Wednesday, February 29, 2012

What Makes a Good Administrator? (Part 2)

Yesterday, we began a brief series on university administration as a window into why things have gone somewhat poorly for President Whitlock and why the BGCO is a central, if largely unseen, villan in this drama.  If students' interests are ignored, faculty's rights and norms are violated, and alumni's concerns are cast aside in order to kowtow to the BGCO, it's a recipe for -- well, for the situation we currently have.

Today, I want to follow up by revisiting the presidency of Dr. Bob Agee.  We've already talked about Baptist academic legends like James Ralph Scales and Grady Cothen.  But Bob Agee deserves credit for providing exemplary leadership at OBU during a difficult time in Baptist life.  Yesterday, we noted that a university president is like a translator, understanding the language of students, faculty, donors, alumni, and trustees.  Agee spoke all those languages masterfully.

When Agee came to Bison Hill, he immediately took it upon himself to forge relationships with as many Oklahoma Baptist congregations as he could.  He accepted invitations to preach in churches large and small.  Some pastors and congregations were afraid that OBU was too liberal.  Agee, who preached in 40-50 churches a year throughout most of his tenure, skillfully defused the paranoid and baseless fears about theological liberalism at OBU and, in the process, put forward a warm and caring persona for Oklahoma clergy and laypeople to associate with OBU.

The 43-year old president found faculty morale to be low when he arrived in 1983 (though nowhere close to how low it is today).  He forged personal relationships with faculty and made three brilliant appointments to the position of chief academic officer (Shirley Jones, Pat Taylor, and Joe Bob Weaver, respectively).  These gifted leaders each earned and sustained the faculty's trust and confidence.

Significantly, President Agee kept OBU safe from the denomination's Fundamentalist Takeover even as he maintained good relations with the increasingly fundamentalist BGCO.  Though the BGCO's subsidy (as a percentage of OBU's budget) was cut in half over Agee's tenure (a fact we will revisit later), Agee managed the university's relationship to the convention skillfully.  He befriended Rev. Joe L. Ingram, who was BGCO executive director from 1971-1986.  It was Agee who announced with pride that OBU would name the religion department in Ingram's honor.  (Sadly, fundamentalists later formally censured Ingram months before his death for "consorting with moderates.")  Agee also worked well with Ingram's successor, Rev. Dr. Bill Tanner, a former OBU president.  By the time the Rev. Dr. Anthony Jordan took over the BGCO in 1996, it seems the young gun (Jordan) had to defer to the elder statesman (Agee) somewhat.  Obviously, in time Jordan would learn to work behind the scenes to wield power in OBU governance and affairs.

President Whitlock owes his election, in large part, to two traits he possesses (along with Agee) that his predecessor (Rev. Dr. Mark Brister) lacked: a background higher education administration and a natural ease with Oklahoma's Baptist clergy and laypeople.  Yet for all his considerable talents, we must hope that Whitlock will be willing to learn from Agee's example.

  • Faculty are the heart and soul of the institution.  Their judgment and autonomy in academic matters are sacrosanct.  If you lose them, you've already lost.  For better or worse, there was not quite enough faculty support to take the extreme and unprecedented measure of a no-confidence vote in President Whitlock after the botched dismissals.  But the fact that such an option was even on the table last fall shows just how bad things are.
  • Students and alumni must feel valued.  They are the ones who made a hundred thousand dollar investment in OBU.  Their opinions matter, their passion is real, and the consequences of their dissatisfaction on OBU's future growth and development cannot be underestimated.
  • As for the BGCO, well, for now we may be stuck in this bad institutional arrangement.  But let us not forget that without the BGCO, none of these problems would even exist.  Wise presidents know that there is ample political support on Bison Hill and among alumni and trustees.  If you stand strong for academic freedom and a rigorous liberal arts education, we've got your back.  Anthony Jordan is not your boss.  And if a few Oklahoma Baptist clergy and laypeople don't like it, you have two options.  You can, like Agee, summon all your warmth and charm and go town to town assuaging these people's concerns.  Or you can essentially blow them off.  Less than two cents on their offering plate dollar ends up at OBU anyway.  If they kick us out of the convention, all the better: all these problems disappear, you have student/faculty/alumni support, and you go down in history as a true OBU hero.  Either way, OBU presidents have all learned how to deal with the BGCO.  If you're seen as the convention's puppet, you lose.

Tomorrow, we take a look an administrative appointment that has had very negative consequences for OBU and has put the president in quite a bind as he struggles to win back lost confidence while stubbornly refusing to even acknowledge any of the problems this problematic appointment has created.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

What Makes a Good Administrator? (Part 1)

Let me shoot straight. I am, clearly, no expert on higher education and student affairs. But I have learned vicariously through the first semester and a half of a HESA program thanks to my wonderful fiance. 
So, consider this the first of a little series of posts discussing why things have gone so poorly at OBU for the new president, and why, I suspect, the BGCO plays a role in this drama.
First let me tell you a story. (And I promise it has a point!)
Dr. Robert Sloan was the president of Baylor University about 10 years ago. One of the things he did in his time there was implement the “2012 plan.” (Sound familiar?) This plan was one for great growth for Baylor, etc. But one of the things included in the plan was a hefty tuition increase (something around 27.5% the first year).
Obviously, students and faculty went nuts. 
Long story short, the faculty gave Sloan a vote of no confidence (basically a death-note for any president) and he left shortly after.
Here’s the kicker. 10 years later, no part of the 2012 plan has been changed. And Baylor is doing very well. Turns out, Sloan had some pretty great ideas and Baylor is benefitting from them.
So what’s the moral of this story?
The job of an administrator is not to make good decisions. The job of the administrator is to bring together the different parts and voices of his/her institution and to help them to work towards the goal of university prosperity. 
As one great OBU administrator explained to me, the administrator’s job is to be a translator. Faculty, staff, donors, students, alumni, and trustees all speak different languages. The administrator’s goal is to speak to each of them and get them all on the same page so that the university can move forward.
The problem is that current OBU administration speaks only one language: BGCO. As long as the BGCO controls the trustees, they will be able to put in administrators whose loyalties do not lie with the University, but with the BGCO. 
A college/university is already a complex place. It is not a business. You cannot just fire people who you are unhappy with. (Though it seems current OBU administration has tried.) Your product is students, something you cannot commodify. The faculty is its own brand of monster. Donors and alumni will add yet another set of competing goals for an institution with limited resources.
As long as the loyalty of OBU administrators lies with the BGCO they cannot speak all the languages necessary to do great things for OBU. Even if the administration is making great decisions-- it doesn’t matter. 
Honestly, I don’t know enough to know whether The 2020 Plan is a good thing. But I can tell you this: few on that campus trust the administration right now, so it doesn’t matter if their plans are good or bad. 
Look for my next post on where the administration is going wrong with current students and recent alumni.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Some Historical Background

