Like many of you, I enrolled at OBU as a freshman without an insider's knowledge of Baptist institutional politics. I quickly realized that I'd joined a community that was much more conformist and authoritarian than I expected. The signs were there, and maybe I should have expected no less: compulsory chapel attendance, an opposite sex dorm visitation policy taken straight out of the 1920s, etc. The "OBU Bubble" felt pretty strange to me most of the time, but I was determined to make the most of it. I formed some great friendships and got a good education. More than anything, I credit my professors for instilling in me the values of diligent study and critical thought. The Baptist values of anti-creedalism, liberty of the conscience, and the priesthood of the believer were relatively robust at OBU, even as other Baptist-controlled colleges (and all six SBC seminaries) had become completely fundamentalist. I am pleased to know that many of my professors are still there. Others are gone now, a few of whom have either retired prematurely or been unethically forced out because the administration has become so vehemently opposed to having moderates at OBU.
OBU has had a less contentious relationship with the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma than most state conventions have had with Baptist schools. But over the past 30 years, as fundamentalists have taken over Southern Baptist boards, agencies, and institutions at the state and national levels, dozens of Baptist colleges have experienced tension with their ever more reactionary and anti-intellectual state conventions. Many very fine Baptist schools have either split away from or been kicked out of their state conventions. The circumstances were different in each case, but years later both the conventions and the universities are much better off. Southern Baptist life has become so radically conservative that it really does not make sense for them to be involved in the project of liberal arts education anymore. The two are no longer compatible. Except for those that escaped Baptist schools are overwhelmingly fundamentalist, even as other Christian schools have wisely opted for a more moderate path.
With students reporting yet another dramatic turn toward the values of a fundamentalist Bible academy, it's time for us to speak out before it's too late. One main difference between John Parrish's tenure as interim president and David Whitlock is that Parrish did not have to do the bidding of BGCO elites. This is the main reason why you have no doubt noticed that things have gotten worse in the past couple years. Between baseless faculty dismissals, continued problems with gender discrimination, gutting entire curriculum areas, and a bizarre new bookstore policy, it's hard to imagine how things could get worse. But things will get much worse. As long as the BGCO elects the trustees, it holds all the power.
The dots were finally connected for me when someone pointed out that all these problems -- wonderful professors being forced out, philosophy being replaced with "apologetics," the bookstore disaster, the gender discrimination, etc. -- all these problems are simply symptoms of a single, crippling illness: BGCO control. If you take the BGCO out of the equation, all these problems go away. Literally all of them. And OBU could control its own destiny as a leading liberal arts university proud of its Baptist heritage but free from fundamentalist control.
This change won't happen quickly. There are a few very well-funded and powerful men who will do anything to make sure that the BGCO gets the final word in OBU's affairs. But it could happen sooner rather than later if we band together, stand up for academic freedom, and make our voices heard.
This blog is just the first step in what will become a larger effort. If most OBU students and parents, a critical mass of alumni and donors, presumably the whole faculty, and messengers to the BGCO agree that OBU is better off without the BGCO's $2.5 million annual subsidy (and the horrendous strings attached), then we truly can expect to see this much needed change!
Jacob Lupfer '02
Quick Facts about OBU and the BGCO
- The SBC, the BGCO, and OBU are significantly more conservative and less ideologically and theologically diverse today than they were 30 years ago.
- The BGCO owns OBU's campus and elects its 33-member Board of Trustees.
- The trustees have the final say on faculty hirings and dismissals.
- Many faculty have left, retired from, or been forced out of OBU because the ideological climate among Oklahoma Baptist elites is inhospitable to all but the most rigid conservatives.
- There is a startling lack of women in senior leadership positions at OBU.
- No woman has been hired to teach biblical studies or theology at OBU since the 1950s.
- The past two OBU presidents have had to move OBU in a fundamentalist direction to stay in the good graces of the ever more conservative BGCO leadership.
- The BGCO contributes around $2.5 million per year to OBU, about 6 or 7 percent of its operating budget.
- Many very fine Baptist universities have disaffiliated with their respective state conventions, including Baylor, Wake Forest, Furman, Mercer, Stetson, and the University of Richmond.
- Follow us on Twitter @SaveOBU_Blog and like us on Facebook. Retweeting blog posts is a great way to help spread the word.
- Start and sustain discussions about OBU's relationship to the BGCO so that others can learn who the relationship really serves (Baptist elites) and who it harms (students, faculty, alumni, Oklahoma Baptists).
- Share this blog with your classmates, parents, and other OBU stakeholders.
- Write letters to the editors of The Bison and the Baptist Messenger expressing your views.
- Email me if you have ideas for blog posts, ideas for activism, or if you want to tell your OBU story.
- Personally, I would not raise this issue with professors. While you are (mostly) free to hold your own opinions at OBU, they are not. This is, of course, part of the problem. Discussing the OBU-BGCO relationship with them puts them in a compromising position. The administration has already shown they will fire people at the drop of a hat just for holding the "wrong" opinions.