Monthly Archives: March 2012

The Price for Dealing With Price

Sherry K. Lewis, Ph.D. is a licensed clinical psychologist, organizational consultant and Shorter alumnae. With her permission, we are sharing an email that she wrote to Dr. Nelson Price in November 2011, in an attempt to help ameliorate what had become, in her view as well as ours, an untenable situation between faculty, staff, alumni and the public after the release of the Personal Lifestyle Statement and Statement of Faith Integration.

Dr. Price,

I am writing this email as a means of introducing what I hope will be a part of a conversation. Dr. Price, I have personally found you to be accessible through email and hope you will be open to discussion with me as an individual. I have attempted to maintain civility in our correspondences (as have you, thank you – very much) and am interested in Shorter’s past and future successes, again as are you.

Let me describe my rationale for the attachments that accompany this message and the attachments themselves.

I am a psychologist with many years of international organizational consulting experience working with leaders as they strive to be effective in transition, communication, conflict resolution and goal achievement. I am also a person who values scholarly pursuit, Christian values and Shorter University (née College). I am an alumnae and have been an active volunteer in the past and a small financial donor. I have drafted responses to the current conflicts as if I were called in to consult on the matter. Certainly you are under no obligation to even review them. But, in the spirit of caring about Shorter and a desire to improve on her current circumstances, I hope that you will. I really do. Caring about Shorter and desiring an improvement on current circumstances is my only motivation.

First, I am no theologian and am vastly unprepared to discuss on a philosophical level the Bible or any of its fine points with an educated person like yourself, a man who has dedicated his life to the study, understanding and sharing of The Word. I would not want to seem arrogant.

In the documents related to faith I have been intentionally taken a “50,000 ft. level” approach. This is not about “wiggle room.” It is about meeting the requirements that you have for commitment and definition and continuing Shorter’s ability to retain its very qualified current faculty and attracting high quality academic faculty in the future. As you may know, working with academics can call to mind the reference, “herding cats.” These are people who have made their lives about thought and very much enjoy thinking for themselves. While the personal faith of these fine professionals has been an inspiration to many students, I believe emphasizing their continued roles as educators will resonate more strongly with them than taking a “100 ft. level” view of their beliefs as they fulfill a central role in a Christ-centered institution. I have affirmed the affiliation of Shorter with the GBC without requiring faculty members to endorse its specific beliefs verbatim. Many reasonable people have varied beliefs about the tenets of the Statement of Faith as it is currently detailed – many of them are “good Baptists” and many more are “good Christians.” I have intentionally chosen to focus on what I consider to be the necessary and sufficient agreements. I do not see this as a compromise (wherein all parties typically “lose” some things of importance to them) but rather a beginning of collaboration (wherein all parties have their critical ideas represented.)

In some of these documents I have referred to Shorter’s objective to educate and her strong reputation in the Fine Arts. My guiding assumption is that as leaders you want to continue pursuing education primarily and leverage the strengths of the liberal arts focus. This also presumes that your vision for Shorter is not for it to be a Bible University. (I believe Shorter’s constituents want her to be good liberal arts college with growing academic programs where biblical principles are lived and taught.) If I am wrong and the vision is for Shorter to be a Bible University, please tell me. That would clear up quite a bit for me.

You will no doubt notice that I’ve referred mostly to principles and behaviors – principles being well defined and agreed upon Christian teachings and behaviors being observable and measurable. For me, this is an improvement over the word “faith” because it takes the administration out of the position of judging what is in someone’s heart and instead focuses on the impact of positive acts (and the consequences for negative acts.) Please understand, this is no attempt to remove faith from our lives and relationship with God – it is an attempt to clarify the expectations between an employer and employee and address the concerns that some have stated in having any employer judge an individual’s beliefs.

Finally, I’ve drafted what I would recommend as a letter to address the responses (positive and negative) to the recent policies and explain the rationale for revisiting them. Again, understand I am not suggesting the existing policies are wrong (though I would personally hate to see them enforced at Shorter), but that they can be improved upon in meaningful ways and that as effective leaders, the administration of Shorter is open to improving upon ideas. In organizations I have often heard leaders use the adage, “you can be right or you can be happy.” I believe this is a good example of that wisdom. I am not suggesting that these changes will make everyone happy – I do not believe that making people happy, or cowing to the loudest voices is effective, value-based leadership. But my experience has shown me that value-based leadership is concerned about the welfare of others and is open to improvement.