This blog advocates for a split between the BGCO and OBU.
Allow me to present a little history lesson (and a bit of personal story) to explain why.
When I came to OBU I considered myself non-denominational. Now, I happily identify as a Baptist. I know what you’re thinking, “Veronica. Wouldn’t your experience with the ultra-conservative SBC be something that would turn you away from Baptist life?”
The answer is yes.
BUT! My last semester at OBU, two things happened. I decided to go to a Disciples of Christ seminary and I took an internship at a Baptist church in Dallas. This, of course, brought the denominational question back into my life, though I had spent the last four years thinking, “Well if this is Baptist, then certainly not that.” Yet here I was, looking towards a different kind of Baptist church that stood for all the things I thought were important in faith. 
So I asked the most important question yet, “What does it mean to be a Baptist?”
To be a Baptist, historically, means to affirm four freedoms. 
  1. Bible Freedom-- the freedom of each person to interpret the Bible 
  2. Soul Freedom-- the freedom of each person to determine the content of their faith
  3. Church Freedom-- freedom of local churches to govern themselves
  4. Religious Freedom-- belief in the separation of church and state
Thus to be a Baptist is to affirm the infinite worth of the individual. We affirm that every person is capable and responsible to make decisions and that collective bodies are to be independent. We believe that no one holds the entire picture of exactly who God is and each person has something to contribute.
Now, this sounds like the perfect tradition for a university. And, indeed, our Baptist forerunners in Oklahoma did not want an indoctrinating Bible college, but a freedom encouraging, mind growing, liberal arts university. It is perfectly within the Baptist tradition to encourage our young to think on their own, and, as responsible Christians, to give them the tools to blossom and come into their own potential.
But in the 1980’s everything changed. I could go into all the philosophical reasons why I think this change occurred, but for our purposes that is neither here nor there. It is only important that it did indeed happen.
In the 1980’s there was a leadership change and suddenly everyone in charge of the SBC was a fundamentalist. That is when the SBC started doing things like boycotting disney and kicking out all the professors from their seminaries who thought women were ok to teach.
Here is the key. As a Baptist, I feel, of course, that my more moderate ways adhere closer to our historical roots. But, I also know that it is not my job to decide if the fundamentalists are right or wrong. If that’s what they want, let them do it. I believe they are free and capable to make that decision.
Here is the rub. Part of the fundamentalist agenda is to deny the freedom of the individual and crusade for their own understanding of the Bible. From here has flown the many problems of my precious university. This is why professors are being fired for disagreeing with a literalistic interpretation of the Bible. This is why OBU is no longer hiring the promising academics the faculty prefer, but those who support the new fundamentalist agenda.
The problem is not that some people are fundamentalists. The problem is that there seems to be no room for cooperation and dissent within this newly fundamentalist organization.
OBU is always going to be conservative. (It’s in the middle of Oklahoma, for goodness' sake.) This is not an argument to stop being Baptist or evangelical. That voice is an important voice in academia and ought not be stifled. 
But in order to really be a liberal arts university, there must be freedom of thought, freedom of speech, academic freedom, and, above all, the freedom of the individual must be affirmed. These are Baptist values, but they are not fundamentalist values. OBU and the BGCO are heading in different directions-- and it is time they were parted. Neither party has much to gain from being tied to the other.

For more information on the history of the recent changes within the SBC, check out the links on the right side of the page, especially the video made by our friends at the Texas Baptist committed.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

My OBU Story: Veronica Pistone

Dear Friends, please allow me to introduce myself. 
My name is Veronica Pistone. I am a  May 2011 OBU graduate and current seminarian at Brite Divinity School. After taking time to consider Jacob's invitation to become a contributing editor I have decided to add my voice to Save OBU-- and I’d like to use my first post to tell you why.
OBU represents, for me, maybe the best four years of my life. At OBU I learned to think, I met my best friends, I fell in love with my future husband. It was a place where I blossomed academically and socially-- and regardless of devastating changes which began in my final years there, I still think of it fondly.
I hope that many of you think the same way.
I came to OBU a 17-year-old who knew everything. (Didn’t we all?) I came because I wanted to study religion and the program was incredibly viable academically. I grew up evangelical, I wanted to get far away from my home-- but not too far-- OBU seemed like an ideal choice. Add a little scholarship money and I packed my bags and headed to Shawnee.
Some things I did not know about OBU as a high schooler turned out to be my favorite things. 
1. Small school size meant an incredible faculty who were seriously interested in students. OBU’s best asset is that their world class faculty genuinely means it when they say, “Come by my office.” Where else are there scholars as accomplished who are actually interested in not only my grade in their class, but also what I am learning and how my life philosophy is developing? As a student, I felt sincerely respected and encouraged by all of my professors.

2. Liberal arts curriculum opened my eyes to the possibilities of the world. OBU trained me to believe that this style of education was going to make me fully human, and I still believe it. Some of my favorite memories include my time in Civ-- still the class which stands as the reason I consider myself an educated individual.

3. My final, and maybe most important point-- my bachelor education has well-beyond prepared me for success anywhere in my field. After studying religion at OBU, I was able to skip almost all of the introductory classes at my seminary. Fellow students ask all the time, “Again, where did you go to undergrad?” I was a biblical languages major and left being able to translate on par with (if not better than) many of the doctoral students in my classes.

I don’t say this to say I’m awesome at what I do. I say this because OBU’s program was top notch. I speak of my department because that’s what I know. But I know many others’ stories are the same as mine.
OBU is a treasure. No one would expect an institution quite as beautiful in the middle of nowhere, bible belt. But there is and it’s near and dear to my heart.
Now, there comes a time when places of your past cease to be the same and it’s time to mourn and move on. Possibly that’s what is happening at OBU. But, to me, this feels less like a death and more like a murder. Desiring to be a good alumna, it is my duty to at least mace the killer on the way down if I can do nothing else.
This is important to me because future generations of evangelicals are being robbed of the opportunity to blossom into people whose voice is respected in both the Christian and the academic world. And that is something worth fighting for.
I love OBU. I hope this reminds you of some of the reasons you do too. We cannot let our beloved ship go down without at least bailing water like crazy. In future posts, I will explain further why I think my beloved institution is in danger. But for now, this is who I am and I stand in solidarity with anyone looking to save OBU. I hope you will stand with me.

2010 Walk-- courtesy OBU facebook

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Save OBU Updates and Changes

Happy Saturday, everyone.  Our movement continues to gain strength every day.  When the blog first started, I posted a lot of weekly updates and recaps.  But then we got so busy collecting new information and addressing problems at OBU that I didn't take time to give general updates and recaps.  We continue to receive new information all the time -- some of it good, but a lot of it very bad.  We will soon have details to report on the dumbing down and watering down of certain curriculum areas.  But for now, let's focus on some very exciting changes and new directions.

From the very beginning, I have been clear about seeking to recruit leaders for our effort.  At first, I was concerned with getting some help for the blog.  That is now happening, as I'll explain in a moment.  Next, I'll be working on assembling an advisory board for Save OBU.  These two developments will help bolster our credibility and ensure that we are not perceived to be just one blogger, but rather an organized movement.

