Monday, January 28, 2013

Save OBU Spring 2013 Agenda

Whether you are excitedly beginning a new semester on Bison Hill or just wish you were, I hope this message finds you well.  Save OBU took an extended break during December and January, with only intermittent blog posting.  With a new semester upon us, here are some of the things we'll be watching and reporting on.

  • Thus far, the most egregious problems have been in the religion/ministry/philosophy area. However, we continue to hear rumblings from fine arts students as well as other sources about concerns in the fine arts department.  Many of these concerns stem from the fact that the administration ignored a search committee recommendation to hire an experienced administrator from another Baptist college and instead installed a more fundamentalist-friendly dean.  I don't mean to dismiss the very valid concerns many students and alumni have, but I am still researching and fact-checking.  Expect a "Fine Arts Fiasco" series in the coming months.
  • Will the provost assert himself again?  Sources indicate that Provost Stan Norman has toned down the pace and intensity of his desire to remake the faculty in the image of a fundamentalist Bible academy.  We don't want to harp on this guy incessantly, but some people who know him and have worked with him believe it is only a matter of time before he gets bored of administrative duties like being editor-in-chief of the alumni magazine (huh?) and starts purging moderates again.
  • Spotlight on past protest/reform efforts.  Though most people experience OBU as a very conformist culture, there have been protest movements over the years.  I want to invite alumni to tell those stories.  I have some documents related to the "Heresy Papers" controversy in the early 1980s, when a few professors were harassed for not being fundamentalists.  One alumna is going to tell a story about a short-lived feminist group that arose in the early 2000s in response to a chapel preacher's intemperate remarks about rape.
  • Connections with other schools.  Different versions of the struggle to protect academic freedom and to ensure ethical administration are happening at many other evangelical colleges.  It's a real problem.  In addition to being a watchdog for OBU, the Save OBU community has become a leader in building bridges to constituents of other Baptist and evangelical institutions.  We want to continue to build and nurture those connections.  Usually fundamentalists have the power to remake colleges in their own image.  And usually they can't help themselves.  But we are here to tell these powerful men, "When you run roughshod over traditions, values, and norms that we cherish, we will call you out. Publicly. Every time."

What else do you think we should be working on as a community? How do you want to contribute and become more involved? Feel free to respond here or on Facebook or Twitter.

Our very best wishes to the students, faculty, staff, and administration of OBU.  We hope and pray this spring semester is a thrilling journey of intellectual and spiritual growth.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Why the Long Silence? A Brief Explanation

Many of you have reached out to me and asked why the Save OBU movement has been so quietly lately.  The "Welcome to 2013" post a few weeks ago was vague about when we would start blogging regularly again.  I thought I'd offer a few reasons why we've been so quiet, both strategically and of necessity.

  • After being on Bison Hill for Homecoming in November, I saw firsthand that >95% of what is happening at OBU is absolutely fantastic.  Enrollment is up, new programs are launching, and faculty, staff, and students' commitment to excellence is everywhere apparent.  We hit pretty hard at times over the past year.  No one likes an incessant critic.  We've made our points -- and will continue to do so.  But we are not naysayers.
  • Web traffic is down when classes are not in session.  Last January, fewer people were paying attention to Save OBU during J-Term.  So it seemed like a natural time to take a break.
  • I was traveling for 3 weeks around the holidays, and have also moved to a new (rented) basement apartment in Silver Spring, MD.  I had a series of pressing professional responsibilities.  I'm the father of a 9-month old.  And frankly, I needed a break.
  • But the most important reason we took a breather is that we could.  Whether or not we had a hand in it, the pace of OBU's fundamentalist encroachment slowed considerably in 2012, except for one instance where the new administration hand-picked a literalist, Calvinist, young earth creationist from Southwestern Seminary to teach in OBU's religion department without even bothering with the usual faculty search process (faculty input, etc).  That was unfortunate, and indicates that we will continue to see OBU's religion, philosophy, and ministry departments abandon their historic rigor and excellence and devolve into a fundamentalist preacher boy camp.  But overall, we saw more signs of progress than signs for concern.  Provost Stan Norman seems almost completely neutralized.  President Whitlock is learning that in order to rebuild trust with the faculty, he cannot sit idly by while over-zealous administrators remake OBU.  Perhaps most importantly, there is now broad awareness among faculty, students, and alumni across the generations that all who care about academic freedom and ethical administration must be on high alert, given the troubling changes at OBU since Whitlock's inauguration.

In recent days, I've begun summoning the energy to re-engage the Save OBU project.  I had a great discussion with a Carson-Newman University (TN) alum who reports that C-N is resisting pressure from the Tennessee Baptist Convention to become more fundamentalist.  On a sadder note, I'm learning that the almost unanimous consensus of moderate evangelicals in Baptist higher education is that Tennessee's other Baptist school, Union University in Jackson, is much worse off than I feared.  Behind the facade of impressive fundraising and enrollment numbers, Union and its president, David Dockery, has pretty much allowed the new guard of SBC and TBC fundamentalists dictate what goes on there.

But the real impetus to get back to work is the ongoing fundamentalist encroachment at Cedarville University, an institution of the State Convention of Baptists in Ohio.  Christianity Today has a summary of the issue here.  In the days to come, I'll be reporting on Cedarville's problems to the OBU community.  In addition, I'll be inviting the Cedarville community to learn about what has happened at OBU and at other schools like Shorter University.

I still hope to do a 2012 year-in-review post, hopefully before the end of January.

I hope all is well with each of you.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Welcome to 2013!

Dear Supporters of Academic Freedom and Ethical Administration,

Sorry for the monthlong silence.  As you might imagine, I've been pretty busy.  We continue to feel that the problems at OBU are at a low ebb at the moment.  Though behind the scenes, we continue to make and nurture contacts with more and more people in Christian higher education and elsewhere who share the same values and harbor some of the same concerns we do.  I'll continue to report on these as time permits.

During the next week, I'll be moving into a new apartment and beginning a new semester as a graduate student, teaching assistant, and adjunct instructor.  So it may be another week or 10 days before I get back to regular posting.  But last year, we saw a drop in Web traffic during OBU's J-Term.

By the start of OBU's spring semester, we'll be back online with a number of new posts that I and others have been working on.  With any luck, OBU's academic program will continue moving forward without undue influence from fundamentalist elements within the administration and the BGCO.

But the point is this: We're still here.  We always will be.  We will celebrate when things go well at OBU.  I was there for Homecoming in November.  There is much to celebrate!  But when problems arise, we will fight back with unending determination.  And problems will arise.  That much I can guarantee.  Some people won't accept anything they can't totally control.  They think they're doing God's work.  One day, God will tell them it's time to fire another moderate.  Or block a department from setting its own curriculum and direction.  Or launch another unprecedented and unethical intervention in an administrative or governance decision.

We are not out of the woods yet.  For the moment, the worst of the violations seem to be behind us.  And we feel it's counter-productive to agitate when things are going well.  But we all know things stil have to get worse before they will get better at Baptist universities.  Some people just can't help themselves.

Best wishes in the new year,
-Jacob Lupfer