO's huge OBU subsidy cuts into what it can spend on evangelism and collegiate ministries at 35 other colleges in Oklahoma.

Baptist state conventions operate 51 colleges, most of which have endowments running into the tens and even hundreds of millions of dollars.  These institutions raise, on average, close to 95% of their revenue on their own.  Yet because the conventions contribute 5 or 6% and control the colleges through the trustee selection process, these schools are descending headlong into fundamentalism.  OBU is not unique in this case.  But fundamentalists will never relinquish control, no matter how small their contribution and no matter how bad the economy gets.  In fact, they will only partner with organizations they can completely dominate and control.  (Note the SBC's withdrawal from the Baptist World Alliance, the Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs, and other interdenominational and ecumenical arrangements since the Fundamentalist Takeover.)

Even though academic freedom, open inquiry, and the liberty of the conscience are now at odds with Baptist elites' agenda, they still pay the price to maintain control of these schools.  Even though the economy is in a once-in-a-lifetime recession, they still happily throw millions and millions of dollars to institutions with eight and nine figure endowments.  Even as ministry professionals at state convention offices are laid off and budgets are drastically cut, fundamentalist leaders are still happy to subsidize Baptist colleges with huge annual institutional welfare checks.

Why?  Because it's a great deal for them.  They get 100% of the power for providing only 6 or 7% of the revenue!  Unfortunately, it's a horrible deal for everyone else, not least for the Baptist clergy and laypeople who care less about waging ideological warfare and more about impacting lostness.  I would argue that Baptist elites' continued insistence on buying institutional power and control on the cheap calls into question their professed concern about lostness.

(These Baptist universities, where 99% of students and 100% of faculty are already Christians, may be [to varying degrees] good training grounds, but they are not impacting lostness and they certainly are not doing so efficiently.  Here in Oklahoma, we already know that the robust Falls Creek program has much more to do with Oklahoma Baptists' contributions to the missionary ranks than OBU.  It's also fascinating to note that most of the pastors who please the BGCO elites are state school grads who went to Southwestern Seminary.  A startling proportion of OBU grads, on the other hand, went to moderate seminaries, are ministering outside Oklahoma, and/or comprise the moderate faction of Oklahoma Baptist life the BGCO leaders love to hate!  It's also interesting to note how few BCM leaders statewide came from OBU.)

In these difficult times, you couldn't blame Baptist leaders for saying to the colleges: "Look, you guys are sitting on huge endowments.  Our receipts are down.  We need to significantly cut back on our subsidies to you."  But instead, they are cutting staff, starving vital ministry areas, and doing whatever is necessary to keep institutional welfare flowing to the colleges.  Just remember, it's not about ministry, friends.  It's about control.  And even in the worst economic climate since the Great Depression, the price is so cheap they just can't help themselves.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Sunday School: Things Can Get Worse

A Word to New Visitors and Supporters
Welcome, friends!  According to our internal analytics, there's a good chance you're new to the Save OBU website.  In the past week, we have had hundreds of first-time visitors.  Web traffic in Shawnee will spike dramatically as students return for the beginning of the spring semester on Monday.  When we introduced Save OBU in December, students were studying for finals and most have been away from Bison Hill for the past 5 weeks.  Unless the administration has blocked this website, students will have access to weeks' worth of information this blog has presented.  Their legitimate questions and concerns have been rebuffed before, but a critical mass is building.

In the coming months, administrators will have to decide which vision of OBU they support and where their loyalties lie.  They can cast their lots with the fundamentalists who control the BGCO (and the $2.5 million in annual funding they provide in exchange for dismissing moderate professors, gutting core curriculum areas, ignoring faculty norms, etc).  Or, they can side with the students, parents, faculty, and alumni who believe in academic freedom, open inquiry, and OBU's proud liberal arts heritage.  It is already becoming obvious that the two visions for OBU are not compatible.  As Christ himself says, "No man can serve two masters" (Matt. 6:24).  During that time, students can begin a real conversation on campus about the nature and future of OBU.  We are confident they will conclude that all the recent negative changes are an affront to, not an embodiment of, OBU's true nature.

Sunday School Feature
In previous weeks, we have devoted Sundays to telling stories of some fine Baptist schools that have ended their relationships with their state conventions (William Jewell College, Stetson University, and Furman University).  Without exception, these universities have flourished since they rid themselves of fundamentalist control.  Likewise, the state conventions are much better off, being relieved of a significant financial burden and able to dramatically expand other, more fruitful, ministry and mission opportunities.  The splits were painful, but they became necessary as the state conventions came under fundamentalist control over the past three decades.