New Contributing Editor -- Veronica Pistone ('11)
Today, I am pleased to announce that Veronica Pistone is joining me as a Contributing Editor for the Save OBU blog.  In addition to posting regularly, she will provide significant editorial direction for the blog and our Facebook page.  I will continue to post here, as well as manage our Twitter presence and advertising.

Veronica brings a great deal to our effort, including:

  • Female perspective
  • Recent student perspective
  • Young alumni/ae perspective
  • Dozens of personal relationships with relevant people
  • Hundreds of personal relationships with students and young alumni
  • Former "Bursting the Bubble" columnist for The Bison
  • Significant inside knowledge of the religion/philosophy department, both in terms of faculty and administration
  • Baptist by choice, not by birth
  • And, perhaps she is the BGCO's worst nightmare of all: an award-winning female religion major whose OBU degree prepared her to study for the ministry at a very fine (non-SBC) seminary

Look for Veronica's inaugural blog post tomorrow, and keep an eye on her contributions as we move forward.  She has a wealth of information to share, as well as an unyielding passion for our mission of separating OBU from the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma.  I enthusiastically welcome her to the Save OBU blog.

Guest Blog Posts
We are arranging for several friends of the movement to write guest blog posts in the coming weeks.  Two are OBU alumni, and one is involved with a simliar effort at another SBC college.  More details to tome!

Site Stats
I hesitate to brag too much here, lest our opponents realize just how fast and wide our message is spreading.  But know this: we are reaching literally dozens of new people every single day, and our traffic is growing at a very rapid rate.

As we move forward together, I want to thank each of you for your love of OBU, your kind words, and your support.  I have enjoyed leading this movement, and I will of course continue to be a leader.  But this was never my effort.  It has always been and will always be about giving voice to the hundreds if not thousands of OBU constituents who share the concerns we talk about here.  We are making significant strides toward doing just that, and I look forward to the months to come.


Friday, February 24, 2012

Faculty Friday: OBU an Indoctrination Station?

One of the most surprising, frequent, and outrageous claims our critics make is that OBU's professors are too liberal and that they are seducing students away from their faith commitments with the allure of worldly knowledge.

When this preposterous idea stopped being funny, I realized that it's actually pretty sad, paranoid, and frankly a big part of what enabled and sustains the new status quo at OBU.  Forget the fact that OBU professors would be seen as conservatives (or even extreme conservatives) on any state or most nonsectarian private university campus.  Forget the fact that almost every OBU graduate credits one or more of their professors with strengthening their religious faith.  Forget the fact that OBU professors go out of their way to try not to offend, shock, startle, or oppose the many avowedly fundamentalist 18 year olds who appear in their classrooms each August, but rather nurture them in the pursuit of knowledge and truth.

The bizarre thing here is that someone, somewhere, is giving people the idea that OBU has liberal professors.  And that professors somehow separate students from their religious beliefs.  And the people pushing these falsehoods have been so successful at promoting these lies and irrational fears that there is enough cover for administrators to now actually hire and fire based on ideology/doctrine rather than achievement.  In any normal world, administrators who acted so brazenly, irresponsibly, and unethically would be laughed out of town.  Instead, they are rewarded with pats on the back from their Baptist Building buddies.

I decided to do some digging.  Who is planting the fear in people's minds that professors are leading young people away from the Right?  Turns out it's a pretty common delusion.  To cite just one example, here is a column from the Rev. Dr. Albert Mohler.  Al Mohler is the man Southern Baptist Theological Seminary's newly fundamentalist Board of Trustees elected president in 1993 at the ripe old age of 33.  Fundamentalists gained control of the Board in 1990, gave students permission to tape professors' lectures, and eventually became so hostile to longtime Baptist educational administrator Rev. Dr. Roy Honeycutt that he finally resigned.

Playing to fundamentalist fears, Mohler sounds the alarm on professors' sinister agenda:
They see their role as political and ideological, and they define their teaching role in these terms. Their agenda is nothing less than to separate students from their Christian beliefs and their intellectual and moral commitments.
Mohler goes on to explain that "a good many of these professors deny this agenda, but from time to time the mask is removed."  He cites as evidence one professor who wrote an opinion column suggesting that students should spend as many years in school as possible in order to gain exposure "to the world outside their own, and to moral ideas not exclusively derived from their parents' religion."  Another faculty member suggested elsewhere (in the context of comparing demographic trends in "red" vs. "blue" states) that even if conservatives have more children earlier in life, many of those children will pursue higher education in "blue" areas.

Watch how Mohler takes one flippant comment from one professor and ascribes it to pretty much the entire academic community:
“The children of red states will seek a higher education,” [the professor] explains, “and that education will very often happen in blue states or blue islands in red states. For the foreseeable future, loyal dittoheads will continue to drop off their children at the dorms. After a teary-eyed hug, Mom and Dad will drive their SUV off toward the nearest gas station, leaving their beloved progeny behind.” 
Then what? He proudly claims: “And then they are all mine.” 
And then they are all mine. That’s right, a significant number of professors are happy to have parents spend 18 years raising children, only to drop them off on the campus and head back home. These professors are confident that the four or so years of the college experience will be ample time to separate students from the beliefs, convictions, moral commitments, and faith of their parents.
Mohler isn't talking primarily here about Christian universities, but I've heard people express the same or even more paranoid concerns about sending young people to OBU.  The truth is, now that Mohler and people of his ilk control what remains of "Christian" higher education, we have some even greater concerns (that are based on actual evidence) to worry about.  I couldn't help but think of OBU when I read Mohler's conclusion:
But [students] should not be subjected to the ideological indoctrination and intellectual condescension that is found in far too many classrooms and on far too many campuses. If nothing else, these remarkable statements of professorial intention should awaken both students and parents to what passes for education within much of higher education. The open hostility and contempt toward Christianity and Christian convictions is truly horrifying. 
Yet here we are, faced with a university run by people who seem intent on indoctrinating to the greatest degree possible, hold increasingly blatant contempt for (or at least badly misunderstand) academic freedom (and, ironically, other Baptist freedoms as well), and frankly seem to want to step in where parents and churches have failed and make students more fundamentalist, not less.

While OBU faculty continue to do the very fine job they've done for all these years, they are under increasing scrutiny and pressure from the BGCO-controlled administration.  While I'm sure it's tempting for Mohler and others to peddle their baseless fear-mongering, the truth is that the tables have finally turned.  If fundamentalist college administrators think what happens in an alarming number of college classrooms has been debased, the need to look in the mirror.  There's indoctrination, condescension, and contempt all right.  But it's coming from the young fundamentalists, not the aging moderates.  And administrators cannot escape the fact that this time, they're the ones who caused it.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Wiki Wars

Last September, I noticed that the OBU Wikipedia page made no reference to the numerous controversies on campus and neglected to mention any of the many tensions its relationship to the BGCO has created over the years.  I made some edits that were fairly opinionated.  As is the practice on Wikipedia, another user changed the phrasing of some of the content I added to make it more objective.

