Last week's article was “OBU 1929-1930” so I thought it appropriate to follow it with my article of July 27, 2014, “OBU 1934-45” for comparison. Two trends are adversely impacting the Millennial Generation. First, Millennials with college degrees are having great difficulty securing jobs enabling them to repay their college debts averaging $30,000 each. Second, the severe maldistribution of national income and wealth has reduced the number of families able to afford traditional colleges—making a reprise of hard times timely.

Last week’s article was “OBU 1929-1930” so I thought it appropriate to follow it with my article of July 27, 2014, “OBU 1934-45” for comparison. Two trends are adversely impacting the Millennial Generation. First, Millennials with college degrees are having great difficulty securing jobs enabling them to repay their college debts averaging $30,000 each. Second, the severe maldistribution of national income and wealth has reduced the number of families able to afford traditional colleges—making a reprise of hard times timely.

“OBU 1934-45”

The nation is learning that we are not recovering from the Great Recession as in earlier recessions because of a new-normal economy. Economists have been telling us that entire swaths of middle-class jobs have disappeared forever with the result being greater and permanent inequality in income and wealth. Lessons of the Great Depression may again be applicable.. The issue for OBU in the thirties went beyond scrimping to survival. How did OBU survive then?

As the depression deepened in the thirties, the Board turned to a succession of Presidents who had pastoral but not fund-raising and administrative skills. General economic conditions made it difficult for Baptist churches and donors to support OBU. With cotton prices hitting bottom and the Shawnee National Bank folding in the summer of 1933, officials worried that violence could break out as a result. Shawnee State Bank closes in late 1933, was reorganized, and re-opened in January 1934 the American National Bank.] [1]

Seeking a new President in May 1934, Board members quickly settled on thirty-one year old John Wesley Raley, Pastor of FBC Bartlesville. Theologically educated, Raley’s administrative talents were natural. He would experience a highly-successful 35-year tenure.

As John Raley, Jr. told me recently, his dad “was always involved with political folks” and none more important than W.S Key warden of the penitentiary in McAlester in 1935. John, Jr. remembers playing on the huge pile of 300,000 bricks OBU purchased from the prison brick factory. [They became part of Britain Hall—now part of the library.]

Key was later appointed head of the New Deal Works Progress Administration [WPA] which constructed 53 armories throughout the State before he was promoted to Major General and appointed commander of the 45th Infantry Division as it was federalized and sent into WWII.

Dr. Raley anticipated America’s entry into war in Europe and asked Dean Solomon to create a pre-flight Aviation Program. Jack Perdue and W.T. Short, respectively professors of science and math, taught four “Aerophysics” courses in the new program. The Regan Flyhing Service operating at the airport west of the campus provided students the opportunity to obtain flight lessons and a pilot’s license.

Though initially restricted to men, Marcia McClung of Wewoka and Denyse Duty of Claremore completed the program as well as obtained their pilot’s license. Marcia’s brother, Roy became a well-known pastor and educator.

Another graduate of the program who also gained his pilot’s license at the Regan flying Service was Jim Taylor who went on to become a navy pilot in WWII. After the war he founded the J.H. Taylor Gas Co., in Abilene, Texas. He and his wife Doris donated funds for several scholarships and the 152-bed women’s residence on MacArthur Street.

The Civil Works Administration [CWA] built the rock wall formerly surrounding OBU. “The university Historian recalled that president, John W. Raley, temporarily donated a piece of land to the city in order to avoid violation of the Baptist separation of church and state. The city proceeded to pave the dirt oval street through the university, then gave the land back to the university.” [2] Who knew?

Raley inherited “unpaid utility bills, overdue bank notes, and delinquent faculty salaries.” Like their public school counterparts, OBU faculty were frequently paid in ‘script’ redeemable at stores of cooperating Shawnee merchants. Parents sometimes bartered livestock to cover their children’s tuition. There was little cash especially in Summer so OBU offered courses in summer as well as for high school students.

In the seventies and eighties, OBU offered courses in January which were required to be courses NOT offered in fall and spring terms. Periodically in those years faculty members Jim Woodward and Norman Searcy taught pre-flight [ground school] courses similar to those in the earlier Aviation Program. Norman was a decorated P-40 pilot in the famous Flying Tigers squadron in China in WWII, and Jim was a seasoned civilian pilot.

Challenges for Universities

Today, universities face two existential challenges. They must adapt to computer-based instruction which might well depopulate campuses nationwide. Second, we are in a new-normal economy which has permanently destroyed work positions that traditionally have provided careers for liberal arts graduates such as OBU graduates.

Lesson of the Thirties

OBU adapted to hard times in the thirties by matching curricula to market demand. There is a religious basis for that strategy in ancient Israel where fathers were obligated to teach their sons how to make a living e.g., Jesus the carpenter, Paul the tent maker, and Peter the fisherman. If hard times return, economic conditions may again recommend curricular offerings shaped by market demand for “S.T.E.M.” e.g., science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

A survey by the National Center for Education Statistics of 2012 graduates found only 16% of college graduates were in STEM fields, but their average salary was $65,000. The 2012 American Community Study by the Census Bureau found Engineering grads earning on average $92,900 compared to visual and performing arts majors earning $50,700 and humanities majors $43,100. Universities could take a page out of John Raley’s Great Depression play book for OBU by offering academic programs closely aligned with labor market conditions.

[1] WPA Guide to 1930’s Oklahoma, Angie Debo, U Kansas Press, 1941.192-7.

[2] “The New Deal Comes to Shawnee,” Dale E. Soden , p125.

[3] USA Today, July 1, 2014, and The Oklahoman July 9, 2014.