For most of that time, OBU has managed to walk the fine line between the needs of its academic constituency and the demands of BGCO leaders.  But in recent years, the fundamentalist elites began demanding radical changes on Bison Hill.  Administrators can no longer protect each side's interests.  It's not the administrators' faults.  Rather, they are in an impossible situation.  Ultimately, they will have to make a choice.  If you've been paying even scant attention to the changes on Bison Hill these past two years, you probably believe they have already made the choice to side with the fundamentalists.  But one of the reasons Save OBU exists is to publicly show administrators that students, parents, alumni, and faculty are ready to raise an army to support them if they courageously stand up to the BGCO's agenda.

In the three cases linked above, presidents and trustees sided with the schools' true constituencies (students, parents, alumni, faculty) and true values (academic freedom, soul competency, liberty of the conscience).  They resisted the fundamentalists' agenda for their beloved institutions.  There are other Baptist schools that have done likewise and achieved greatness (e.g. Mercer, Baylor, and Wake Forest).

But we need to realistically assess where we are in this fight.  In addition to dreaming about what might be possible if we end fundamentalist control, we need to prepare for the nightmare of remaining under it.  Frankly, the nightmare scenario seems more likely at this point.

This link lists the 56 Southern Baptist colleges.  More precisely, 51 of them are affiliated with state conventions that maintain cooperative relationships with the SBC.  Five of them are undergraduate programs at SBC seminaries.  Fortunately, OBU is generally believed to be one of the best Baptist schools in America (though remember that many of the best schools have already left their state conventions).  But many of the schools on it shows what a nightmare scenario might look like.

We've already looked briefly at the disastrous consequences of fundamentalism at Louisiana College and Shorter University.  These schools have experienced faculty departures by the dozens, horrible governance problems, and financial difficulties.  Continuing accreditation looks doubtful.  We probably need to look more closely at these cases, as well as other avowedly fundamentalist schools.  In addition, we need to examine the cases of schools where the academic constituency declined to fight (or fought unsuccessfully) against fundamentalist takeover factions.

For years, OBU was in the fortunate position of being able to maintain the status quo even in the throes of the Fundamentalist Takeover.  But that is no longer possible.  If we do nothing, the fundamentalists are going to lead OBU off a cliff.  We will become another nominally-accredited fundamentalist Bible academy, one of many in Baptist life.  If we fight, at least OBU has a chance to survive as a leading Christian liberal arts college.  As one retired professor wisely noted, "We might lose this struggle, but it's not one I would want to lose easily."

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Student Saturday: Bookstore Scavenger Hunt

It is well known that OBU recently fired Barnes and Noble after many years of efficient and capable management of the bookstore.  In its place, OBU contracted with Tree of Life, a company committed to censoring mainstream books and stocking books from (almost exclusively) fundamentalist publishing houses.

I'm not trying to suggest that I should be the final arbiter of what books Christian college students should have available to them.  Rather, I have consulted with alumni and friends and compiled a list of books that you should expect to find in any college bookstore.  The list includes some classics, some new volumes that should be of interest to people who are serious about the Bible, and titles that frequently appear on lists of "books that college students should read."  Since OBU is still supposedly about diversity of thought and administrators claim not to be turning OBU into a fundamentalist Bible academy, we can assume these books and others like them should be readily available in the university bookstore.  Right?

For each of the following 10 books that Tree of Life stocks, I will donate $10 to OBU.  In addition, I will give $10 to the first student who posts a picture of the book to our Facebook page.

A Tale of Two Cities
Charles Dickens (1859)
The bestselling novel in the history of the world.

Saint Augustine (AD 398)
The dominant thinker in Christian antiquity gives his personal narrative, which became a bedrock of Western literature.

The Pilgrim's Progress
John Bunyan (1678)
A foundational Protestant text, this was Charles Spurgeon's favorite book after the Bible.

Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies
Jared Diamond (New York: Norton, 2005)
An argument about how science and technology, not moral or genetic superiority, account for why some societies win and others lose.

Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything
Steven D. Lovett and Stephen J. Dubner (paperback ed. is from 2009)
Widely read and hugely influential book about some of life's unusual connections and causal relationships.

The Lost History of Christianity
Philip Jenkins (New York: HarperOne, 2009)
This prominent historian is speaking at OBU next month.  Does Tree of Life carry his book?  I'll also accept either of the other two volumes in his History of Christianity Trilogy.

Jerusalem: The Biography
Simon Sebag Montefiore (New York: Knopf, 2011)
Clever and carefully researched story of Jerusalem's historical, spiritual, and contemporary importance.

The Meaning of the Bible: What the Jewish Scriptures and Christian Old Testament Can Teach Us
Douglas A. Knight and Amy-Jill Levine (New York: HarperOne, 2011)
Very well-reviewed new book from two of the top Old Testament scholars in the world.