I have spent many prayerful, focused hours on this topic and hope you will give my ideas your consideration.

As I have reviewed the documents before I email them to you I can see how they may be perceived as intrusive or unwelcome. My intentions are not to overstep, but to provide examples of what might be final products should the Board of Trustees agree to revisit their recent policy decisions.

Respectfully,
skr

And what was Nelson Price’s response? Did he begin by thanking Dr. Richards for caring enough about Shorter that she would have taken the time to craft a potential plan for ameliorating the situation? Was she thanked for submitting what was, in essence, a change management plan for which a consultant of her caliber might have been highly paid?

He began his email by writing, “Dr. Richards I was there when the person knowing it was a lie said we wanted to make Shorter a Bible college. There is NO desire to diminish the academic standard of the school. We have many individuals with prestigious degrees from Division I schools who have recently expressed a desire to come to Shorter. If we lose any faculty they will be replaced with highly qualified professors with considerable experience.”

The third sentence is confusing, in that the categorization of Division I only applies to a ranking for athletics. According to the U.S. News 2011-2012 college rankings, Shorter is an unranked Tier 2 school. Does Price believe that we can get “highly qualified professors with considerable experience” from other schools that have an athletics department or does he believe that Tier 1 professors are clamoring to come to a Tier 2 school? This is the same kind of stonewalling that has been the hallmark of the Fundamentalist movement – obfuscate the facts, ignore the offers for help, deflect the question. We won’t post the entire email response here, but here are the facts, as Price sees them.

After citing a number of Tier 1 schools with denominational ties, Price compares the Lifestyle Statement with the standards set by the likes of Emory and Notre Dame. Shorter is, according to Price “simply ask[ing] our faculty to respect the fact it is a Baptist school”. He then mentions the incident at Penn State and alludes to the fact that by mandating the Personal Lifestyle Statement, the Board is reducing the liability of the institution.

So why hasn’t Price, Dowless or the Board met with alumni or concerned citizens to explain the above position? Why do they refuse to entertain any discussion? According to Price, “With people saying change the policy or thousands of us will stop at nothing to destroy the school, issuing death threats, threatening the burn buildings, and consigning me to hell I am not about to meet with any group.”

We find it odd that, like the reported bomb threat that coincided with a planned protest of the policies, there have been no reports by the local newspaper of any arrests for terroristic threats.

Price closes the email with mentions of those with whom the administration met, prior to the complete shut-out of any further communication, writing that the individuals had totally misrepresented what had been said in the meetings.

Such is the posturing of the then Chairman of the Board of Trustees of Shorter University. After calling an individual a liar in his first sentence and excoriating those who would question the decision of Dowless and the Board, after calling Dr. Richards a well-intended professional, (Honorary Dr.) Nelson Price ends with a call for harmony. Harmony, which will only be achieved if all of those lying, threatening, damning heathens come to Nelson’s version of the light.

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AAUP Expresses Concerns

The following letter was sent from the American Association of University Professors to President Dowless and Chair-Elect Harris on December 12, 2011.

Dear President Dowless and Chair-Elect Harris:

Members of the faculty at Shorter University have consulted with the American Association of University Professors as a result of a series of four statements approved by the board of trustees at its meeting on October 21, without prior discussion with the faculty, including a “Personal Lifestyle Statement,” a “Statement of Faith,” a “Philosophy for Christian Education,”  and a document entitled “Biblical Principles on the Integration of Faith and Learning.” They have expressed concern that the four documents are inconsistent with principles of academic freedom, with longstanding institutional practice, and with the terms and conditions of their appointments.

The interest of the Association in this situation stems from our longstanding commitment to academic freedom and tenure, the basic tenets of which are set forth in the enclosed 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure. That document, a joint formulation of the AAUP and the Association of American Colleges and Universities, has received the endorsement of more than 210 scholarly and educational associations. We note that the 2011 edition of the Shorter University Faculty Handbook, updated this past May, includes a section on “Academic Freedom” (2.8.1) that is based essentially on the corresponding provisions of the 1940 Statement.

