Jonathan Soder, Assistant Faith Editor
Instated as OBU’s 15th president Oct. 10, 2008, Dr. David Whitlock stands just shy of nine years as the university’s academic, financial and spiritual leader.
Beginning his career as a business instructor at Southeastern Oklahoma State University, Whitlock had no affiliation with OBU until making a visit in 1993. He, then an assistant professor, and several other SOSU staff flew to Shawnee and toured the nearly-completed Baily Business Center to gather inspiration for a new business building of their own. After flying back to Durant that evening, Whitlock told his wife, Dana, that he wanted to be at OBU.
“I really felt my calling to Christian higher education the first time I ever stepped foot on the OBU campus,” Whitlock said. “I had become a believer a few years prior to that first visit, and was searching for how I could integrate my faith with my calling as an educator. What I saw at OBU was just that.”
Though he would continue working at SOSU, eventually being promoted to associate professor and chair of the business information management program, Whitlock and his wife began praying immediately that God would orchestrate an opportunity for him to come to OBU.
“Through the years, I met Dr. Agee and became friends with he and Dr. Taylor, and we discussed the possibility of my coming to OBU,” Whitlock said. “All three of us felt like that was supposed to happen and we were just waiting on the right opportunity.”
Shortly thereafter, former-president Agee and former-provost Taylor left OBU. The latter would take the presidency at Southwest Baptist University, where Whitlock would eventually follow, and the former entered retirement.
“I thought I was going to have to retire myself and come to OBU as a full-time volunteer,” Whitlock said. “But, Dr. Agee called me and encouraged me to go to work for Pat Taylor at SBU when he had a dean’s opening. I eventually did that and worked for Pat for almost 10 years. Then, when the presidency opened here, Dr. Taylor nominated me for this position.”
Now nearing the end of his eighth year as president, Whitlock’s initial desire to be a part of the OBU family has only been solidified by the four-point mission statement of the university.
“God’s call on my life is to prepare and equip others to find and fulfill their purpose in life,” Whitlock said. “I’m not sure that I’ll ever have another opportunity to work for an institution where my purpose is so closely aligned with the purpose and the mission of my employer. Both as an educator and as a believer, it’ll be the highest privilege I ever have in life – to be employed full-time in carrying out the privilege of transforming.”
For Hunter Doucette, senior political science major and SGA president, Whitlock has fulfilled his transformative mission, especially with regard to Doucette’s policy-making and leadership style.
“Dr. Whitlock is a man of strong conviction, is measured, deliberate, and thoughtful,” Doucette said. “I remember, especially last year, I would enter his office and be fired up about a particular topic, but would leave having a totally different perspective on the issue. In the past, I think I’ve been quick to jump to conclusions, desired to implement a policy that seemed positive on the surface without much study into every effect it might have, and want to work on my own. That being said, I understand now more than ever the importance of [his] qualities mentioned above.”
Doucette especially admires Whitlock’s propensity for effective and open collaboration with those involved in the decisions he has to make, as well as his dedication to knowing those he works with personally.
“Most of our interactions, when I am meeting for official business, begin with him asking how we (myself and the other SGA executives) are doing in our classes, how we are doing emotionally, etc.,” Doucette said. “He remembers a struggle we might have had a year ago, and asks how it played out.
“My interactions with Dr. Whitlock have become more personal, perhaps because of the opportunity for interaction with him in my role. However, I do know his kindness and concern extends to all students. One example that comes to my mind–birthday wishes to students on Facebook. I’d say Dr. Whitlock is Facebook friends with a vast majority of students on campus and taking the time to wish someone a happy birthday goes a long way. I’m not aware of many presidents of universities that take the time to do that.”
Like Doucette, Whitlock recalls several individuals who acted formatively in the development of his own faith and calling. Among them are his paternal grandparents and great grandfather – all of whom were involved in higher-Christian education.
“Even though I didn’t come to faith until I was nearly 30, I have a rich heritage of faith,” Whitlock said. “Certainly, those individuals had a tremendous influence on me. As did my father and my mother.”
Apart from his family, Whitlock cites his former professor, Dr. Henry Gold, and the late Gerald Tidwell, former pastor of First Baptist Church Durant, as influential figures in his education and faith.
“When we start mentioning who has had an influence, you leave out so many people,” Whitlock said. “There’s just so many people who’ve had tremendous influence on my life both as a minister and as an educator.”
He also went on to mention Agee and Taylor, the man who led his tour of Bailey back in 1993. Just as these have left an imprint in Whitlock’s mind, so is he successfully leaving a mark on the young minds of OBU students.
“Dr. Whitlock’s leadership has inspired me greatly,” Doucette said. “I’ve learned to not take myself too seriously. There is a time to be all business, but at the end of the day, relationships are what matter most, and I think Dr. Whitlock gets that.”