A few months later, however, someone deleted my "Controversies" section altogether.  In spite of the fact that my assertions were well-documented, this person deleted the content purely on the grounds that s/he did not agree.  A longtime Wikipedia editor who has no connection to OBU but who looks after some of the entries that are relevant to the Shawnee community reverted the entry back.

Then, sometime after the OBU blog first appeared, an OBU administrator logged on and deleted the controversies section as well as a very accurate section that "gave an inaccurate presentation of OBU ownership."  I haven't become enough of a Wikipedia expert to find out how to revert this.  Luckily, another Wikipedia editor restored some of the original text.

But I was pleased that the Wikipedia community reverted part of the original "Controversies" section.  Today I added some more text to that section.  Out of pure weariness, I decided not to talk about the most egregious things OBU administrators have done, such as dismiss two professors who they viewed as too moderate without honoring their rights under the Faculty Handbook.  I also didn't get into the problem of the university hiring professors over the objections of faculty search committee recommendations.  The main issue here is that, while faculty have told me about these problems, I don't have any hard evidence or documentation.

That's why today I'm asking people to keep an important issue in mind.  We need documentation whenever possible.  I have not reported anything on this blog that isn't true.  But I would love to share more if I had hard evidence.  It turns out that the Save OBU blog has really only begun to scratch the surface of the administration's unprecedented lurch toward fundamentalism.  What we really need are emails, documents, or any other sources that present undeniable evidence that the administration is pursuing the BGCO's fundamentalist agenda.

The administration is not eager to leave a paper trail.  But evidence must exist, and we need it.  A lot of the damage is done behind closed doors.  Fortunately for us (but tragically), many faculty, students, and alumni do not trust the administration to do the right thing for OBU.  And thankfully, a lot of people have been willing to provide information so that we can get the word out to people who love OBU and hate to see it go down this road.

I marshaled all the restraint I could in presenting the Wikipedia material objectively.  But if we could actually document everything the administration has done and put it in the public record, it would be an insurmountable embarrassment for them.  I don't know what will happen in the Wiki wars.  Maybe OBU administrators will log on and delete the "Controversies" section to keep the public in the dark about the truth: that they have obviously and deliberately parted company with OBU's great liberal arts tradition and taken us down an unprecedented, dangerous, and very sad new path.  Or maybe people will edit the page to list problems and bad changes (that they can document) that I don't even know about yet.

Still, we're in luck.  The truth is on our side.

OBU's Wikipedia page is here.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Deal of the Century: A Free College Campus

Attention BGCO leaders and your little cadre of OBU fundamentalists, have I got a deal for you!

A religion wire service is reporting that the answer to all our prayers may be at hand.  You can get what you've always wanted, an exclusively conservative and avowedly fundamentalist college.  And we can get what we want: an OBU that prizes academic freedom and operates free from fundamentalist meddling as it continues to provide a uniquely balanced, moderate Christian liberal arts education as it has for decades.  From the article:
NORTHFIELD, Mass. -- Jerry Pattengale's cell phone won't stop ringing as he leads a secretive group of four wide-eyed college administrators around a majestic campus built in 1879 by legendary evangelist D.L. Moody. 
Calls and visitors are pouring in for one reason: the billionaire Oklahoma family that owns the 217-acre site and its 43 buildings aims to give it away to a Christian institution.  Free.  No charge.  Just take it.
The Gren family (of Hobby Lobby fame) is soliciting new proposals after last year's effort to establish "C.S. Lewis College" failed.  All the Greens require are "an orthodox Christian faith and the financial wherewithal to pull it off."

Now, hear me out.

You wouldn't have to pretend to care about academic freedom anymore.  You could write your own Faculty Handbook from scratch, and hire and fire at will based on adherence to your preferred doctrines.  There woud be no pesky moderates.  I'm sure Tree of Life would be happy to run your bookstore.  Your indoctrination operation would be so thorough that none of your eager young preacher boys would dare consider furthering their theological education at Baylor, Princeton, Duke, or Harvard as recent OBU grads have done.

You have a tremendous advantage over the other applicants: money!  Lots of it!  You announced just last week that you were able to increase your 2012 budget by more than $1 million because your revenues were higher than projected.  I'm sure we can get the lawyers to work out some kind of deal whereby OBU can elect its own trustees and you can elect all the trustees for the new college.  We get the Bison Hill campus and you can keep your $2.5 million annual subsidy for the rest of time.  Send that money up to Northfield, MA and get your new SBC Great Commission Baptist college up and running.

Aside from the distinction of being the first GCB college, you would also have the advantage of doing something else you like: going into apostate parts of the country and converting all those heathen damned.  Right now the focus is on Colorado with its dirty hippies.  But just think how many more lost and liberal people there are in New England.  Even Mr. Green acknowledges, "While the Northeast has become very secular, we feel like it needs to reconsider the roots that this country was founded upon and that D.L. Moody taught."

I can't speak for them, but I'd even be willing to be that once you got this thing started, the Greens would be around to make sure the coffers stayed full.  It's the best win-win I can think of.  We'll stay in Shawnee, doing what we've been doing for generations without the roadblocks you've set in our way in the past 18-24 months.  And you can go enact your vision somewhere else.  No one will try to stop you, or even complain.

We'll even throw in a couple or three administrators to sweeten the deal.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

OBU Students/Parents Weighing Transfer

If the OBU administration was serious about the widespread concern, sadness, and anger its personnel and policy changes have caused in the past two years, it would, at a minimum, acknowledge mistakes in the forced dismissal debacles and appoint a chief academic officer the university community could actually trust to do the right thing.

Continuing to ignore student, faculty, and alumni concerns will have increasing consequences.  Consider this letter we received from an Oklahoma couple who graduated from OBU in the late '80s and whose child is a current underclassman at OBU:
I am concerned about the route the university is taking, to a point where we will make a decision as to whether she will return next fall. 
Our child has not been brought up in a conservative household and consequently holds rather liberal social values.  My husband and I thought OBU is a good place for her because of the lack of a partying atmosphere.  It was also very academic in nature, emphasizing the need to study and LEARN.  We both felt we had a good, well-rounded liberal arts education, and assumed she would receive the same. 
Her [subject area redacted] professor last semester had a decidedly socially conservative slant (which is fine) and led discussion accordingly (which is not).  My daughter felt intimidated if she spoke up with a different opinion.  She even felt her grade might be in jeopardy.  When I learned about your blog and Facebook page, I asked her about it.  She knew about it, but didn’t want to “like” the page for fear she would get in trouble (her words). 
I grew up in [name of BGCO church redacted], and my mother still attends there.  My mother is very concerned about her church’s direction now.  It has caused her and some of her friends, who have been lifelong members, a great deal of disappointment and disillusionment.

How many of these kinds of stories will OBU administrators have to hear before they start paying attention?  Or, should I say, how much revenue will they have to lose (knowing that the BGCO's subsidy accounts for an ever-decreasing proportion of OBU's annual operating budget)?

