Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The End of 'Save OBU'

In response to personnel changes and widespread concern among faculty and alumni, I began the "Save OBU" project in December 2011. I worked pretty hard on the effort for about 8 months. After attending Homecoming in 2012, my writing became relatively less hostile and largely focused on colleges related to other Baptist state conventions and other areas of Southern Baptist life.

I figured that the absence of anger/urgency (and blog posts) gave adequate evidence of my diminishing concern and waning interest in the project. But a number of people have suggested that I write one more post to explain how and why "Save OBU" – at least so far as I am involved – came to an end.

Aren't you worried that OBU is turning fundamentalist? Not really. There is no coordinated effort to turn OBU into a fundamentalist Bible academy. Trust me. I tried to find evidence of such a plot. None exists. Once I learned about what was happening at schools like Shorter, Cedarville, and Brewton-Parker, I realized that OBU's problems were mild by comparison. My early speculations about a worst-case scenario were unfounded.

Why did you stop writing on the Save OBU blog? At first, I hoped that raising public awareness about changes at OBU would prevent other negative developments. By the middle of 2012, however, I began to doubt that my efforts were helping. Strained relations between administrators and faculty needed to heal, and I did not want to stand in the way. I trust that things are better today. Even though I made some mistakes, I hope it was right to speak out when I did. And I hope it was right to stop when I did. Everyone can form their own judgments about that. John Mullen and Jerry Faught moved on. The faculty moved on. The administration moved on. I moved on. I stopped writing because A) I said all I had to say and then some, B) it was no longer helpful, C) it was never my fight in the first place, and D) I no longer wanted to be in a publicly adversarial position against people I did not even know.

Don't you worry that academic freedom is in peril at OBU? Not really. When I attended Homecoming in 2012 – my first time on Bison Hill in a decade – I realized that, while I had focused on the few things I thought had been going wrong, most things about OBU were right. One of my main desires was that professors about whom I cared deeply would find OBU a good (or at least acceptable) place to finish their careers on their own terms. The academic job market is tight, but professors have now had time to seek and find other employment if OBU is no longer a good match. To my knowledge, very few have done that. I am pleased with the caliber of new faculty at OBU. In some cases, I have been very surprised and impressed.

You sowed a lot of division. Aren't you ashamed of yourself? No. Because I thought anonymous complaints would be unhelpful, I was proud to speak publicly as a concerned alumnus. That said, I made a number of mistakes. First, the name "Save OBU" was a bad choice, as it implied an impending disaster that never materialized. Second, while I usually tried to use the term fundamentalist in accordance with its historical meaning, I threw the word around carelessly. At times, I unfairly and inaccurately impugned people's beliefs and motives. Third, I named or referred to people who were understandably upset by things I wrote. Specifically, I apologize to the Reverend Drs. Tawa Anderson, Alan Bandy, and Ishwaran Mudliar – three gentlemen who did absolutely nothing wrong. They accepted faculty appointments and diligently committed themselves to excellence in teaching and learning. In the course of my writing here, I suspect they may have been hurt by things that I or others wrote. I take responsibility for that, and I am sorry. I also apologize to all who were upset because I wrote about their spouses. To those who shared my concerns and supported my efforts, I am sorry if I made the project more about myself than about our mutual commitment to academic freedom and open inquiry in the Christian college setting.

What about the leaders you criticized? In recent months, I have exchanged cordial and conciliatory greetings with the Reverend Drs. David Whitlock, Stan Norman, Mark McClellan, and Anthony Jordan. Each of them was exceedingly gracious. Dr. Whitlock reached out to me on Easter. After corresponding and building trust over many weeks, we spent some time together in June at the Southern Baptist Convention in Baltimore, near my home.

You were pretty anti-SBC before. What do you think of OBU, the BGCO, and the SBC now? From the start, I was interested in broader institutional dynamics. I first began exploring those issues as an OBU undergraduate and have studied them for most of my adult life. That's why I tried to view the struggle between conservatives and moderates at OBU through the lens of the Resurgence/Takeover at the state convention and denominational levels. I was surprised and pleased to find that many prominent Oklahoma Baptists – clergy and lay – want OBU to remain a liberal arts college that values academic freedom and does not enforce doctrinal unanimity through the hiring and tenure process. OBU has excellent trustees, women and (mostly) men who are much likelier to want OBU to remain what it has been than to approve – let alone suggest – a Shorter-like faculty purge. Overall, I was pleased to learn how little OBU was connected to broader SBC politics. But the convention is moving beyond the first post-Takeover/Resurgence generation and its over-zealous leaders' excesses and overreaches. OBU administrators could certainly win more approval from SBC insiders by following Cedarville's path. But there would be a high cost, as faculty, alumni, and other stakeholders have made clear.

What's next for you? I am done being an angry critic. I have found it more effective to befriend Baptist leaders and remind them that moderates are people of good faith and goodwill and that they do not have a monopoly on how to interpret the four fragile freedoms. I often write about religion in public life. A Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Government at Georgetown University, I am writing a dissertation on religious elites in American politics.

Doesn't OBU still need a watchdog? What if something else happens? If other people feel strongly and some egregious violation of OBU's liberal arts heritage occurs, I will turn the blog and the Facebook and Twitter communities over to new leadership. I will not be involved. I have done enough. I tried to advocate for principles I value and for people about whom I care a great deal. I have apologized for mistakes I made and harm I caused. I have sought reconciliation where necessary. At least as far as OBU is concerned, my conscience is clear.

I am grateful to have connected with many old and new friends. I look forward to staying in touch with you in the years to come.

May thy spirit guide thy sons
Keep thy daughters true
Loyal to our alma mater
God bless OBU!

1 comment:

  1. Well spoken explanation. Thank for the conversation you started!


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