This post comes from Ian Spier, an ORU graduate:
The ORU scandal has many an alumni concerned–concerned that a university with already questionable credibility has now lost whatever shred of it remained, and concerned, as a result, that their degree (arguably, a good one) has been devalued.
I think, as alumni, that we SHOULD be worried, and our worry should motivate us into action. Much like shareholders in a corporation, ORU alumni are stakeholders in the university. We draw value from the piece of paper, the diploma, that has been granted us. We expect the administration–the president and the Board of Regents–to guard that value.
Here’s the glaring truth that ORU students are slow to grasp: that university exists for us. It is ours, not the Roberts’, not the Board’s, not Tulsa’s–ours. Here’s how it works:
– The Board of Regents exists to serve and guard the “public interest” (ORU is non-profit institution)
– The “public interest,” broadly, is the value of education to a society. Narrowly, it is the value of education to the particular students who choose to attend ( i.e., you and me).
– Therefore, the Board exists to serve the students and has a fiduciary responsibility to guard public monies, student monies, and the student interest.
– Given this, the Board appoints a president to run the university in accordance with the responsibility which has been entrusted to it. The president serves at the will of the Board, derives his (or her) authority from it, and must discharge his duties in accordance with the duties placed on the Board.
– Therefore, the president exists to serve the students and the guard the student and public interest.
One sees the obvious “thread.” Both the Board and the president exist because of the students. A university is not a fiefdom (“ministry”), headed by some feudal landlord (“televangelist”), who mandates services from his tenants (“students”). It is an institution accountable to, among other entities, society at large and the student body in particular.
While at ORU, it was drilled into our heads that “attendance at ORU is a privilege, not a right.” This maxim that the Roberts have forced on students is not only false, but also a false dichotomy. It is neither a “privilege” nor a “right” to attend ORU. It is a “choice.” When that choice is made, certain rights and duties attach, both on the part of the students and the administration. Students and alumni, then, have both the right and obligation to demand not only that the university be “accountable”–this is the baseline, the bare minimum–but that it promote a quality, viable, credible education. When the Board and/or president fail in their fiduciary responsibility, then they fail to discharge the duties for which their office exists in the first place.
The broader point of this analysis is this: leadership at ORU, and within the church more broadly, proceeds not on the notion of “appointment by God,” which only serves to make that leadership inviolable, insulated, and unaccountable; nor on the notion of “electoral accountability,” which would make leadership “political,” with all the attendant and well-known machinations. Rather, leadership and, correlatively, followership are social constructs. They are social choices we as Christians make each and every day. Leadership proceeds on what our collective ideas about leadership are. Those ideas are informed by Scripture; by our experience; by quasi-intrinsic notions of fairness, right, and justice; by history; and by plain, old common sense.
When in the course of church history and of the more recent history of a mission-oriented university, it becomes necessary to redefine how we “do” leadership, we should not balk at what has been placed in our lap. When traditional ecclesiological structures fail to serve the ends for which they were originally crafted (by the apostles and by a broader historical process), it behooves us to inquire into the nature of those structures, into the essence of the relationship subsisting between ourselves and our leaders, between “laity and clergy,” if you will. We have found in the present crisis that that relationship is far more fragile and attenuated than we thought. It becomes our duty to re-constitute it under changed, and changing, circumstances, guided by a spiritual and historical wisdom, and according the Scriptures due scrutiny.
I hope we, as the church, will set out on an iterative process of self-criticism. I hope we will see church structures and religious constructs not as ends or truths in themselves, but as embodiments of the truth (and the Truth) that each of us, in part, is privy to. If we are to make Christ known, we must ensure, every day, that we are not endorsing by our “social choices” leadership and ecclesiological models that perpetuate unaccountability. Transparency is not an event; it’s a process. We should be active for it, both now and going forward.