NRSV Study Bible
The best ones are the New Oxford Annotated Bible (Oxford University Press, 2010), the HarperCollins Study Bible (HarperOne, 2006), and the New Interpreter's Bible (Abingdon, 2003).  But I've got $10 for any NRSV study Bible at Tree of Life.  The New Revised Standard Version's mantra is "as literal as possible" but "as free as necessary."  Unlike the better-selling NIV, the NRSV translation committee was not dominated by fundamentalists.  The NRSV features a number of distinctives that fundamentalists love to hate, most notably inclusive language, brothers and sisters.  Every decent college bookstore in America sells NRSV study Bibles.  Does Tree of Life?

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Book 7)
J.K. Rowling (New York: Arthur A. Levine, 2009)
I'm mostly curious to see if, like most "Christian" bookstores, Tree of Life believes Harry Potter is satanic.

Dollar Bonus Round!
A buck to you and a buck to OBU for every book by
  • Archbishop Desmond Tutu
  • Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong
  • Oklahoma City pastor Robin Meyers
  • Astronomer Carl Sagan
  • Paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould
  • Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson
I'm sure these people get bashed mercilessly in "Apologetics" and "Worldview" classes, but I'm sure you are encouraged to read them before you dismiss their arguments:
  • Christopher Hitchens
  • Richard Dawkins
  • Daniel Dennett

And Just for Fun...
Take pictures of the most ridiculous books you see in Tree of Life, "Christian" or otherwise.  Post them to our Facebook page, too.

I'm betting I keep all my money today.  But trust me, I would love more than anything in all the world to write a $100 check to OBU, give $100 to the students who found the books, and even pay out extra for the Dollar Bonus Round.  So get out there, Bison, and prove me wrong!

Friday, January 20, 2012

Faculty Friday: Open Hostility on Bison Hill

This is not going to be pleasant for anyone, but it needs to be said:  Relations between OBU faculty and administrators are at an all-time low.  Let's review some facts:
  • Two professors have been dismissed for ideological reasons.  Luckily for OBU, we have not yet suffered the embarrassing consequences of these politically-motivated firings.  But just as Southwestern Seminary was put on probation in the mid-1990s because of fundamentalist meddling, when OBU applies for continued accreditation in the future, these unethical actions will reflect very negatively on us.  Don't be surprised if administrators try to abandon the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools and pursue "accreditation" through some bogus second-rate fundamentalist-friendly entity that won't make them answer for their actions.
  • Many faculty have retired quite a few years sooner than they might have.  They saw the writing on the wall and, understandably, did not want to be become targets of fundamentalist zeal in the waning years of their careers.
  • Faculty Council morale is low because in spite of its best efforts, it could not successfully intervene in the two forced dismissals.
  • Administrators routinely ignore faculty search committee recommendations.  This means that some recent hires were actually our third and fourth choices, but were fast-tracked for hiring because of ideological conformity and not because of their qualifications or promise for future success.  If this embarrassing and dangerous trend continues, the best applicants will be dissuaded from enduring the horrendous interview process at OBU altogether.
  • More than a handful of professors fear for their jobs, and some have conceded that their work is much more joyless than it had been under previous administrations.
  • In light of recent actions, many professors are reluctant to express their anger and disillusionment.
  • While leadership starts at the very top, a lot of people feel that the provost is the real "hatchet man" or "enforcer."  Though Dr. Norman missed an opportunity to be a part of a fundamentalist house-cleaning at Louisiana College, where he applied for the presidency in the throes of a fundamentalist takeover, he seems to be relishing that role at OBU.  But he clearly overestimated the university community's tolerance for such a radical shift away from academic freedom and OBU's great liberal arts heritage.  (In fact, most would argue he misinterpreted the university's mission altogether.)  Many faculty are irate that Dr. Norman, whose position was created especially for him after he was passed over for the School of Christian Service deanship in favor of Anthony Jordan's close friend, has not undergone a traditional evaluation with input from faculty and staff.  His predecessor, a longtime OBU administrator, underwent such evaluations annually and was universally praised.
  • Faculty have almost no recourse.  The university has shown in the past 18 months that it is not afraid to dismiss even the most capable and devoted professors.  As much as it pains them to do so, a surprising number of (mostly tenured) professors have declined to support the capital campaign in order to register their sadness at the university's direction.  Also, for the first time since the fundamentalist takeover of the SBC, OBU professors are organizing a chapter of the American Association of University Professors.  Since faculty norms and advice are frequently ignored and they are in constant danger of dismissal in open violation of the Faculty Handbook and basic H.R. ethics, the faculty are at a loss for ways to protect themselves from retaliation and unjust termination.

