Showing posts with label William Jewell College. Show all posts
Showing posts with label William Jewell College. Show all posts

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

2012 Forbes Data (Part 3): More Comparisons

When the 2012 Forbes colleges rankings came out last month, we noted that OBU declined from #299 to #390.  Later, we compiled some data on state convention-affiliated colleges that OBU considers peer institutions.  OBU's decline stood in stark contrast to other Southern Baptist colleges that are holding steady and even increasing their reputations and profiles.

We want to make a few points.  First, OBU's decline was NOT inevitable.  Conscious decisions were made that adversely affected OBU's performance on the metrics that Forbes uses to compile its rankings.  Second, there is nothing about being distinctively Baptist that impedes our ability to stand out among Christian and secular institutions.  Some other Baptist schools are doing just fine.  Third, many intentionally Christ-centered (to use the CCCU's definition) institutions rank exceptionally well, as OBU did before the current administration came to power.  And fourth, it should come as no surprise that schools that have severed ties with Baptist state conventions excel in the rankings.  The charts below illustrate these latter two points.

As recently as 2009, OBU was undisputedly one of the finest Christian colleges in the United States.  A lot of our detractors try to argue, "Well, who cares about rankings? We're being faithful to the gospel."  There are so many things wrong with that argument.  First, fidelity to the gospel does not require unethical and unprecedented H.R. practices.  Were OBU Presidents Raley, Scales, Cothen, Tanner, Hall, Agee, and Brister and their academic officers being unfaithful to the gospel when they abided by Faculty Handbook provisions and sought and valued faculty search committee input in hiring decisions?  Of course not!  Are schools like Union and Ouachita, not to mention Wheaton, Gordon, and Calvin unfaithful to the gospel because they are not precipitously declining in national rankings?  There is no inherent conflict between Christian identity and excellence.  

With the formerly Baptist schools, the situation is more complicated.  On the one hand, there's absolutely no chance that Wake Forest, Furman, and Richmond would have become some of the best colleges in America if fundamentalists were still meddling in their affairs.  But you could argue that those schools' Christian (and Baptist) identities are less explicit now.  Still, I'd rather OBU take the path of William Jewell College or Stetson than end up like some of the Georgia Baptist Convention colleges that are on the brink of losing their accreditation.  For a long time (the Agee years), OBU was able to keep fundamentalists out, attain excellence, and survive without the OBU-BGCO relationship breaking down.

But those days are over.  The battle lines are clearly drawn.  Fundamentalists don't share power very well.  All they know is total control.  And they don't mind wrecking institutions along the way.  So as long as OBU has meddlers in Thurmond (or the Baptist Building), we need to be constantly vigilant.

Monday, April 30, 2012

OBU's Peers: What Schools Are in the Same Boat?

OBU's Peers Series:
Intro: Who's In the Same Boat?
OBU's Peers: Nondenominational Colleges?
OBU's Peers: Nearby Baptist Colleges (Ouachita and Southwest Baptist)?
OBU's Peers: Texas Baptist Colleges?
OBU's Peers: Union University?

When I first started the Save OBU blog, I knew we would have to carefully study many of the Baptist colleges that have struggled against fundamentalist encroachment in recent decades.  I immediately turned my attention to schools like Stetson and Furman, which broke ties with their state conventions in the aftermath of the Takeover.  But I soon discovered that we might actually learn more from schools that remained affiliated with state conventions, as OBU has.  Thus the case of William Jewell College, which remained affiliated with the Missouri Baptist Convention until 2003, was instructive (and hopeful).

We have seen that, while they devolve at varying speeds, SBC colleges have only moved in one direction since the Takeover -- and that is in the direction of doctrinal rigidity, ever more stringent control, and restricted academic freedom.  If anything, OBU has fared better than most in this regard, thanks in large part to the sensitive and strong leadership of President Bob Agee (1982-1998).

We know that OBU's situation is qualitatively different than insignificant, thoroughly fundamentalist schools like Parker-Brewton and Truett-McConnell.  And we concede that, while recent eventas at OBU are troubling, we are in much better shape than Shorter, which is facing outright war and destruction at the hands of its president, trustees, and the Georgia Baptist Convention.

All this brings up the question we will consider this week: What schools are in the same boat as OBU?  Where else is there comparable tension between outside forces insisting on "doctrinal accountability" and students/faculty whose experience depends on academic freedom and open inquiry?  How do our fellow travelers navigate the tension?  What can we learn from their experiences, and, conversely, what might they learn from ours?

OBU is never going to be Stetson or Furman.  It will always be more explicitly Christian.  Likewise, it will never be a large research university like Baylor or Wake Forest.  On the other hand, OBU will hopefully never be like the fundamentalist Bible academies that sadly make up most of Southern Baptist educational life these days.

So who are our peers?  This week we'll consider a number of possible candidates.  Unfortunately, I don't have time to research each of them as extensively as I did in the Downward Spiral series, which examined three Georgia Baptist Convention schools that seem to be in a race to the bottom in an effort to appease GBC fundamentalists.  But to the degree that we find common ground between OBU and this week's slate of schools, we will return to them again and again on the blog, continuing to learn as much as we can.

To give a sneak preview, here are a few of the options we'll consider:

  • Non-denominational Christian colleges
  • BGCT colleges
  • Nearby state convention-controlled colleges
  • Union University in Jackson, TN

As the week progresses, please share our movement with friends and colleagues at these other schools. I look forward to further narrowing our search for people who are fighting the same battle we are.  The goal is to share information, stories, and strategies so that academic freedom, open inquiry, and authentically Baptist Christian liberal arts education can once again flourish -- not only at OBU, but elsewhere as well.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Sunday School: William Jewell College

Merry Christmas, friends!  Thank you for taking a moment to visit the Save OBU blog and read our first "Sunday School" feature.  Every Sunday, we tell the story of how a Baptist university attained independence from its fundamentalist state convention.  Today's inaugural Sunday School post tells the story of William Jewell College in Liberty, Missouri.

