On Friday, OBU conferred degrees on 255 graduates in its annual spring commencement ceremony in Raley Chapel. We wish to add our voices to the chorus of congratulations you are receiving from friends and family members. Well done!
When your class entered in 2009, things were very different. OBU was at the pinnacle of its national recognition for excellence, peaking at #109 in the Forbes college rankings. Declining enrollment was a challenge, but it was being competently addressed by internal committees and outside consultants. Difficult choices had been made in terms of budget cuts, but OBU's commitment to its core strength -- its rigorous Christian liberal arts curriculum -- was as strong as ever.
In 2009, the ideological gamesmanship in hiring had not started, no moderate professors were being forced out of the School of Christian Service, and OBU was in the upper echelon of evangelical colleges in America. In comparison to other Baptist-affiliated colleges, to schools that have ended their affiliation with Baptist state conventions, and to non-Baptist evangelical colleges, OBU was absolutely outstanding.
Yet somewhere in Thurmond Hall (and maybe in the Baptist Building in Oklahoma City), a handful of people didn't think OBU was doing well at all. Ask yourself: What was so wrong with OBU in 2009 and what makes them think it is so much better today in spite of its decline? Class of 2013, this is what they did to OBU during your four years:
When you were freshmen and sophomores, members of the classes of 2010, 2011, and 2012 stood up. Some of you stood with them. Others did not know what the fuss was all about. Maybe you weren't in departments where professors were terminated without cause or faculty morale was noticeably low. At least a handful of you courageously spoke your minds and stood up for academic freedom and ethical administration at OBU.
Fortunately, things have been better at OBU since about the spring semester of your junior year. Yet many alumni feel that a watchdog is still necessary. This is especially true in light of the many other Baptist colleges across the country where administrators are squandering their institutions' reputations, effectiveness, and even risking accreditation in the name of fundamentalism.
Though they obviously got off to an unfortunate start, we trust that President Whitlock and Provost Norman want the best for OBU. We believe that they have learned something from their mistakes, even though -- to our knowledge -- they have refused to acknowledge them to anyone. And we know that OBU still has great trustees, alumni, and a network of Oklahoma Baptists who will insist on excellence and who will not tolerate ideologically-motivated games that disrupt professors' careers, denigrate academic quality, and devalue graduates' diplomas.
Our prayer is that things will continue to get better on Bison Hill. But do not be deceived: a degree from OBU is probably worth a little less in grad school admissions, in the job market, and in terms of any objective assessment of rigor and quality than it was in 2009.
We trust you had an amazing experience at OBU. Most of us did, which is why we feel so passionately about these issues. But in spite of all the positives, you have been done a disservice, and your investment has been devalued. For what? So that a handful of OBU administrators can boast about their fundamentalist credentials to elites in the Southern Baptist Convention.
We find that unacceptable, and we welcome you to join our movement and stand up for academic freedom and ethical administration at OBU -- our alma mater and yours.
Congratulations and best wishes! We send our prayers for God's abiding presence and guidance along your journey.
OBU Class of '02
Silver Spring, Maryland