Among the requirements of the above-mentioned documents, we understand, is that faculty members develop an annual written plan of how they are going to “integrate the Christian faith” into their teaching. The faith statement requires that faculty believe that the Bible is inerrant and infallible and that all non-Christians are condemned to “everlasting torment.” All members of the faculty (and the staff), we note, are being required to sign these documents as a condition of continuing service at the university. Indeed, failure to adhere to the lifestyle statement “may result in disciplinary action … up to and including immediate termination.”

We wish to convey our concerns over the ramifications of these requirements for the exercise of academic freedom at Shorter University. Additional allegations we have received about adverse actions that the administration has already taken against faculty members viewed as out of conformity with the newly promulgated standards add to our concerns.

The information in our possession regarding the situation at Shorter University has come to us from faculty sources and media accounts, and we realize that you may have additional information that would contribute to our understanding of what has occurred. We would therefore welcome hearing from you.

Sincerely,
B. Robert Kreiser
Associate Secretary

Oklahoma Baptist University Friends Respond to the Lifestyle Statement

The following post appeared in the SaveOBU Blog, which is devoted to advancing academic freedom at Oklahoma Baptist University.  Thanks to author Jacob Lupfer for permission to reprint it here.

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!  For you tithe mint, dill, and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith.  It is these you ought to have practiced without neglecting the others.  You blind guides!  You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.  –Matthew 23:23-24 (NRSV)

Shorter University in Rome, GA is a good example of what OBU is likely to become if we continue to be controlled by the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma.  Unlike Mercer University in Macon, GA, which split from the Georgia Baptist Convention in 2005 and enjoys an increasing profile, an improving academic reputation, and an expanding mission, Shorter’s leaders continue to do the bidding of the ever more fundamentalist Georgia Baptist Convention.  OBU is arguably a better university than Shorter.  (The GBC has done its best to run Shorter into the ground and U.S. News now considers it a “2nd Tier National Liberal Arts College.”)  But Shorter and Mercer represent two directions OBU can go.  I’m afraid we’re well along the path to becoming Oklahoma’s version of Shorter College — declining in academic quality, barely accredited, and increasingly irrelevant.

This fall, Shorter’s Board of Trustees made headlines by instituting a “personal lifestyle statement” that all faculty must sign, among other fundamentalist-inspired policy documents.  Its president, Don Dowless, correctly notes that Shorter’s action, however reactionary and discriminatory, is perfectly legal and does not jeopardize its pending accreditation.  Employees have until April 2012 to either sign the statement or be fired.

When people pointed out that a) this will invariably compromise its academic quality and b) it discriminates against specific groups, President Dowless sent out a defensive mass letter claiming that Shorter is within its right as a “Christ-centered institution” and that while he hopes people will sign, the institution is prepared to go on without them if they do not.  The statement’s signers must affirm that they are not gay and that they will not consume alcohol outside their homes.

(Remind me again what Jesus said about homosexuality…. oh yeah, nothing!  Too bad Christ himself could not get a job teaching at Shorter, since he drank wine in public and associated with all kinds of outcasts.  Unbelievably, in addition to firing Jesus from its faculty, Shorter wants to send the message that doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with God (Micah 6:8) is nice if you manage to get around to it, but what you do in bed is the main way you express your Christian faith in the world.  Talk about neglecting the weightier matters of the law!)

If you ask OBU President David Whitlock if that would ever happen here, he will say, “No, never!”  But don’t be fooled.  If BGCO Executive Director-Treasurer Anthony Jordan wakes up one morning and decides OBU employees need to sign a “personal lifestyle statement,” President Whitlock will have no choice but to comply.  He knows where his bread is buttered.  Such a radical act may not be necessary, though, because OBU seems to be doing a good job of remaking the faculty through regular attrition, with occasional unjust firings and forced retirements thrown in for good measure.

But if a few Baptist elites decide they want to accelerate OBU’s transformation into a fundamentalist Bible college, what happened at Shorter could absolutely happen at OBU.

In the Shorter case, a few people protested, as this Facebook page indicates.  But in the end, the entrenched Baptist elites got their way, as they always do when they own the property, elect the trustees, and enforce their will on their institutions.  Until OBU is free from BGCO control, the exact same thing (or worse) could happen on Bison Hill.  In fact, I’d say it’s not a question of “if,” but “when.”

Jacob Lupfer

If It is Sin . . . Caution in Using a Common Rebuttal

I submit these thoughts as a humble attempt to encourage inclusion and understanding among Christianity abroad.

