We've heard two very disappointing stories this week from students who were fired from their on-campus jobs for expressing disagreement with administrators at the "new" OBU.
Is this what it's come down to? So they're under orders to purge certain departments... I get it. But do they really need to fire students who are working part-time at minimum wage jobs to help put themselves through college?
The Questionable Faculty Dismissals
Until recently, we had only heard of three questionable firings on Bison Hill (in recent years). People had concerns (many privately and some publicly), but only three had lost their jobs over it. The first was a well loved and pretty conservative philosophy professor who had the audacity to believe that maybe, just maybe, the earth wasn't created in 6 24-hour days 6,000 years ago. All administrators will say, aside from "We can't comment on personnel matters," is that student demand for philosophy classes was declining. The truth is that they want to replace philosophy, an ancient and core discipline in the liberal arts, with "apologetics" -- itself a legitimate branch of Christian theology that, in evangelical circles, has sadly become a Sunday-school like line of reasoning popularized by insecure, defensive fundamentalists.
Next out the door was another religion professor. This one had tenure, but that apparently was insufficient to overcome the strikes against him. First of all, he was a moderate in an academic division they are trying to turn fundamentalist (either of their own volition or under orders from the BGCO). Second, as Faculty Council Chair, he stood up against the unethical actions taken against his ousted colleague the previous year. And third, he was just too nice a guy to play hardball (get a 7-figure settlement, sue the university, drag it through an embarrassing public spectacle, etc).
The Questionable Student Worker Dismissals
There was a close call in 2010. President Whitlock went ballistic when a 21-year old student committed the unpardonable offense of writing an honest, thoughtful letter to the editor of The Bison in October 2010. But even then, the student did not lose his campus job.
Though infrequent and relatively small in scale, student protests have been effective. "The Norm," an underground newspaper published twice in 2011, was particularly insightful in connecting the dots between the ever-rightward drift of the BGCO and the unprecedented changes at OBU.
So, even in the very rare instances when students did protest against the unprecedented policy and personnel changes, at least their on-campus jobs were safe. But that apparently is no longer the case. In recent days I've heard from two students who can trace their disagreements with the "new" OBU directly to their being terminated from campus jobs.
I hope there aren't others, but maybe now they will come forward, too.
The message is pretty clear. If you disagree with us, well, shut up and smile anyway. We don't want unhappy workers. Maybe this works in business and the church. But a Christian liberal arts college isn't a business. And it isn't the church. Freedom of thought, belief, and expression is a cherished value. Freedom is bigger than the person exercising it. You can try to "win" by stamping out an individual or two. But you can't really stop freedom from being exercised in a university. And the harder you try, the worse it makes you look. Until you squelch all freedom of expression and you cease being a university at all. Is this really where you want to take OBU?
New administrators: Play your ideological games with faculty if you feel you must. But please, don't make students victims any more than they already are. God knows students have suffered enough these past few years: seeing beloved professors cast aside inexplicably; experiencing the effects of all-time low faculty morale (I trust it's getting better, but still...); seeing their $100,000 investment lose value before their eyes as OBU has plummeted from #109 to #390 in the Forbes college rankings.
The BGCO and the upper echelon of administrators are hoping you won't notice or care.
We hope you will.
Pray for OBU. It may look good on the outside, with a football program and gleaming new buildings. But all is not well.