The solution to this impasse is complicated.  While OBU and the BGCO coexisted tenuously but relatively peacefully for many years, that relationship has outlived its usefulness.  While OBU remained, until recently, a proud, moderate institution offering a balanced Christian liberal arts education, the BGCO has descended headlong into fundamentalism.  It no longer makes sense for it to own and operate a true liberal arts university.  To the extent that the BGCO cheerleads for fundamentalism on Bison Hill, it will meet relentless and increasingly angry resistance.  It has goals for evangelism and missions that OBU does not efficiently advance and it could spend Cooperative Program funds much more effectively elsewhere.  OBU, for its part, has constituencies including students, their families, faculty, and alumni that simply cannot abide the fundamentalist-inspired personnel and policy changes that are eroding at our alma mater's proud reputation, devaluing students' diplomas, risking parents' investments, and dispiriting professors' careers.

Trustees need to, at a minimum, know the whole story behind the actions they are asked to sign off on. Eventually, they will know the full story of the two forced dismissals.  But they also need to ensure, from now on, that the new faculty contracts they approve are actually for the people we want most, not the ones at the bottom of search committees' rankings who are being hand-picked for their fundamentalist views.  Unlike the situation at SBC-controlled institutions, where the trustees were the problem, we have very good trustees.  The problem in our case lies with administrators who are torn between what Anthony Jordan wants OBU to become and what the OBU community wants for itself.  Trustees are in a unique position to be a moderating influence on encroaching fundamentalism.  Hopefully, as they learn more about the history of fundamentalists taking control of state convention-run colleges (stories we are telling nearly every Sunday on the blog), they will  recognize the need to assert their independence from the BGCO.

Faculty are in many ways the heart and soul of a university.  Their time horizon is longer than students' and they typically outlast several presidents.  They are the ones whose day-to-day experience would be most significantly improved by a separation from the BGCO.  Of course, students, alumni, and Oklahoma Baptists all have something to gain.  If you won't do it for anyone else, please support Save OBU for the faculty's sake.  They are badly constrained and have little recourse.  The current situation is not doing any of them any good.  Senior faculty are seeing the institution they love and have served faithfully for years turned into something they would never have chosen to associate with all those years ago.  And the junior faculty are being done a disservice, too.  It's not a good feeling to know that you were not the first or even the second choice and that you got your job primarily because of your opinions and only secondarily because of your qualifications.

In some important ways, these are good times for OBU: growing enrollment, an exciting and promising capital campaign, the resumption of football as a varsity sport after 72 years, etc.  But we have to be most vigilant during apparently good times, because those are the times fundamentalists think they make their disastrous changes without attracting much attention.  Unfortunately for them, we are paying very close attention.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

"Tree of Life" Bookstore

If you've read the blog much over the past six weeks, you know that I've come down pretty hard on the fact that OBU contracted with a fundamentalist company to run the university bookstore.  Without even getting into the textbook side of the business, just the fact that OBU administrators have denied students, faculty, and, frankly, the entire Shawnee community, a place to buy mainstream books is disconcerting.

But -- as always -- I could be badly mistaken here.  It may be the case that this new arrangement is better for students, faculty, and a better financial arrangement with the university.  I simply don't know.  There's plenty of evidence of encroaching fundamentalism at OBU without the bookstore change.  If I'm way off base here, please let me know.

Here are a few reasons the new bookstore situation stinks.  Whether this move (along with the firing of excellent professors, the gutting of core curriculum areas, the open hostility toward faculty norms and search committee recommendations, the suppression of dissent, the censorship of student journalism, the hijacking of great moderates' namesakes for fundamentalist purposes, the incessant cozying up to BGCO and SBC elites, etc. etc. ad nauseam) is part of the deliberate move toward fundamentalism is something you will have to judge for yourselves.

