Fall 2019 Features

Presidential Succession and the Search for OBU’s 16th President

A Brief History of OBU’s Presidents

In 1911, one year after the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma established The Baptist University of Oklahoma, the OBU Board of Trustees elected Dr. J.M. Carroll as the University’s first president. The early years were extremely difficult and the survival of the new university was in question. In June 1912, the Board accepted Dr. Carroll’s resignation and voted to suspend operations until the new Shawnee Hall was completed.

On Dec. 2, 1914, the Board of Trustees elected Dr. F.M. Masters of Ardmore to be the second president. During summer 1915, the Board voted to hire eight faculty members and to reopen the school during fall 1915, when Shawnee Hall opened.

In 1919, J.A. Tolman was elected OBU’s third president. With God’s blessings, the determination of Oklahoma Baptists, and the commitment of the faculty and staff, The Baptist University of Oklahoma survived and in 1920 became The Oklahoma Baptist University. The 1920s and the early 1930s were very difficult, but the school continued to survive and grow under the leadership of presidents Dr. J.B. Lawrence (1922-26), Dr. W.W. Phelan (1926-30), Dr. W.C. Boone (1930-32), and Hale V. Davis (1932-34).

In 1934, the Board of Trustees elected Dr. John Wesley Raley (1934-61) as OBU’s eighth president. Dr. Raley led the University for 27 years and is the longest-serving president in school history. The University accomplished many significant things during the Raley years. In 1958, the Board of Trustees approved plans to build a new chapel which would be named in honor of President Raley. This chapel continues to serve the University well.

In 1961, Dr. Raley retired as president due to health issues and was named chancellor. Dr. James R. Scales (1961-65) was named the ninth president followed by Dr. Grady Cothen (1966-70), Dr. William G. Tanner (1971-76), and Dr. E. Eugene Hall (1977-82).

During August 1982, Dr. Bob Agee was elected the 13th president of OBU and for the next 16 years, under Dr. Agee’s leadership, the University experienced significant growth. Many decisions made during the Agee years still have a positive impact on OBU today. The endowment experienced significant growth during the 1980s and 1990s. Many new buildings, including the Bailey Business Center and the new Montgomery Hall, were added to the campus and older buildings were renovated.

In 1998, Dr. Mark Brister was elected OBU’s 14th president. The following year additional property north of MacArthur was added to the campus, expanding OBU’s property from 125 to 190 acres. In 2007, the Recreation and Wellness Center was dedicated and Brister retired.

Dr. David Whitlock was elected president in October 2008 and served until January 2019, when he retired from the presidency and served as chancellor until May 2019. During the Whitlock years, the Jane E. and Nick K. Stavros Hall and The Village student housing complex were constructed and multiple campus buildings were renovated and refurbished. Enrollment and the endowment grew significantly during these years.

OBU’s 2019 Interim President and Presidential Search

During their February 2019 meeting, the OBU Board of Trustees voted to employ recently retired Southwest Baptist University President Dr. C. Pat Taylor as OBU’s interim president. Taylor spent nearly 22 years as the SBU president and served 10 years prior to that as OBU’s chief academic officer.

The trustees also approved the 12-member OBU presidential search committee to lead the charge in searching for OBU’s next president.

  • Ben Stewart, chair
  • Bryan Gilbert, vice-chair
  • Scott Neighbors, secretary
  • Steve Allen
  • LaVerne Dowding
  • Danna Humphreys
  • Jeff Moore
  • Owen Nease

Ex officio, non-voting members of the search committee include:

  • Dr. Bret Roark, faculty representative, chair of the OBU faculty council and professor of psychology/chair of Behavioral and Social Sciences
  • Jami Smith, alumni representative
  • Clayton Myers, student body representative, president of the Student Government Association
  • Dr. Hance Dilbeck, BGCO Executive Director-Treasurer

Dilbeck expressed gratitude for Stewart’s willingness to serve, saying, “Ben Stewart’s investment in this process will bear good fruit for our University. I have full confidence in him. We ask all Oklahoma Baptists to join us in asking our Father to give clear guidance as He prepares our next president.”

Based on the recommendation of the search committee, OBU retained the national executive search firm, Carter Baldwin, to assist in the nationwide search. Representatives from Carter Baldwin visited the OBU campus in May to meet with the presidential search committee, the Board of Trustees, and groups of faculty and staff to develop a list of essential qualities the person selected as OBU’s next president should possess.