OBU Petition

  • by: OBU Alumni
  • recipient: OBU Administration and Board of Trustees

To the leadership of OBU:

Concerning the welfare of Oklahoma Baptist University, we, the alumni, hope to outline recent activities we see as detrimental to the life and mission of our alma mater. We would like to request that the administration and the Board of Trustees reflect on the recent direction of the University and encourage them to consider the mission of the school and make any necessary and proper changes. We hope you accept our complaints with the utmost attention, and a bit of grace.

We write to you with the following concerns:

For the inability to keep quality faculty and staff, including a high faculty turnover rate and the dismissal of popular professors.

Since the current administration began in 2008-2009, the hiring rate at the university has been consistently high.  

The comparison below demonstrates the change.

2005-2008 (three years before the current administration)

New Faculty Hired:  22

External Hires of Deans and other administrators:  4

Internal promotions/grants of senior faculty status:  21

2008-2011 (three years under the current administration)

New faculty hired:  40

External hires of deans and other administrators:  9

Internal promotions/grants of senior faculty status:  16

Although we understand that some of these new hires have occurred to replace those members of the University community who have retired or moved to other positions, we hold that the University cannot maintain its health with the recent high faculty turnover ratio.

Also troublesome is the tendency to hire externally to fill administrative positions. We do not discount the valuable contribution those new to the OBU community make; however, we worry that this tendency undermines the stability of the institution. Additionally, we protest the dismissal or forced resignation of quality faculty and staff, including:

            > A tenured, full professor of religion (Dr. Jerry Faught)
            > A popular, tenure-track, assistant professor of philosophy (Dr. John Mullen)

For neglecting aspects of the stated mission of OBU, and for fostering an atmosphere in which frank discussion of that mission is strongly discouraged.

The first stated goal of OBU is "To be a Christian learning community where faith and knowledge contribute to the individual's awareness: of himself and his obligations within a diverse and interrelated society; of truth and its force...," while the ninth goal is to "To make personnel, services and facilities of the institution available to meet appropriate educational, cultural, and religious needs of its several constituencies." Reaching a diverse society includes maintaining and promoting a diverse faculty and personnel, and listening to a full range of student complaints and ideas.

We are afraid that the administration has failed to create an atmosphere that promotes honest discussion among students, faculty, and administrators. We worry that this spirit will carry over into the Baptist community. OBU requires its freshmen to read Arthur Holmes’ The Idea of a Christian College, which reminds us that "Diversity exists not only because of theological difference but also because we explore Christian perspectives on the world of thought at different points and by different paths and with different concerns and backgrounds. This is why academic freedom and intellectual honesty are so essential."  The potential for the violation of academic freedom cannot be accepted at any university.

Current students fear the repercussions of speaking out against current policies.  As one student, speaking on condition of anonymity, put it:

"OBU feels unorganized and chaotic.  No one ever knows what’s going on. My parents are the ones who told me about the ten-year plan! [...]

There are many rumors about current OBU administration and everyone feels afraid to voice their true opinion or even ask questions because of other students who have asked questions and gotten in trouble.  This is why people are doing things like starting "The Norm"[1] because it’s the only place that students can even say what they are thinking or get some answers as to what is going on...

I feel like OBU is going down hill [sic] and many, many of my classmates share this thought.  There is much talk about how things are going downhill and we all feel helpless to stop it.  We, as students, have no power.  The administration feels chaotic and secretive."

For students to feel unable to express their opinion about their university is dangerous.  It stifles honest conversation about important issues, and means that students are unwilling to continue to participate in the life of the institution--both before and after graduating.

The seventh stated goal of the university is "To offer a broad-based liberal arts education and specialized professional training in mutually supportive roles," followed by the mission "To afford the opportunity to explore the relevance of all academic endeavors to the Christian life."  We are afraid the administration has neglected this mission.  

For establishing academic schools contrary to the purposes of a Christian liberal arts university.

In May of 2011, the administration and Board approved a reorganization of the academic schools, splitting the College of Arts and Sciences into one of Science and Mathematics and one of Humanities and Social Sciences.  Furthermore it created the Hobbs College of Theology and Ministry, uniting the long-standing Joe L. Ingram School of Christian Service with the Avery T. Willis Center for Global Outreach and the Don Kammerdiener Center for Missiological Research.  

Although we understand the administrative desire to both streamline and expand the administrative structure, this reorganization glazes over the interrelationships of a multi-disciplinary university.  This move separates the long-held connections between the arts and sciences, and intends to differentiate between the hard and soft sciences.  It falsely conflates the meditative study of theology with the mandate of global missions, as if the missionary cause is available to religion students only.  The future of such an academic reorganization looks little like a liberal arts education and misunderstands what is sacred and secular--for there is nothing created by God that is not sacred.  

We cannot balk at our own ideals.  This recent activity has created an environment to which the OBU community cannot nor should not commit.  We fear that the administration has established its own mission, not that of a community.  It has stifled conversation with and edifying criticism from its student body and has sent the message to its faculty that honest dissent is not possible in a liberal arts institution.

But, more importantly, what the recent administration has failed to do is to build up a university inspired by passion and genuine research.  It has forgotten that the Christian college has a constructive task, far more than a defensive one.  It has overlooked the searching spirit of the Christian in a world that is fallen but also perpetually redeemed.  That redemption comes from ridding ourselves of preconceived notions about what it means to be a believer and what it means to have knowledge.  Arthur Holmes reminds us that, "all truth is God’s truth, wherever it be found."  Finding this truth will not be achieved through a loss of good educators or in a university where honest conversation about the definition of truth does not flow freely.  

OBU brought in the new administration with great optimism, hoping to embolden an already energetic institution.  We are hoping still.  It is with sincerity that we ask OBU's leaders to reexamine their current paths and consider the true mission of OBU, and--by extension--the true purpose of Christian higher education.  If the university's goal is to make an education and experience at OBU one of life-changing reflection on the questions that surround the Christian life, we are afraid that recent policies distract or discourage both students and faculty from fully exploring those questions.

The gospel will continue to be preached by OBU graduates.  Sometimes, it will even come from pulpits.  But more often it will come from nurses, scholars, artists, businessmen, educators, and parents--and it will come in many forms.  These people practice a faith of hard-fought convictions won on the battlefield of life through questions and prayer.  It is an honest faith, fed by the transforming gospel of Jesus Christ.  

This petition is an act of love for OBU.  It is love sourced in the highest respect for the history and future of the institution that shaped us all.  As Arthur Holmes said: "For the Christian neither nature nor history is self-originating, self-operating, self-sustaining, or self-explanatory.  We therefore approach the works of God, probe their mysteries, and harness their potentials with humility as well as boldness....To neglect the kind of education that helps us understand and appreciate God’s world betrays either shallow thinking or fearful disbelief."  

[1] Anonymous OBU students published “The Norm,” an underground newspaper, on April 27, 2011.  Among other things, it claimed that, “Drs. Whitlock and Norman dodge well-intentioned interviews for months on end; send representatives to do their work; don’t answer e-mails from students; and make it so that public forums are really nothing more than an opportunity to charm the students and answer questions no one really cares about.”  The criticism of the administration is biting, and, whether it is accurate or not, should be taken seriously.  Students who cannot express their opinions cannot support our university.

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