The concerned parent goes on to say that her mother's pastor, who is not a fundamentalist but who knows how to play nice with the Baptist Building boys, is under scrutiny from the BGCO for his church not sending many students to OBU.  We know the BGCO has a ton of pastors who advise youth in their congregations against OBU because they think it's too liberal.  But could it be the case that the BGCO also has pastors who can't in good conscience recommend OBU because it is becoming too fundamentalist?

Here at Save OBU, we struggled with how to advise prospective students.  Many of our supporters categorically refuse to recommend OBU to young people in their spheres of influence.  But as a community, we settled on a middle ground, providing relevant facts for prospective students in their families to consider while also highlighting the benefits of an OBU education.

As for prospective transfers, I can say (speaking only for myself) I hope this young woman and her parents can find enough confidence in OBU's direction to justify staying.  But I certainly understand their concerns.  And I fear that this situation will have to play out in many more students' lives before top leadership realizes they have a problem.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Money Monday: OBU - The Baptist Building's Newest Tenant

Well here's an interesting little gem several of you sent in.

OBU announced this morning that it will relocate its graduate school in May.  The university had leased space in a building downtown, but is now moving to the BGCO headquarters at 3800 N. May Avenue.  After a 5+ year run downtown, it looks like OBU and the convention worked out a win-win to move OBU's graduate programs to the mother ship.

Now, ordinarily, this administrative decision is not something we would have an opinion about, since it apparently has nothing to do with any of Save OBU's concerns and it may, in fact, be a great idea.  But given the recent unprecedented changes in OBU's academic affairs, this move has struck many people as disconcerting just in the few hours since the news was announced.

I don't really know the details of the BGCO's recent tenants or the amount of office space it occupies.  But it seems reasonable to assume that OBU will pay a much lower rent since a) the new location is not in downtown and b) the new landlord pays no property taxes whereas the present landlord presumably does.  So OBU's graduate programs can save on overhead and the BGCO gets a large new tenant.

Why, then, does this rub so many of us the wrong way?  Probably because we are already highly suspicious of the BGCO's interference in OBU affairs.  So much about OBU's governance and administration since even before the current president's election smacks of BGCO meddling.  It's difficult to demonstrate clear and direct orders from the convention to University administrators, but we're working on it.  And even without evidence of direct interference, we can still see that the BGCO's agenda to transform OBU is being enacted, incrementally but deliberately.

Think of all that has happened:
  • President Brister's complaint that "Anthony thinks he's my boss"
  • The presidential search committee's concerns about OBU sending too many of its graduates to moderate seminaries and too few to BGCO pulpits
  • The president's plan to remake the School of Christian service
  • The strained relations with Oklahoma City, First and Shawnee, First (two CBFO churches that the BGCO can't stand)
  • The demotion of a moderate female administrator
  • The creation of the provost position for a fundamentalist enforcer
  • The dismissal of two religion professors in spite of tenure considerations and against Faculty Handbook policies
  • The gutting of the philosophy curriculum in favor of "Christian apologetics"
  • The early retirements of many moderate professors
  • The installation of an avowedly fundamentalist bookstore that refuses to sell mainstream books
  • The new practice of ignoring faculty search committee recommendations in hiring
  • Refusing to admit mistakes in the forced dismissal debacles
  • Dismissing student, faculty, and alumni protests and continuing to remake OBU in the BGCO's image

At the moment, we are only able to connect a few of these concerns directly back to the BGCO.  We continue to document conversations and events, and are working tirelessly to paint a more vivid picture of BCGO meddling.  But make no mistake: BGCO power brokers are overjoyed about every item on the above list and more.  In their minds, President Whitlock is God's man for this hour.  And Provost Norman is a godsend because they can get their dirty work done without even having to ask!  He's enough of a true believe that he does all this stuff without having to be told!

So when OBU moves a new and growing part of its operation into the BGCO's own headquarters, it is clearly symbolic of a new dynamic that they love and we are rightly suspicious about.  How wonderful it would be if the landlord-tenant dynamic was the extent of OBU's relationship to the BGCO!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

What's in a Name (Change)?

It's come close to happening a few times over the years, but we may have reached a tipping point.  Last year, messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention gave denominational leaders approval to begin considering a name change for the convention.  Emotions on both sides run high, but a lot of people are open to the idea.  The issue is certain to come up at the SBC's Executive Committee meetings this week:
On Monday (Feb. 20), Southern Baptist Convention President Bryant Wright is expected to give his recommendation on a possible name change to the denomination's top leaders. That recommendation is likely to be debated at the Southern Baptists' annual convention in June in New Orleans.
Like many issues that are peripheral or unrelated to academic freedom at OBU, Save OBU has no compelling reason to take a position on this matter.  But it is worth pausing for a moment to consider what an institution's name means and what associations it carries.

Southern Baptist Convention
There are apparently two main arguments for changing the name of the SBC.  The first has to do with the role of slavery in the convention's formation in 1845 and the notion that "Southern" somehow brings to mind an association with a racist past.  Along these lines, proponents of a name change point to statistics showing that 44% of people have a negative view of Southern Baptists (according to a LifeWay study quoted in the linked article above).  The second reason for a change has less to do with public relations and more to do with the reality that Southern Baptists are increasing their presence in areas outside the Old Confederacy.  If you are planting churches in the West and Northeast, the reasoning goes, why call them "Southern" Baptist?  (Though Baptists' foothold in the South is obviously the only region where they are dominant, as the figure shows.)

Another story, though one less talked about in the media and discourse I've read, is the decline of denominationalism overall and particularly the decline of denominational loyalties among the young.  Overwhelmingly, people are not nearly as likely to identify with a denomination than their parents were.  Anecdotally, when you see churches being built in the middle class white exurbs, they are almost never have denominational identifiers on their signs and buildings, even if they are affiliated with a denomination.  Instead, you see "The Rock Church," "Living Vine Church," "River of Life Community," etc.

If I had to bet, I think I'd bet on a name change.  To what, though?  From my perspective, I wish they would choose a name that helps distinguish who the convention is now that it has taken over every institution, board, and agency and purged/marginalized all moderates and what few liberals there ever were.  Probably the "Conservative Baptist Convention" would be the most accurate.  Such a name would help imply their victory in the Fundamentalist Takeover as well as their new place as the religious wing of the Republican Party.  If you read what Baptist leaders taught and believed about the separation of church and state 30 or 40 years ago, you would not believe that today's leaders are in the same denomination.

I'm just sad that, whatever the SBC does, the Nashville boys will get to claim the name "Baptist" -- a label they have dragged through the mud of fundamentalism and secular politics for a generation to the point that nearly a majority of Americans have an unfavorable view of a word that used to be synonymous with soul freedom, liberty of the conscience, and separation of church and state.

Oklahoma Baptist University
One of the tricky things about the Save OBU effort is that our mission is a little more difficult because OBU has "Oklahoma" and "Baptist" in its name.  For one thing, unlike Furman, Stetson, and Jewell, we can't start with a discussion about academic freedom or whether the school and the convention can even be partners in the same mission.  Before we even get to that point, we have to deal with the objection, "It's Oklahoma Baptist University," by which our critics mean to imply that the BGCO should be able to do whatever it wants, no matter how perilously its vision for OBU encroaches on academic freedom.

