Fine Arts Fiasco Series
Part 1 -- Intro
Part 2 -- Getting What We Didn't Ask For
Previously, I introduced the series and offered an explanation for why Save OBU didn't sound an alarm about concerns in OBU's Warren M. Angell College of Fine Arts when those concerns first arose. I sincerely hope some of the wounds from recent conflicts have healed. The aim here is simple: to add to the large body of evidence that there is a new authoritarian streak at OBU and an agenda promulgated from the top down to re-orient the mission and purpose of OBU.
The new guard, of course, denies there's any agenda at all. "We are a Baptist college. We are just bringing our programs, personnel, and values in line with Southern Baptist principles and priorities." This isn't an exact quote, of course, but it's obviously the message the new administrators convey when they are asked about their departure from long-established norms and commitments.
The not-so-subtle implication behind their incredulous denial of any new direction is clear: Even at the height of its recognition for rigor and excellence, OBU's programs, personnel, and values were somehow not in sync with Southern Baptist principles and priorities. Of course, that idea is offensive, untrue, and hurtful to many OBU students, faculty, staff, and alumni.
In the fine arts area, the crux of the situation is this: There exists a wide perception that the Angell College has a mandate -- from the president and provost, from the BGCO, or from somewhere else -- to tailor its programs to what the BGCO's churches are doing, even if this means backing away from what made the fine arts programs at OBU great in the first place. One widespread fear is that the theater major -- the least wholesome fine art? -- will eventually be reduced to training for church-based "drama ministry." Students in art and music fear that the studio/conservatory-like atmosphere of their departments could be watered down. These days, apparently few (if any) Oklahoma Baptist churches have a real demand for the kinds of skills OBU's amazing music department has developed in thousands of students over the decades: organ, piano, voice, composition, choral conducting, etc. Sorry, but it doesn't take a college degree in sacred music to run a volunteer praise band.
Maybe the BGCO is upset that so many OBU music graduates seek sacred music training in mainline Protestant seminaries instead of what remains of the once-outstanding church music programs at the SBC seminaries. Or that many of our graduates end up using their outstanding talents in the music ministries of mainline Protestant churches. Maybe there is a sense that too many fine arts students end up going into "secular" vocations. (Though I would note that almost every issue of the alumni magazine trumpets the accomplishments of a non-fundamentalist Fine Arts graduate who has found success in the secular world.)
Many people view the new(ish) Fine Arts dean, Dr. Ken Gabrielse, as the personification of this change in orientation. He came from a lengthy tenure as a graduate student and faculty member in sacred music at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. Before coming to OBU, Dr. Gabrielse was the Music and Worship Specialist for the BGCO for several years until the Angell College's longtime dean, Dr. Hammond, retired. Many candidates applied for the fine arts deanship, of course. But this was a case where the administration intervened to raise up someone over the search committee's preferred candidate -- in this case, someone in the mold of Dr. Hammond who had significant administrative experience.
Given his close ties to the SBC seminary world and to the BGCO, it's obvious why the administration preferred Gabrielse while some other stakeholders preferred someone else. As with too many faculty positions at David Whitlock's OBU, here we have another case where the new administration in its wisdom circumvented the usual process to get their man -- this time at the decanal level.
Aside from the disservice of bringing in someone who was not the search committee's first choice, top administration (and/or the BGCO) burdened the new dean with having to implement a change in vision that no one asked for. After some bumps in the road that we'll discuss in subsequent posts, I truly hope that things are going better for the dean. By now, Dean Gabrielse should have enough institutional knowledge and understanding to know that OBU's outstanding fine arts programs were actually doing fine before he got there and that a change in orientation is simply not needed and certainly not wanted.
The sooner he realizes it, the better off OBU will be.