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OBU trustees chart future course for faculty salaries

obu_clarkson w cutlineOf the more than 4,400-degree granting colleges in the United States, more than 700 of them bear a distinct religious affiliation.  Some are a shadow of what they once were when a particular church or denomination founded them many years ago. Others are finding a new resurgence in a distinctly Christian identity that seeks to integrate (a popular term among academics) the various academic disciplines of the university under a broad and all-encompassing worldview.

Naomi Schaefer Riley’s 2005 book, God on the Quad: How Religious Colleges and the Missionary Generation Are Changing America, exposed the myth that distinctly Christian schools were incapable of a sharp academic edge and warm Christian piety. In the modern ethical malaise most visible in the latest corporate government and corporate scandals, Riley writes that “nowhere has the divorce between a profession and its ethics been more evident recently than in the world of business.” Riley believes that Christian universities provide a much-needed antidote to a value-free education.

Oklahoma Baptist University’s 15th president, David W. Whitlock agrees.  As a former professor in a business school, he believes that a distinctly Christian education is invaluable in today’s climate. “The shifty foundations of post-modern thought have been weighed in the balance and found wanting,” Whitlock states. “It is not that we as Christians fear the truth. Rather, we embrace truth even as we seek to pursue it by every means possible to us.”

Later this month, an international summit on Christian higher education will convene in Atlanta sponsored by the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU)—an umbrella group that includes schools from various faith traditions committed to the prevailing idea that academic freedom and rigor are not incompatible for Christians.

Whitlock will number among the thousands of professors, administrators and reporters who will descend on Atlanta at the upcoming CCCU summit.

His hopes for the summit center on the ability of serious scholarship to continue to be advanced in the context of Christian understanding without compromising either the authority of the truth or the support of the church. “Often, many in the church grow quite nervous when they hear that a Christian university wants to retain and grow in areas of academic study and depth,” he said.  “History shows us there is good reason for this because the church which founded the school is slowly (and often deliberately) removed from possessing any authority over the governance of the institution.”

Yet, Whitlock maintains that schools such as OBU can remain on the cutting-edge academically and spiritually keep their house in order. Prior to his administration, the salaries of many of OBU’s faculty were widely varied with little structure or incentive in place to recruit or retain excellent faculty. The Bison (OBU’s student newspaper), reported in April, 2009 the results of a study that showed that the school’s average faculty salary was below that of the national average of schools similar in size to OBU.

At the time, efforts were already underway to put in place a salary structure that would establish a transparent framework that would increase the minimum starting salary of a professor and set the course for a lifetime of research and teaching excellence for outstanding professors at the school. At the recent trustee meeting last week, this plan was approved as well as the establishment of a sabbatical leave program for faculty. Whitlock asked the trustees to approve a minimum of two sabbaticals each academic year in addition to a two percent cost-of-living increase for all faculty and staff for the 2010-2011 budget which totaled $43.37 million.

“The approval by our board of trustees signals an expanding horizon for OBU,” Whitlock said in an interview. “We are now in a position to retain, recruit and invest in our faculty in ways not possible prior to this action.”  He knows the research that indicates that the quality of teaching is a driving force in the uptick of student enrollment and campus development. “Without a proper focus on quality teaching to our students, we simply cannot advance to the level we want to achieve.”

Anthony L. Jordan, executive director-treasurer of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma agrees: “Unlike other schools across the nation, OBU was founded by this convention of churches and remains dear to our hearts.”  Jordan is familiar with other schools across the Southern Baptist Convention which have, over time, removed any formal association with their founding Conventions. “That cannot happen here,” he said.  “With this recent action by the trustees, OBU is now set to do more than ever before to prepare young men and women to go into the world as Kingdom people.”

“Dr. Jordan’s voice of support here is critical to our future,” Whitlock said.  “We move forward together with the tremendous opportunity to teach and lead thousands of young people to become lawyers, doctors, missionaries, pastors, teachers, artists and business leaders.” As president, he believes that the caliber of faculty already serving and soon to be recruited will be enhanced by this new salary structure and sabbatical program.  “It says that we are serious about study and we are serious about supporting the teaching efforts of our faculty.”

Author: Douglas Baker

View more articles by Douglas Baker.

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