So, for better or worse, before we can even have a substantive debate about the merits of disaffiliation, we have to have a debate about what it means to be Baptist.  When you are eager to argue for disaffiliation, that discussion can feel like a distraction.  But the truth is, we welcome that debate.  We welcome the opportunity to discuss all the Baptist distinctives we stand for.  Because whenever we have that discussion, it becomes easier, not harder, for us to show that it is the SBC and the BGCO that moved away from those distinctives.  We have remained true to them all along.

While they are glad to have OBU in their portfolio because it represents and reinforces that they own us, we are proud to be OBU because we have been living by and fighting for the best of the Baptist tradition all along.  We are the descendants of a great generation of OBU administrators, teachers, and students who built a proud name in Christian higher education.  They are the descendants of a Takeover faction that booed Herschel Hobbs at the SBC, purged and marginalized anyone who dared to disagree with them, sold out for a pittance to the religious right, ran our agencies and institutions into the ground, and created a P.R. emergency for a denomination that nearly half of Americans view unfavorably.

The BGCO may own the buildings and grounds.  But it absolutely does not own what it means to be Baptist.  It turned away from that legacy years ago.  And that is why we will win.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Faculty Friday: Church Affiliation Politics, Part I

Given how far the SBC has drifted from its moorings since the Fundamentalist Takeover, it should come as no surprise that many of the people who work in Baptist higher education do not worship in Southern Baptist churches.  But in OBU's recent slide toward fundamentalism, it appears that administrators are intent on turning the OBU faculty into an insular, exclusive club that keeps moderates out whenever possible and marginalized in any case.

OBU used to hire professors from across the various Protestant denominational families.  Though the SBC has always claimed the largest slice of OBU professors' church affiliations, many of us have had OBU professors who were Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Lutherans, and United Methodists.  They participated actively in their congregations in Shawnee and elsewhere.  They added valuable diversity and expertise, especially in courses like Western Civ where figures like John Calvin, Martin Luther, and John Wesley loomed large.  To the extent that mainline Protestants are still allowed to teach in OBU classrooms, they are undoubtedly adding immeasurably to students' learning and providing wonderful examples of how to maintain a fearless, intellectually honest faith that can withstand even the most rigorous intellectual scrutiny.

OBU administrators are intent on bringing those days to an end.  In the September 28, 2011 edition of The Bison, one retiring professor lamented that she would never even be hired today.  When I first read her statement, I found it absolutely tragic given her decades of distinguished service to OBU.  But only after consulting with other current faculty did I realize that denominational politics might be the reason why longtime professors believe they would not be hired under the present administration.

After consulting with current faculty, it's clear that the retiring professor was likely referring to the provost's declaration last year that OBU would no longer hire professors who are members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), and the Episcopal Church, ostensibly because these denominations recognize a difference of opinion on gays' and lesbians' rights in society and their place in the life and ministry of the church.  Evidently, this new standard was used to eliminate a member of a local church of one of these traditions from consideration for an adjunct position at OBU.

One faculty member explains,
 Later, under questioning, the provost backtracked, saying he didn't know how that rumor (of a new standard) got started, and that OBU would continue to consider good candidates who happened to be of one of those denominations, although he might well ask them why they "stayed" in the denomination.  We will reserve judgement until we see how he recommends concerning current candidates for faculty positions.
Incidentally, an administrator was quoted in the 9/28/11 Bison article trying to spin the new exclusionary preferences, but basically affirming that prospective hires will be evaluated through these new doctrinal and ideological frameworks.

To my knowledge, religion faculty has always been exclusively Southern Baptist.  This made sense back when Southern Baptist academics were uniformly supportive of academic freedom.  Hiring Southern Baptist pastor-theologians as religion professors meant bringing aboard thoughtful moderates who had received first-rate theological educations.  If we are still hiring only Southern Baptists even after the Fundamentalist Takeover, we are tragically limiting our options to a narrow subset of men who received subpar theological educations at the SBC seminaries.

In the weeks and months to come, we will explore OBU's long and complicated relationship with some of the Baptist churches in Shawnee, two of which are significantly affiliated with the Cooperating Baptist Fellowship of Oklahoma.

For now, I simply must respond to this outrageous idea that non-Southern Baptists should have to justify to Stan Norman why they stayed in their denomination.  He truly seems to enjoy being the enforcer, arbiter, and judge.  Frankly, given how far they have fallen from what they used to stand for, I think it's the Southern Baptists who should have to justify why they've "stayed."  Until OBU has a chief academic officer who understands this, OBU's descent into fundamentalism will continue apace.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Friday, February 17: Be a Bison Day

Like many of us did a few years (or a few decades...) ago, hundreds of prospective OBU students will convene on Bison Hill tomorrow for the university's most significant event for high school students considering OBU.  Some will be seniors who are 100% sure they are going to OBU.  Others are testing the waters.  All will get to attend a class, eat in the cafeteria, tour the dorms, and get a feel for OBU's compulsory chapel.

But, whether you first set foot on Bison Hill in 2009 or 1959, you went to a very different Oklahoma Baptist University than the students who will enroll in 2012.  Since 2009, we know that

  • Two professors were unethically forced out of their positions and denied rights guaranteed under the Faculty Handbook.  OBU's reputation has suffered, and the university is extremely lucky it avoided a lawsuit.
  • A normal bookstore has been replaced by a fundamentalist one, constituting a de facto censorship of mainstream books.  (There are also plans afoot to use a textbook fee to force students to patronize this new bookstore rather than price-shopping and buying books online or elsewhere.  All students and parents need to raise holy hell if this insane policy is enacted.)
  • Administrators have intervened in curriculum matters.
  • The philosophy department has been gutted to accomodate Christian apologetics
  • Faculty morale has sunk to an all-time low.
  • When interviews are conducted to fill faculty vacancies, the administration has ignored search committee recommendations and hired people who the committees simply did not want, further exacerbating tensions.
  • Protests from students, faculty, alumni, and retired faculty have not resulted in a single apology or policy reversal, signaling a dangerous deafness to stakeholders whose disillusionment is at an all-time high.  Even more alarming, these significant protests have been apparently viewed more as P.R. crises than as serious concerns from people whose affection for OBU will long outlast the tenure of any one president or administrator.

Here at Save OBU, we have not yet called for our supporters to advise prospective students against attending or withdraw their financial support (though untold hundreds if not thousands of alumni are already doing these things).  Instead, we settled on being a source of information for prospective students and their families.  They don't need us to urge a boycott.  But they do need to know the facts about what has been happening -- facts that OBU is keen to hide.  Our open letter to prospective students reviews the pros and cons of attending OBU at a time like this.

It is in all our interests that the brightest and most capable students continue to enroll at OBU.  But the OBU that earned a solid reputation for excellence in Christian higher education over the decades is increasingly not the OBU of today.  Administrators and backers laud OBU's great heritage even as they have sometimes worked to undermine it.