I have spoken out against an argument frequently made which seeks to promote tolerance and understanding toward alternative lifestyles.  As best as I understand the argument–and please clarify or correct me if I am mistaken–the logic goes as follows:

Everyone is a sinner, and there is much Scripture to support this claim.  Therefore, how can anyone point to a certain sin and say that it is “greater” or “more severe” than any other?  How then can someone condemn another person for their sexual preference or for drinking alcohol while they themselves are sinners as well?

The sentiment behind this point is understandable, and does promote unity and a commonality between all people.  But on closer examination, this argument does not benefit our community.  Here are several problems with the above argument:

  1. It admits guilt on the part of the homosexual or the partaker of alcohol.
  2. It calls into question the salvation of the above-mentioned persons.
  3. It justifies judgment of the above-mentioned people.

The last two points are subject to interpretation of certain passages of Scripture, which I understand will open debate, but I will attempt to explain my reasoning as best as I can.

The first point should be evident.  Our response of “everyone sins” is an admission of sin in itself.  No one would absolve a murderer on account of his pointing out that other people also murder.  Let us be careful not to admit sinfulness in these actions, because in doing so, we open the doors for the two remaining points.

The second point takes a bit of reading.  After reviewing Paul’s argument in Romans 6, we can understand that salvation frees us from sin.  Different interpretations can arise here, but we can all agree that a new heart, achieved through salvation, is bent toward God, and no longer toward sin.  Does this mean that we no longer sin?  Of course not.  But it does mean that our hearts are no longer bent toward sin.  The changed heart does not choose to sin, it does not “present its body as an instrument of wickedness.”  Therefore, if we admit sinfulness in the first point, and we willfully choose a lifestyle that includes drinking or alternative sexual preferences, our accusers can make the argument that we do not have salvation!  They can claim on these admissions that we are not followers of Christ: that we are in willful disobedience to His will.  This is unacceptable and, I think we all agree, untrue.

The last point flows from the second.  If we are not in Christ, then we are His enemies. Through admitting the sinfulness of these choices, we align ourselves against Christ.  There is no way around it: it is cause and effect.

The issue in question here is the intent, or the willingness, to sin.  Everyone does sin.  This is absolutely true.  However, a person who chooses to sin in full awareness or belief that what he is doing is sin, is of a different breed than the person who accidentally sins, or commits a sin of passion or negligence.  Therefore, if we believe homosexuality or drinking or smoking is a sin, and we continue in these choices, we are choosing to sin and Paul would argue that we have not received a new heart.  Therefore, my friends, I urge us to consider the implications of this argument, as I would not want to be called a sinner unfairly by someone attempting to defend me.  I do not believe that these choices are sinful in and of themselves, but certainly can lead to sin through abuse and obsession, just like anything else. I also realize that this sort of conversation is controversial, but I felt strongly on these issues and wanted to give encouragement and caution to those fighting this fight.

Again, I submit these thoughts respectfully and humbly, and only after much consideration and many painful hours of research in understanding these arguments and their rebuttals. I welcome conversation and varying viewpoints, as long as they are given in equal humility.

Thanks for your consideration.

Jonathan Luttrell

Jamie Barton’s letter to Shorter

Jamie Barton is a rising young opera singer who has sung with many prominent opera companies. http://www.jamiebartonmezzo.com/index.htm

My name is Jamie Barton, and I am a 2004 graduate of Shorter University. I write today because I love Shorter University very much, and I am very concerned about the direction in which she is being driven.

I came to Shorter as an introverted girl with a horribly low self-esteem. You see, I didn’t have many friends in high school. This probably had a lot do with the fact that I was more interested in performing arts than cheerleading, and my best friend was gay (in a very “straight”-laced community.) I learned, as many teenagers learn, that people can be cruel. For me, I felt the cruelty of my peers in not being socially accepted. I felt that in order for me to be accepted, I’d need to fit a number of parameters – and I was comfortable with none of them.