  • As a rule, what today passes for "Christian bookstores" is horrible.  Even when I was a youth, I remember feeling creeped out just walking into these places.  You feel like your IQ goes down  20 points within a few minutes of walking through the door.  They contract almost exclusively with fundamentalist publishing houses.  You will never find mainstream fiction books in a Christian bookstore.  You will also never find nonfiction books from places like Cambridge University Press, the University of Chicago press, or pretty much any university press other than Bob Jones (not even kidding).  These institutions create and nurture the idea that "Christian" is a totally separate category.  Whether intentionally or not, they define the parameters of that category and make into a consumer commodity.  They are openly anti-intellectual.  God knows  the books in Christian bookstores are not going to make you think too hard.  Thinking is the devil's business.  Aside from that, a random sampling of titles usually reveals that these bookstores are extremely sexist, not to mention bigoted and ignorant with respect to other religious traditions.  In general, I think it is safe to say that these places have no business on a university campus, Christian or otherwise.
  • OBU students quickly picked up on the fact that this move seemed in line with other efforts to change the definition of Christian higher education that had existed at OBU for decades.  The second edition of "The Norm," a student-produced newsletter, asks: "Is it purely coincidental that the OBU bookstore has moved from Barnes and Noble, a store that along with textbooks, stocked a variety of books, some of which were secular in nature, to Tree of Life, a store that, other than textboks, only stocks Christian books, many of which focus on Christian dating and courtship?"  Given the students' other concerns, I can see why this aroused suspicion.
  • The other colleges Tree of Life lists as its clients (here and here) are almost without exception avowedly fundamentalist.  It would be a major step down for OBU if we suddenly consider these places our peer institutions in any way.  (Although given our precipitous drop in the Forbes college rankings over the past two years, we may actually become their peer institutions, whether we like it or not.)
  • Tree of Life's stated values seem strange.  "What's good for business is good for ministry and what's good for ministry is good for business."  Really?
  • Their list of "Innovative Services" seems pretty sketchy, too.  They have something called a "Textbook Butler" service, a ministry whereby their employees shop for textbooks for you.  Basically, this means that students are not allowed to physically go check textbook prices in the store (though this can be done online if you can get reliable internet service at OBU, which is apparently not a given these days).  Tree of Life will even deliver the books to students' dorm rooms.  They say students and parents appreciate the service.  I don't know about you, but when I was in college, my parents appreciated me finding the best prices on books, not paying full retail on every book and having them delivered to my door.  Tree of Life takes unprecedented steps to prevent students from getting better deals on their course materials.
  • They also have an "innovative service" by which the university charges students a fee for textbooks, thus prohibiting them from finding books cheaper online or elsewhere.  This is a flat fee for all students, regardless of major or number of credits enrolled.  To my knowledge, this has not been instituted at OBU yet.  If it ever is, hopefully OBU parents will light up the switchboard.  Even if patrons lose 20 IQ points when they enter Tree of Life, they still are not stupid enough to fall for this "innovative" trick.
  • As we have already discussed, women at OBU have enough challenges.  I shudder to even think about how many books at Tree of Life reinforce fundamentalist gender roles.
  • Now that Waldenbooks in the mall is closing, there is literally nowhere the literate people of Shawnee (a town of more than 30,000 people) can go to buy non-fundamentalist books.
Just out of curiosity, I can't help but wonder if any long-serving employees of the OBU bookstore lost their jobs so that OBU could make reading safe for its students.

Again, the university may be making a lot more money under this arrangement than with Barnes & Noble.  I doubt it, though.  But even if it is, given the significant drawbacks, it's hard to imagine it's worth it.

Bookstore Scavenger Hunt -- Saturday, January 21
To help determine whether the new bookstore is a total joke, or just an unfortunate change, Save OBU is sponsoring a Bookstore Scavenger Hunt this Saturday!  At 8:00 am, we will post a list of books that any college bookstore should stock.  For each one Tree of Life carries, I will personally donate $10 to OBU and $10 to the first student who posts a picture of the book to our Facebook page.  You could earn up to $100 toward your spring semester books!  And, just to keep things interesting, please feel free to post pictures of the most ridiculous titles for everyone's amusement.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

OBU Bison Football

As you know, OBU announced today that it hired a head football coach.  The Bison will begin play in 2013.  A lot of you have asked my opinion.  I'm agnostic on this question.  All I can say is, go Bison!

The university engaged in a self-study beginning in 2006.  The committee reported in January 2008.  Part of that report is here.  At the time, we were experiencing a substantial enrollment drop.  A group began studying the feasibility of fielding a football team, in large part to help boost enrollment, particularly male enrollment.  I found parts of the report to be troubling.  But as far as I know (and I don't know much), the football issue received significant attention and scrutiny from a number of very capable and devoted people before a decision was made to proceed.

There are going to be challenges and changes, of course.  But adding a football program can have important advantages, as well.  I'm optimistic.

Now, if boosting male enrollment is a concern, I certainly have some ideas.  First of all, OBU could end its anti-social and reactionary dorm visitation policy.  Sexually repressed 17 year old church kids may not want to come to a college that treats them like they are 12 and is more obsessed with their "purity" than their parents ever were.  Not to mention that this visitation policy creates another horrible problem -- the frequent and gratuitous public displays of affection that OBU students across the generations have loved to hate.  But that's another issue for another day.

Sorry to disappoint those who may have been looking to Save OBU to rail against the decision to add football.  It is not our intent to oppose every decision OBU makes.  It is not our view that everything, or even most things, about OBU are bad.  Rather, we are concerned specifically with issues related to encroaching fundamentalism, authoritarianism, and anti-intellectualism that have been occasionally present for many years but have become painfully obvious recently.  And, as always, we are committed to the proposition that only complete independence and autonomy from the BGCO can ultimately solve these problems.