The Story
Founded in 1849, William Jewell College is one of the oldest colleges west of the Mississippi.  Jewell was subsidized by and affiliated with the Missouri Baptist Convention until 2003.  Fundamentalist elements within the Missouri Baptist Convention sought to exercise greater control over the convention's institutions.  Five of the convention's institutions took actions to make their boards self-perpetuating rather than convention controlled in order to escape fundamentalist domination.  The convention challenged these actions in court.  Fortunately, however, William Jewell College had always been governed a self-perpetuating board of trustees.

Jewell's president, David Sallee (OBU '73), stood up to the fundamentalists.  Sallee offered a passionate defense of academic freedom as integral to the project of Christian liberal arts education in his essay, "Academic Freedom at Baptist Colleges and Universities," commissioned by Texas Baptists Committed, an organization of Mainstream Texas Baptists.

When the MBC demanded access to private, personal information about Jewell trustees' and professors' church membership and other affiliations, the college refused.  The convention's executive committee then voted 44-4 to end its relationship with Jewell.  Sallee rightly observed, "The whole thing is about control.  And we're not going to allow the convention to dicate what we do."  Academe, a publication of the American Association of University Professors, lauded OBU alum David Sallee for his courage in standing strong for academic freedom in the face of fundamentalist threats in this 2003 profile:
The case of William Jewell College illustrates the intimate connection between governance and academic freedom. In order to control what might or might not be thought and said on the William Jewell campus, the leadership of the Missouri Baptist Convention launched an attack on the college's independent system of governance. By seizing control of the board of trustees, the convention would have gained the ultimate say over administrative and faculty appointments, over what was taught and by whom, and over the whole tenor of student and community life on campus. But the college stood its ground, refusing to yield to these extortive demands. It cost the college considerable money, but, as Sallee told the Sun-News of the Northland, "In our minds the freedom and standing for the principles that we have stood for in this confrontation are well worth the money."
At the time, the MBC was giving Jewell almost $1 million a year, about 3% of the school's operating budget.

The Aftermath
As is always the case after Baptist colleges and state conventions part ways, both entities are far better off than they were during their strained, mutually draining union.  William Jewell College has expanded its mission and profile while remaining true to the highest ideals of Christian liberal arts education.  Its admission rate is down to 50%, indicative of not only a vastly larger applicant pool, but also the luxury of being more selective in admissions.  By every conceivable measure -- objective or otherwise -- Jewell is significantly better off without the fundamentalist Missouri Baptist Convention attempting to meddle in its affairs.

For the MBC's part, its is able to spend its limited Cooperative Program dollars more efficiently.  It can now invest more heavily in campus ministries on other Missouri campuses where over 400,000 students are enrolled.  It is also free to advance its fundamentalist agenda within its churches and institutions without having to expend energy and resources fighting a losing ideological battle with William Jewell College, with which its goals are no longer compatible and have not been for many years.

Each entity is significantly better of without the other.

Lessons Learned
The biggest problem for OBU is that the BGCO elects OBU's trustees.  Our board of trustees is not self perpetuating, like William Jewell College's.  As we will see again and again, Baptist schools with independent, self-perpetuating boards of trustees have a much easier time breaking the oppressive chains that bind them to their fundamentalist state conventions.

What this story does give us, however, is a true hero: Dr. David Sallee.  Sallee is a 1973 OBU graduate and a former point guard for the Bison men's basketball team.  As a student at OBU, he saw firsthand what happens when a true champion of Baptist higher education leaves an institution.  (Grady Cothen left OBU in 1970.)  He also saw the difference between presidents who must, of necessity, pander to the state convention and presidents who don't.  Robert Lynn, who served as interm president before William G. Tanner was elected president, had absolutely no inclination to do the BGCO's bidding at OBU and stood up to the BGCO and fundamentalist pastors during his brief tenure.

Aside from his courageous leadership and unshakable support of academic freedom, Dr. Sallee also provides an excellent example of how a Baptist university can survive and even flourish without state convention funding.  Sallee oversaw the split with the Missouri Baptist Convention, which cost the school nearly $1 million per year.  Subsequently, when the 2008 financial crisis resulted in Jewell's endowment losing a third of its value, Sallee oversaw budget cuts that allowed the institution to continue its vital mission.

In the story of William Jewell College, we see something hopeful: the president who initiated the split not only survived it, but led the university to a brighter future without the fundamentalist convention.  At this point, this is exactly the kind of hope I have for OBU President David Whitlock.  His job does not have to be a casualty of OBU's split from the BGCO.  In fact, if he follows David Sallee's example, Dr. Whitlock can lead OBU into a bright future and cement his place as one of the university's greatest leaders.  Or, he can be just one more in a line of BGCO puppet presidents who help devolve OBU into a fundamentalist Bible academy.  It's his choice, really.

Save OBU stands ready to support him and any trustees, faculty, and administrators who are willing to stand against this bad institutional relationship.  We believe OBU administrators would rather build up a great institution than tear one down.  We believe they would rather stand up for academic freedom than undermine it.  If they are ever inclined to take a stand for the kind of Christian liberal arts education that made OBU great, we are ready to recruit, rally, and mobilize all the support they will ever need and more!

Merry Christmas to all!  Maybe not too many Christmases down the road we'll have the gift we all so desperately seek: a university free from fundamentalist control.