Even while I was in high school, Shorter was a haven for me. Starting in the 10th grade, I attended every Shorter performance I could. I loved seeing shows from the theater and musical theater departments (Stardust was one of my favorites), and hearing Shorter Chorale literally changed my life. I remember hearing Kellie Jenkins (a student at Shorter at the time, and a wonderful mezzo-soprano) sing on a Chorale concert, and for the first time in my life, it clicked: I wanted to be an opera singer. I started to attend every Shorter College program for prospective students in the performing arts that one could attend (Music 1-on-1, and an unfortunately short-lived but really wonderful choral summer camp.) Even though I was only a high schooler, I made friends with Shorter students. This was especially amazing to me, considering that I had such a difficult time making friends with the people with whom I’d spent my entire life. Shorter University, even before I was a student at that wonderful college, was already sharing its magic with me.

That magic never stopped working for me. The girl who walked through the doors of the Minor Fine Arts building on her first day of school in the fall of 2000 was a changed woman when she graduated in the spring of 2004. I was no longer shy and introverted because I had been taught something of self-worth. Academically, my professors taught us to never settle for mediocrity, and to always strive for nothing less than perfection. There were times when I truly thought I could never make it as an opera singer. Look where I came from… a farm girl with no foreign language or classical training to speak of… why should I expect to even make it in this field? But, it was in those moments that my friends – friends, which I had never had many of in my life, but now I had in abundance – would hold me up and make me keep going.

I am not only grateful that my Shorter family upheld me through those formative years of my career… I am lucky that such a place existed. Because I began my training in the arts at Shorter University, my career has virtually skyrocketed. After Shorter University, I went on to pursue my Masters degree at one of the top schools for vocal performance in the nation. I went directly from grad school into one of the top in-house opera training programs in the nation. My first job after leaving the in-house opera training program was at the number one opera house in the nation, and my second job was at one of the greatest concert halls in the world. In the seven years since graduating from Shorter University, I have made debuts in major houses across the United States, Canada, and Europe, all to critical acclaim. In a market where opera houses are closing left and right, I keep getting jobs. I keep getting jobs because I am good at my job. I am good at my job because my education in this field is unparalleled. The faculty at Shorter are a large part of why I am so successful. My friends from Shorter continue to be my pillars of support. They are my family.

This begs the question: why were the people at Shorter such a rare and wonderful bunch of people? I strongly believe it is because they were treated as such. I once asked the great opera director Peter Sellars why he showed so much love to his colleagues. You see, he is known for treating every single person with whom he works with an incredible amount of love and respect… hugs and kisses are quite the norm in his rehearsals. His response? “I’ve learned in my life that if you treat people like a treasure, then that is what they are.”

I’ve always felt that Shorter University had something special, some sort of magic. After all this time, I think I’ve finally figured it out: I was treated like a treasure. I think I can accurately say that I wasn’t the only person with this experience. I often hear alumni speak of the time they had at Shorter and the friendships they cultivated there in loving terms. People speak of Shorter as one speaks of family, and right now, people feel the need to defend the legacy of Shorter as they would defend the name of their family.

Ever since the Lifestyle Statement and other documents were released by the current Shorter University administration and Board of Trustees on October 25th, I’ve watched and listened as faculty, staff, students, and alumni have protested the very existence of these documents. I’ve raised my voice with the thousands of others who feel that this is wrong, and I’ve watched and waited as this new administration has ignored every dissenting voice. I’ve listened as they have invoked the name of Jesus to defend their actions, despite the fact that this is the furthest thing from acting with “Christ-like” love and compassion as one could get. I’ve watched as they have worked to systematically dismantle the institution of higher learning that I love – the place that taught me that I was acceptable as person and worthy of friendship and love because the Shorter faculty and staff treated me that way. I’ve watched as the new administration has treated the faculty and staff members, many of whom have given decades of their lives to Shorter University, as something less than a treasure… as garbage, to be thrown away.

Shorter University gave me so much. I love Shorter so much that I can’t sit by and watch while the very magic that changed me is drained from her. I can’t just sit by and watch while the current administration and Board destroy the 138-year legacy that every faculty, staff, and student body member worked to build. There isn’t very much that I can do on my own, but at the very least, I can shout and I am shouting now. I have to try and make sure that prospective students and donors know what they’re giving money and time to. I have to fight to make sure that, at the very least, people have access to this information. I have to do this, because I know for certain that the people in charge of Shorter are working equally hard to smooth this over and to make it look as though nothing ever happened.

I rest assured in the knowledge that I am not the only one who loves Shorter. I am not the only one who feels they must fight to keep her alive. I invite you to stand with us.

In solidarity and love,
Jamie Barton