Some people think I've been too hard on OBU in my writing here. Others think I've been too soft. At the moment, I just want to say that yesterday's convocation reminded me of all that is great, even exceptional (to borrow Mr. Raley's term), about OBU.
This time last year, many people legitimately feared that OBU was on the verge of an all-out assault by fundamentalists. The faculty seriously considered taking a no-confidence vote in the president. Yet today, many of us feel at least somewhat reassured that the worst of our fears have not been realized. Sure, OBU administrators continue their troubling pattern of cozying up to fundamentalist SBC elites. Sure, it will take time for the faculty's wounds to heal to the point that they can begin to trust President Whitlock and Provost Norman again. Sure, the religion department bypassed the usual, ethical hiring process and installed a fundamentalist Bible teacher who is also an avowed
But given the severity of our fears and the path taken by some other state convention-run Baptist colleges, I think it's safe to say that things are not nearly as bad as they could be.
What has happened to keep OBU from going over the cliff? What good fortune and grace has come our way to enable even OBU's loving critics to find this week's service not only palatable, but also inspiring? Let's review a few facts:
- This honoree is actually deserving. Whitlock wisely chose to honor someone who actually has a deep and meaningful connection to the university, and who might actually be inclined to support it financially. Raley, a semi-retired partner in a Ponca City law firm and former mayor of that town, served as U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Oklahoma in the 1990s, having been appointed by President George H. W. Bush. Contrast Mr. Raley to SBC President Rev. Fred Luter (the last honoree), who has absolutely no connection to OBU and would never give OBU a dime. The Luter move, done off-site and in the summer, was nothing more than an ill-advised power play.
- OBU has brought in a number of very promising new faculty members, rather than reflexively replacing retiring moderates with fundamentalists.
- Unlike a growing number of other Baptist schools, OBU does not force its faculty to sign creedal statements. Doing so would be the end of academic freedom. OBU's convocation explicitly asked students to open their minds, not to close them (as is the case at the fundamentalist SBC seminaries and colleges like Truett-McConnell and Brewton-Parker in Georgia).
- Provost Stan Norman, the force behind all the recent problems at OBU, appears to have been completely reigned in. When he came to OBU, he saw faculty vacancies as his best chance to remake OBU in the mold of SBC fundamentalism. Either he's had a change of heart, or has been directed to lay low. Hopefully installing a young earth creationist in the Hobbs College of Theology and Ministry will keep him happy for a while and he won't try to wreck any other departments.
In spite of a few pretty serious disappointments, we're looking forward to OBU having a better year than it's had lately.