While we're on the subject, I think I'll just list a few issues that I propose Save OBU not take positions on:

  • OBU Athletics (Go Bison!)
  • OU-OSU, OU-UT, Braums-Blue Bell, etc. etc.  Not going there...
  • Politics.  Most of our supporters are conservatives and Republicans, but we will welcome people across the spectrum.  Even Ron Paul disciples!
  • Theology.  Most of our supporters identify as Baptists and/or evangelicals, but again, we have welcomed people from a variety of denominational backgrounds.  Like the pre-Takeover SBC, we do not intend to impose creeds, but rather respect the liberty of individuals' conscience and their soul competency.

We are building a movement that aims to unite rather than divide.  It is going to be difficult enough to bring together so many diverse OBU constituencies: students, alumni, faculty, former faculty, parents, donors, Oklahoma Baptists, etc.  But we have to be united.  It's too easy for powerful people to dismiss a few anonymous students one year, then a few hundred alumni the next year, and then some retired faculty the year after that.  If we are actually going to preserve academic freedom and OBU's great liberal arts tradition by winning independence from the BGCO, we have to be united.  The football issue -- decided years ago -- is not our battle.  It has little, if any, strategic importance to the changes we seek.

Go Bison!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

My OBU Story: Kris Shiplet '03

We are pleased to have found so much support in such a short time.  Dozens of you have emailed with words of encouragement and gratitude.  As we build this grassroots network, we want to help connect current students with retired faculty, older alumni with recent alumni, and Shawnee residents with Baptist clergy and laypeople around the state.  Most of us know OBU only from our personal experience.  Yet others' OBU experiences can provide great insight.  We all share -- students, alumni, parents, faculty, and concerned friends -- a wellspring of affection for OBU, a great deal of anger and disappointment about its recent trend toward fundamentalism, and a collective fear for its future as long as we lack autonomy and independence from the BGCO.

Today, we continue sharing our OBU stories.  If you would like to send in yours, copy the text below and type to your heart's content!  Email your story to SaveOBU@gmail.com for inclusion in an upcoming edition!

Name: Kris Shiplet

Years: 1999-2003

Major(s): Youth Ministry & Journalism

Hometown: Bixby, Oklahoma

Church Affiliation Then: Southern Baptist

How/Why I Chose OBU: I felt called to be a youth pastor and wanted to go to a college that would give me the knowledge needed for the job. Raised by a Baptist pastor and Shawnee was the perfect distance away from home.

Good Times: Many, many good memories. Meeting and bonding with several students, especially Bible and ministry majors. Eating with the guys at Van's Pig Stand, late-night studying at IHOP/Denny's. Working with some talented writers at The Bison and writing "The Ship on Sports." Meeting my wife through one of my roommates.

Bad Times: Seeing the odd tension between fundamentalists and moderates on a daily basis. I think we had a great blend of professors but it was obvious even then that OBU was headed in the wrong direction because of Dr. Brister's leanings. Being labeled a liberal amongst fellow ministry majors because I think women in ministry is a good thing.

Best Thing(s) about OBU: Preaching at "OBU Day" my Freshman and Sophomore years. When I preached at a church in Enid my Freshman year, that was my very first experience behind the pulpit. When I preached at a small church in St. Louis, OK my sophomore year, I got my very first job in youth ministry and was there for the rest of my time as a student. Learning from great profs like Mr. Philip Todd, Dr. Mac, Dr. Bobby Kelly and Dr. Tom Wilks...

Worst Thing(s) about OBU: Again, just the odd tension between a fundamentalist President and conservative/moderate profs. Finding out that not too long after I left Mr. Todd, who taught me not only about journalism but a great deal about life in general, was fired basically because he wouldn't allow Brister to completely censor the newspaper.

Spiritual/Religious Reflections (if any): OBU was great for my spiritual life. I had plenty of fellow students and professors who encouraged me in my faith. When my mom had a stroke, I had a lot of support. If I had a question about ministry or something good to share, I always had support right there. I learned to think for myself and become more open-minded, but definitely didn't "lose my faith." I came there with the idea of learning things on my own, not just taking my dad's opinion, and I accomplished that.

Life/Career: I'm married and have a great dog :) I work as a customer service rep for US Cellular and volunteer/teach in the youth ministry at Christ's Church of Yukon.
Residence: Yukon, OK

Church Affiliation Now: Christian Independent

Reflections on OBU-BGCO Relationship: I genuinely believe that the two need to break up. OBU needs freedom from the organization itself. OBU can be a Baptist University without being the redheaded stepchild of the Mother that is BGCO. It needs to be a place of learning, not just a 4-year-long Sunday School class that it seems to be becoming.

Final Thoughts: I genuinely loved my time on Bison Hill and pray for its success. I still have friends who work there and hope they can continue to teach future generations. I hope true balanced liberal arts education can be restored.

