Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Spring Trustee Meeting Report Looks Promising

In case you missed OBU's press release from Graduation Day, it looks like the Spring trustee meeting went very well:
During their spring meeting on the Shawnee campus May 17, the OBU Board of Trustees approved the expansion of the OBU Graduate School, a change in OBU’s fiscal year and faculty promotions and contracts.
According to the report, the board took up a number of routine business items.  Particularly noteworthy is the effort to expand OBU's graduate programs.  In addition to enhancing a school's profile and providing needed training for the professions, master's degree programs can be real cash cows for universities.

Of course we would be concerned if OBU lost focus on its bread-and-butter, which is its rigorous liberal arts curriculum for undergraduates.  At this point, we find little evidence for that.  We will be monitoring the use of adjuncts, which, if it increases, would be a sign that resources are being diverted away from OBU's core programs.

We also see little evidence of unusually high faculty turnover, one concern raised in the 2011 alumni petition.  From what we can tell, OBU continues to attract promising candidates.  With an over-supply of wannabe professors and a shortage nationwide of tenure-track faculty positions, OBU should have the cream of the crop.  So far, we've heard no complaints of bizarre interventions by you-know-who in the selection of the four new faculty contracts the trustees approved.

As late as last fall, some faculty had feared that the administration would use the tenure process as a weapon against insufficiently fundamentalist professors.  That fear proved unfounded in the winter.  Once again, we celebrate that a small but deserving crop of professors was granted Senior Faculty Status in spite of not being fundamentalists.  Any large-scale effort to remake the faculty in the image of the post-Takeover SBC remains a distant dream in the Provost's Office and not something we have to worry about (except in the College of Theology and Ministry, obviously).

Though I have learned a lot of sad things as I've delved into the world of Baptist higher education over the past 18 months, OBU's 32-member board has been one of the bright spots.  Unlike some Baptist-affiliated institutions where the trustees do the bidding of a few powerful fundamentalists, OBU's board has proven itself to be a surprisingly independent voice.  Quite the progressive group, they even ended the antiquated ban on dancing!  OBU's trustees -- or at least a majority of them -- have the university's best interests at heart.

I still maintain that the ideal situation would be an independent, self-perpetuating board like almost all private colleges (Christian or otherwise) have.  But that is simply not going to happen any time soon.  Given the legal and institutional framework that exists, I'd say things couldn't be much better.  All of that could change in a matter of about 2 years, though, if the BGCO ever decided it wanted to foment a fundamentalist takeover at OBU.  It's happened elsewhere, and it could happen here.

But I have come a long way in my views on this subject.  In spite of the fact that the board is ultimately controlled by the BGCO, I trust our trustees.  I trust that they do not want to see OBU's reputation suffer.  I trust that some of them intervened when faculty anger peaked in the fall of 2011 and when Provost Stan Norman needed to be reined in.  I trust that they are not happy that OBU has fallen from #109 to #390 in the Forbes rankings.

Being a trustee of a Christian college is an act of service.  It does not have many perks like, say, serving on certain corporate boards of directors.  These are clergy and lay volunteers who have full-time jobs and families.  They sacrifice some of their evenings and weekends to read reports, consult with administrative leaders and with one another, and to do their best to make a solid future for OBU.

Eighteen months ago, I assumed that a lot of them were fundamentalist yes-men.  A year later, I speculated that the BGCO could be a partner in saving OBU from a fundamentalist future.  I assumed the worst.  I'm happy to say that I was wrong.

Thanks, trustees, for your service. God bless OBU!

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