Sadly, OBU's owner/operator, the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma, has drifted far from the ideals of OBU's liberal arts tradition.  The BGCO is frankly no longer an honest partner in the task of higher education -- a task that requires academic freedom, open inquiry, and Baptist hallmarks like the priesthood of the believer, soul competency, and the liberty of the conscience.  Unfortunately, the Christian intellectual's conscience is no longer free in Southern Baptist life today.

Rather than set OBU free to continue the mission the BGCO abandoned as it became anti-intellectual and fundamentalist over the past 30 years, the BGCO is clinging ever more tightly to OBU.  Even as its annual subsidy continues to cover less and less of OBU's annual budget, the BGCO's influence in OBU personnel and policy decisions is stronger than ever, and that influence is taking a toll.

Quietly, there is a war brewing between the OBU that has always existed and the OBU the BGCO desires to create.  It's a battle that some OBU administrators would rather you not see, because they themselves are waging it.  It happens in small increments and over a long period of time.  It's often covert, under the radar, and off the front pages.  But prospective students should be warned: At the current rate, the quality of the faculty and the rigor of your academic program is certain to decline (along with OBU's reputation) during your college years unless we can reverse many of the negative changes described above.

If you decide to attend OBU, we urge you to join with the faculty, students, and alumni who are pressing hard to oppose administrative actions that are taking OBU in the wrong direction.  We are here for you, and we welcome your support.  Should you have any questions, you can contact us at

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

OBU Welcomes Guest Lecturers It Would Never Hire

When I was a student at OBU from 1999 to 2002, the guest speakers who occasionally visited our campus greatly enhanced my intellectual horizons.  Phyllis Trible of Wake Forest Divinity School headlined a particularly memorable academic conference in 2000 or 2001.  The annual Schusterman Lecture in Jewish History and Culture was inaugurated my freshman year.  I got to participate in discussions with noted scholars such as Jacob Neusner, William Scott Green, and Judith Baskin.  On a personal note, I had breakfast one morning at the (then new) Cracker Barrel with Professor Green.  With great interest and patience, he helped introduce me to the world of non-fundamentalist academia -- a world that has given me many years of challenges, joy, and a true sense of vocation.  I have always been grateful that OBU afforded students such opportunities.

Especially contrasted with how little we got out of the unending stream of fundamentalist ministers that OBU trotted into Raley Chapel week after week, it was always a joy to experience guest speakers who nurtured and honored the life of the mind as opposed to fearing and denigrating it.

Given the recent obvious and extreme crackdown on academic freedom at OBU, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that some of these events still take place.  Considering the administration's unprecedented lurch toward fundamentalism, it takes more courage than ever for faculty to sponsor and endorse these valuable events.

Just last week, OBU welcomed two notable guests -- historian Philip Jenkins and journalist David Shipler.  Credit where credit is due: I salute OBU administrators for not cracking down on these vital learning opportunities that so richly elevate and bolster the university's intellectual community.

I do not know definitively, but I assume these two particular guests are godless liberals who will soon burn in the fiery pits of Hell for all eternity.  I find it interesting that while OBU values their distinctive scholarly and professional accomplishments enough to welcome them onto our campus, neither of these speakers -- in spite of their impeccable credentials -- could ever get hired to teach at today's OBU.

It makes me wonder what point there is in bringing them to campus at all.  It seems to send a very mixed message to students and the broader Oklahoma Baptist constituency.  Are students supposed to admire them?  Witness to them?  Pity them for being hell-bound?  I also wonder if most Oklahoma Baptists know or care that OBU continues to privilege worldly knowledge and experience by exposing students to experts and scholars "outside the fold."  It seems strange that the university says to students, "We want you to listen to these people -- they are some of the best experts in their fields, but we would never allow them to be your professors.  We care less about expertise than we do about total agreement with a narrow set of doctrinal beliefs."

For now, I suppose it is enough to be grateful that these exciting and valuable learning opportunities still exist, even as learning is slowly but deliberately stifled in OBU classrooms through losing mostly moderate professors and gaining mostly fundamentalist ones, not to mention administrative meddling in curriculum decisions.  Still, the broader disconnect that these kinds of events represent is worth considering.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Trustees Force Administrative Change (But Not at OBU , Sorry to Say)

Hope that headline didn't get your hopes up too much.

But it is worth noting that trustees of another Baptist institution, in this case Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, assertively intervened and forced the president's resignation last week.  The Rev. Dr. Phil Roberts resigned last Friday ahead of a specially-called trustee meeting to deal with questions about his leadership.  Every indication is that this guy was simply not a competent administrator.  He went through 11 financial officers in his 11 years at the helm of MBTS.  He was evidently a notorious micromanager, used funds for ostensibly personal uses, and got the seminary involved in an expensive building program.

The last two presidential tenures have been disastrous, and MBTS is surely an attractive target for the SBC's badly-needed seminary contraction effort.  I don't know enough to know whether MBTS differs in any substantial way from the other seminaries.  Therefore it's safe to assume that it is a thoroughly fundamentalist institution.  Unlike Southern and Southwestern, which used to actually be decent seminaries before the fundamentalists came in and absolutely destroyed them, I don't know if MBTS ever had pre-Takeover any "glory days," since it was only founded in 1957.  It might have been a fledgling institution all along.  They force faculty to sign the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message, and every indication is that MBTS, like the other SBC seminaries, turned their backs on academic freedom, open inquiry, soul competency, and the liberty of the conscience long ago.  Creedalism and fundamentalism seem to be the order of the day.

MBTS is not really any concern of ours.  But it is heartening to know that even a SBC-elected fundamentalist board of trustees was willing to force some changes when they were truly necessary.  Too often, cults of personality form around these leaders and the trustees are nothing more than a rubber stamp.  Fortunately, that is NOT true in our case.  Not all of our trustees are fundamentalists, and many of them surely have a loyalty to OBU's heritage and future that exceeds their loyalty to any one president (or convention leader who might influence their standing in BGCO circles).

Now we desperately need to engage OBU's trustees and demonstrate the urgent need for them to direct administrators to restore academic freedom, professors' right to teach, and students' right to learn.  Like other Southern Baptist institution boards, OBU's trustees frequently cast unanimous votes to do whatever the administration wants.  But eventually, we need some trustees to stand up and advocate for the heritage, reputation, and tradition that recent administrative actions have badly tarnished.  We need them to know it's okay to oppose Baptist Building elites.  Like the MBTS trustess who refused to allow the status quo to drag their institution down, we need OBU trustees to act by whatever means necessary to protect academic freedom at OBU and reverse the fundamentalist tide that is so dramatically deteriorating the quality of OBU's academic program.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Money Monday: The Truth Behind the Faculty/Staff Phase of the Capital Campaign

A few weeks ago, we took a broad look at the Vision for a New Century campaign, OBU's ambitious $67 million capital campaign currently underway.  Thanks to a very solid effort from the fundraisers and, of course, the generous donors, the campaign seems to be off to a good start.