Now, it's your turn...
Church Affiliation Then:
How/Why I Chose OBU:
Good Times:
Bad Times:
Best Thing(s) about OBU:
Worst Thing(s) about OBU:
Spiritual/Religious Reflections (if any):
Church Affiliation Now:
Reflections on OBU-BGCO Relationship:
Final Thoughts:

Monday, January 16, 2012

Money Monday: Capital Campaign Looking Good -- On the Surface

By now most of you will have heard the news that a generous Shawnee couple has pledged $1 million toward the local phase of the Vision for a New Century campaign.  This is absolutely fantastic news, and we salute the donors for their generosity.  OBU is right to laud their gift and challenge others who are able to do likewise.

Yet there are important facts about the campaign's early phase that may reveal signs of trouble.  A faculty member -- one of several current and former professors who have reached out in support of Save OBU's mission -- offers an important perspective:

One of the important promotional factors in any fundraising campaign is the support of faculty and staff.  The important number is not the amount raised or whether it surpasses a target, but the percentage of current staff and faculty contributing. 
As a matter of fact, the target amount for faculty and staff has been surpassed.  However, the administration and some others had almost reached the target amount (about $50k short of it) before the faculty campaign was officially launched in August.  I and a number of others--especially senior faculty (with tenure)--opted not to contribute.  Some wrote letters to the president and/or our fundraising chairmen, indicating that they would not contribute until changes were made in the direction of the administration.   
Some of our retired colleagues and a number of traditional OBU supporters in town and elsewhere--and certainly concerned alumni--have made a similar decision, and some of those have also written letters explaining why.  
(Note: Save OBU is encouraging supporters to go on the record.  However, we are absolutely committed to preserving the anonymity of persons whose livelihoods would be in jeopardy if it was known that they supported OBU's independence from the BGCO.)

It's not the case that fundamentalist institutions are inherently unable to raise money.  There will always be true believers with deep pockets.  And there will always be wealthy people who make huge donations at the behest of their tax advisors without being concerned with whether the recipient is fanatical or out of the mainstream.

But in general, institutions that are deliberately and self-consciously fundamentalist do have a harder time surviving financially, much less expanding.  OBU is in a favorable position in many ways.  It weathered an enrollment dip in the mid-2000s and is in a position of relative strength just as the depressed national economy begins to recover.  But many of the negative changes that have occurred under most peoples' radar screens threaten to make this campaign -- and even basic survival -- much more difficult.

As the faculty member stated above, the degree of internal support sends a strong signal to prospective donors -- especially those considering major gifts.  Most institutions that undertake a campaign of this scope begin by boasting of near-universal internal support.  Apparently, OBU in its current state could never reveal those numbers without bringing embarrassment upon itself.

The Shawnee couple who graciously pledged $1 million may not know (and may not care) that professors are being unethically dismissed from OBU, that OBU administrators happily deny students access to mainstream academic materials by contracting with an anti-intellectual, fundamentalist bookseller, that administrators openly loathe longstanding faculty norms and routinely ignore faculty search committee recommendations, and that there exists among faculty, students, and alumni and unprecedented amount of discontent about these actions.

But over time, as OBU's reputation suffers and these glaring flaws become more widely known, it will be more difficult to raise money.  One fundamentalist college in Florida recently loosened its ties to the Florida Baptist Convention in recognition of its increasing dependence on non-Southern Baptist donors and institutions for financial support.  As OBU clings to the BGCO and does its fundamentalist bidding on Bison Hill, the universe of potential donors is bound to shrink.

If we are serious about such an ambitious capital campaign, we need to get honest about the problems of the past few years, rather than sweep them under the rug, as seems to be the current strategy.  The discontent is only going to grow.  These negative changes adversely impact OBU right now, and that is bad enough.  But having OBU's national rankings continue to decline and its reputation suffer the consequences of administrators' recent actions is going to seriously damage this campaign's prospects for success.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Sunday School: Furman University

Happy Sunday!  Thank you for taking a moment to visit the Save OBU blog and read our "Sunday School" feature.  Every Sunday, we tell the story of how a Baptist university attained independence from its fundamentalist state convention.  Today's Sunday School post tells the story of Furman University in Greenville, South Carolina.

The Story
Furman's predecessor institution dates to 1826, but was renamed for Richard Furman of Charleston, S.C., the president of the first Baptist convention in the U.S., in 1850.  The current campus, built in the late 1950s in Greenvile, S.C., is widely cited as one of the most beautiful college campuses in the U.S.  Furman is a beneficiary of the Duke Endowment, having received more than $100 million since the 1920s.  Of course, Furman was also affiliated with the South Carolina Baptist Convention, which contributed a $1.6 million annual subsidy until 1991.

In the 1980s, Furman administrators and trustees became concerned about fundamentalists taking over the Southern Baptist Convention's boards and seminaries.  As the fundamentalist takeover moved to state conventions and the SCBC started electing fundamentalist activists to the Furman Board of Trustees, administrators and trustees knew they had to act.  Fortunately, they got an early start.  By 1990, only six of the 25 board members were fundamentalists.  In 1990, Furman trustees amended the schools charter, giving itself the sole right to elect trustees.  Previously, they had been elected by the SCBC.  Over the next 18 months, an ugly battle ensued.  You should read this brief summary.  Furman trustees and administrators offered many concessions, but fundamentalist pastors and state convention leaders fought hard, even preparing to take legal action.  In early 1992, a special committee of the SCBC decided it would not use convention funds to sue Furman, and in May 1992 SCBC messengers ended the convention's financial and legal relationship to Furman in a vote by a show of hands.

The Aftermath
As is always the case after Baptist colleges and state conventions part ways, both entities are far better off now.  Furman has expanded its mission and profile while remaining true the highest ideals of liberal arts education.  It has dramatically improved its position in national college rankings.  In fact, in recent years more Furman alumni have gone on to Ph.D. studies than students from any other college in the South.  By every conceivable measure, Furman is significantly better off without the fundamentalist South Carolina Baptist Convention attempting to do continual and irreparable harm to its academic programs.

The SCBC, likewise, is free of a significant administrative and institutional burden.  It still controls three fundamentalist colleges in the state: Charleston Southern, Anderson, and North Greenville.  In the aftermath of the Furman split, the SCBC had somewhat more financial leeway to support its three remaining fundamentalist colleges, as well as bolster collegiate ministries at several dozen other colleges and universities in South Carolina.  (However, in 2010, the SCBC reduced its funding to the three colleges in order to send more SCBC money to the International Mission Board.

Each entity is happier and better positioned to reach its goals, as both Furman and the SCBC readily acknowledge.  Far from becoming a liberal, secular university, Furman remains proud of its Baptist heritage:
Furman's heritage is rooted in the non-creedal, free church Baptist tradition which has always valued particular religious commitments while insisting not only on the freedom of the individual to believe as he or she sees fit but also on respect for a diversity of religious perspectives, including the perspective of the non-religious person. This heritage has always maintained that the religious journey has both a private and public dimension and is a lifelong undertaking that cannot be tied to doctrinal propositions.

Furman recognizes its responsibility both in and out of the classroom to encourage students and faculty to confront the problems of contemporary society and to exercise moral judgment in the use of knowledge. To this end, Furman fosters a sense of social justice and encourages civic responsibility in creating a fair and equitable order. The Latin motto of the university, Christo et Doctrinae (For Christ and Learning), underlines the interrelationship of faith and learning. The university is committed to the education of the whole person. 
And, unsurprisingly, Baptist life is still surprisingly vibrant at Furman.  The Baptist Collegiate Ministry is the largest student group on campus.

Lessons Learned
Furman was lucky to have leaders in the 1980s who saw the fundamentalist takeover for what it was: a political power grab designed to handicap, then control, then subject once proud institutions.  Determined not to let that happen, Furman trustees saw the writing on the wall and made the first move.

For many years at OBU, trustees probably did not have to worry much about the fundamentalist takeover because we had administrators who stood up for academic freedom.  That dynamic has dramatically eroded in the past 10-15 years, obviously.  While we still have a good faculty that does what it can, we seem to have administrators that have a higher loyalty to BGCO elites.  If this is indeed the case, we desperately need trustees to take notice and realize that they may be our last, best vanguards for academic freedom, free inquiry, and OBU's proud liberal arts tradition.

Hopefully, we can begin to strategize in the coming months with trustees who do not want to be complicit in OBU's implosion.  They should be encouraged to study the cases of these other Baptist schools and determine what actions they might take.  At a minimum, they need to take a more active role in trustee succession.  If the BGCO is left completely to its own devices, the fundamentalist takeover of OBU will continue apace.

Yet again, we see a split between a moderate school and a fundamentalist state convention that did not cost presidents and administrators their jobs.  We stand ready to lend extraordinary support to President Whitlock if he can provide leadership for OBU as it charts its own course apart from the BGCO's fundamentalist designs.  He could be a towering figure in OBU history -- and in Baptist higher education more broadly.  Or he could be just one more in a series of BGCO puppet presidents who accede to the BGCO's apparent desire to destroy everything great about OBU.  It's his choice, really.  Furman President John E. Johns, who had been at Stetson previously, capably and admirably led Furman through the split.  He died in 2007.

Furman is a great example for OBU in many ways.  OBU's insulation from the fundamentalist takeover of Southern Baptist life is over.  We are going to change -- one way or the other.  The South Carolina Baptist Convention case is illustrative of our choices.  We can either become more like the fundamentalist and increasingly irrelevant schools the SCBC still controls, or we can become more like Furman.

(This is the third in a series of articles about Baptist colleges that have altered or ended their relationships with state conventions.  See the previous articles on William Jewell College and Stetson University.)