Last Friday, in fact, OBU hosted a reception for the faculty in celebration of its "goal-topping success" in the faculty/staff phase of the campaign.  The employee phase of any campaign is critical.  In fact, it's a key metric that prospective donors monitor to assess institutional unity, buy-in, and cohesion.

If you look at the wide gulf the OBU administration has placed between itself and the faculty through its unwise and unethical actions, "cohesion" is probably the last word that comes to mind.  Yet the capital campaign will continue apace, claiming (correctly) that the faculty/staff phase exceeded its goal.

There's only one problem.

The truth is that very little of that amount actually came from faculty.  This is why, to my knowledge, none of the campaign's literature distinguishes between contributions from professors and contributions from administrators.  The fact is that nearly 75% of the faculty/staff goal was pledged by administrators before the faculty was even approached.  Now, I'm don't which administrators are independently wealthy or exceedingly generous.  But someone dug deep because they knew that many professors could not support this campaign in good conscience, given their many grievances.

Celebrating the faculty/staff phase's "goal-topping success" badly obscures the fact that one or a handful of administrators contributed an outsized proportion relative to what faculty/staff pledged.

It's not technically dishonest, but it does cover over the fact that the administration had to dig very deep to avoid a disappointing end to a phase of the campaign where OBU's greatest asset -- its faculty -- largely declined to participate due to its lack of confidence in the administration and the increasingly fundamentalist direction of the university.  Administrators and fundraisers will say to prospective donors in subsequent phases, "We exceeded our goal in the faculty/staff phase of the campaign."  And that is true.  It's also true that there is a serious difference between campaigns that receive modest but broad support from everyone and campaigns that depend almost exclusively on one or a handful of huge donors (think Ron Paul vs. Newt Gingrich).  The differences in enthusiasm, commitment, etc. are unmistakable.

The question prospective donors should be asking administrators is, "Why do OBU professors, by and large, have so little confidence in the current administration?"  Of course, no administrator wants to answer that question, and certainly not in the context of soliciting major donors.  But it is a question that we here at Save OBU will be happy to answer until OBU is forever free of fundamentalist encroachment.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Sunday School - Reassessing Institutional Parallels

As many of our readers know, we began with the intention of blogging on Sundays about other Baptist schools that parted company with their increasingly fundamentalist and anti-intellectual state conventions. So far, we've profiled William Jewell College (MO), Stetson University (FL), and Furman University (SC).

Sunday School Blogging - Not as Helpful or Relevant
Last week, we looked at the planned takeover of a struggling, unaccredited college in Montana.  It's too soon to say whether this is a good idea or not.  And while Save OBU is committed to not taking positions on every minute matter in OBU governance and administration, we are at least open to the possibility that this could be a smart, effective partnership.  Our concern, as ever, is that we need to take care to maintain the quality and integrity of OBU's liberal arts education on Bison Hill.  In recent years, that heritage has been deliberately eroded and administrators seem deaf and frankly indifferent to the concerns of students, faculty, retired faculty, alumni, and friends.  So it occurs to us that new graduate programs, athletic teams, and far-flung satellite campuses may be a distraction from the very urgent business of protecting academic freedom, a rigorous curriculum, and maintaining the best possible faculty.  To the hardworking professors and tuition-paying students who see OBU's great liberal arts tradition being threatened by fundamentalist encroachment, focusing so much attention on peripheral matters seems not only offensive, but unwise.  It's like building a new room onto the side of your house while the kitchen is on fire.

Anyway, there are many other schools whose stories we need to hear.  But at the moment, it's not really worth 1/7 of this blog's space.  The amount of research required is substantial, and I frankly don't think it's the best use of my time.  Furthermore, since we usually talk about faculty on Friday, students on Saturday, and money on Monday, it would be better if we could have a day in the midst of those regular features to talk about any pressing issues that arise.

Baptist Hospital: The Key to OBU's Path to Freedom from the BGCO?
Furthermore, OBU's legal entanglement with the BGCO is different from other Baptist schools'.  It will not be nearly as easy for us to escape the BGCO's stranglehold.  We can't just vote the fundamentalists out.  They own us.  They literally own the buildings and grounds.  They can legally do whatever they want.  Whoever controls the BGCO controls OBU -- it's as simple as that.  When Mark Brister complained, "Anthony think he's my boss," he hit on the biggest problem OBU faces.  While it is not technically true, it is practically true.  When we had BGCO leaders like Joe Ingram who believed in academic freedom, the legal arrangement was not problematic.  Revs. Ingram and Tanner and Presidents Hall and Agee wisely kept OBU off the battlefield as fundamentalists waged war on the SBC in the 1980s.  Now, the fundamentalists are having their moment, and it's reflected in every hiring decision, every forced dismissal, and every curricular intervention.

So the uniqueness of our relationship to the state convention makes comparison to other schools mostly irrelevant.  What we need, truly, are experts on institutional disaffiliation.  The best parallel I can think of is the old Baptist hospital system.  My plea is this: if you know anyone who was involved in BGCO politics when it separated from the Baptist hospital system (I think this was in the early or mid 1980s but I truly don't know), please have them contact me.  Our path to freedom will be more like the hospital's and less like Wake Forest's, Stetson's, or Mercer's.  We need to know every little detail of that separation.

Moving Forward
Moving forward, we need to distinguish between short-term and long-term aims.  Our immediate concern is to repair the utterly broken relationship between the OBU faculty (particularly senior faculty) and the administration.  We absolutely must see some evidence -- and soon -- that student protests, Faculty Council resolutions, alumni petitions, and widespread dissatisfaction have any effect whatsoever on administrators, or if they are truly just doing the fundamentalists' bidding.  Fortunately, our persistence and collective pressure finally seem to be paying off.  Now that students, faculty, retired faculty, and alumni are all well aware of each other's positions, experiences, and expectations, it seems a near certainty that OBU will have to, at a minimum, apologize to the faculty and students for its shameful treatment of two excellent professors and find the provost a position elsewhere in fundamentalist higher education for which he is better suited.  Then, the fireworks over who gets to choose his successor can begin in earnest.

This issue will have to be settled soon, because with the president scheduled to be out of the country for six weeks this spring when interviews and decisions regarding new faculty take place, faculty and students are horrified at the prospect that Dr. Norman will get to oversee that process, ignore search committee recommendations again, and bring in a handful of eager young fundamentalist professors to further erode OBU's academic rigor and quality, even over the strident objections of students and faculty.  Such a scenario is unthinkable.

Longer term, we will seek changes to the trustee selection process, on OBU's end and on the BGCO's end as well.  In order to accomplish this, we may have to start a widespread conversation in Oklahoma Baptist life about what OBU and the convention actually offer each other (hint: not much).  BGCO power brokers are happiest when OK Baptists don't think much about the fact that OBU has a strong moderating effect on students' views and that we send a relatively large number of ministry graduates to moderate seminaries and a relatively small number of them to OK Baptist pulpits.  But we'll probably have to have an extended public debate about these and related issues in the months and years to come. So be it, it's long overdue.