On Friday, May 4, the latest graduates of Shorter University will participate in a traditional graduation ceremony to mark their transition from college to work. One part of this ceremony involves the students marching through the exit gates in front of the Sheffield-Thompson building, on which the words, “Go Forth to Serve” are inscribed. While we hope that our new graduates will indeed be inspired to serve others in humane ways, it seems ironic that another departing contingent, whose members have served the present institution faithfully for decades, is being ushered out quite unceremoniously. We are referring, of course, to those whose consciences will not allow them to remain at our good school. To these brave men and women, the following is respectfully dedicated.
“But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.”
― George Eliot, Middlemarch
When I look back on my time at Shorter, I can’t help but fondly remember those who were perhaps the most important part of my education: my teachers. I was a student in the School of Fine Arts, and it seemed at times that we students were so busy with classes, recitals, shows, concerts, and any number of other activities that we barely left those buildings. We were there at all hours of the day and night because we were learning. Beyond learning the basic standards for an education in the arts, we wanted relevant artistic experience – and we got just that. The school’s reputation was built upon its incredible artistic integrity. To gain admission to a school that provided so many opportunities to perform in such high caliber situations was something we knew was special. What we didn’t anticipate was the depth of personal dedication that the faculty and staff members would show us.
I wasn’t the most accomplished music student when I came in to Shorter. I had a natural talent and a willingness to learn, but there was a lot of work to be done. I’d never taken voice lessons before college, so my voice teacher literally had to build my technique from the ground up. He required me to sing in front of our studio class (which was not an easy feat for a girl who had never really done much solo singing, let alone solo singing in a foreign language). With a good dose of encouragement (and certainly a good amount of “tough love”!), he made me the singer I am today.
My teacher’s dedication was not limited to regular business hours. He went from competition to competition with me. He was there for every single recital. He even volunteered to teach a summer course of music theory when a few of us (literally, the minimum number of students allowed to constitute a summer class) needed to pass it in order to be able to graduate within four years. I remember seeing him in the computer lab as late as midnight and beyond, transcribing music from scores so that a show in the musical theater department could happen. He even came to First Baptist in Rome and sat right alongside my family when I was baptized. His dedication to my academic success, my artistic integrity, and my life was evident. The thing is, he wasn’t the only one. Many, many more faculty members than just this particular one generously gave their time. They taught full days from 8 a. m. until 5 p. m., and then more often than not they spent their evenings at the school running rehearsals, building sets, giving recitals, and supporting their students in performance. I left an undergraduate program with training that literally made schools and employers sit up and listen, but more than that, I left with an enriched life and a group of educators who were now my mentors and my family.
This Friday’s Commencement marks not only the graduation of the 2012 class of Shorter University, but also the departure of so many members of the faculty and staff at every campus. Thus far, 54 employees, whose combined years of service totals an amazing 432 years, have chosen to leave rather than sign the Personal Lifestyle Statement. At this point, there are likely to be more who choose to leave. This is not surprising; results of the recent poll of Shorter employees indicated that this was coming. Eighty-nine percent of the employees who responded to this survey did not agree with Dr. Donald Dowless and the direction in which he is taking Shorter University, and voted no confidence in his administration. Sixty-five percent plan on resigning at some point, and 75 percent – read that, 75 percent of Shorter University employees – are opposed to signing the Statement.
While there are many faculty and staff members who are choosing to leave, there are others who are staying on and who will, however reluctantly, sign the Statement. Some are too close to retirement to try to find a job elsewhere; signing the Statement is the only way to keep their jobs and make it to retirement. Some have tried very hard to find other jobs, but in the current market they cannot. Signing the Statement, while it goes against every fiber of their being, is the only way they can be sure that they’ll be able to put food on their families’ tables. Some are staying to see their remaining students through the end of their college careers; signing the Statement is the only way to ensure the educational integrity of their degrees. What is increasingly evident is that the vast majority of employees who are staying at Shorter do not want to sign this Statement. For whatever individual reason, they cannot simply leave their jobs, and so they must pretend to buy into the whole ludicrous situation in which they find themselves, thanks to Dr. Donald Dowless.
Throughout this awful year, each member of the faculty and staff has supported their students. They have walked with their heads high, and they have had to make some incredibly tough decisions. For the employees who are staying on at Shorter, whether it be for your own well-being or for the well-being of your students or department, we wish to thank you. Your decision could not have been an easy one to make, and there isn’t a single person here who would wish to be in your position. Thank you for making the difficult decisions, and know that you are in our prayers. For the 54 faculty and staff members who have decided to move on, we wish you well and thank you for your dedication. Your show of integrity for what is best for yourselves, for your families, and for Shorter University has not been overlooked. You have given so much of your time to ensure that the integrity of Shorter is intact. We particularly understand that sometimes in order to save something you love, you must be willing to walk away from it. We see that, and we thank you. You will be missed.
Thank you, Jamie for expressing so well what many of us feel!
Written by an angel! Thank you for honoring the professors and staff with your beautiful words.
Jamie, it is clear that, while at Shorter, you not only developed your beautiful voice, you also learned how to think and how to write! Thank you so much.
What a wonderfully written article. I am honored to know you!!
I regret that your brand, “Save our Shorter” is so hopeless. It takes decades and centuries to build an institutional tradition and legacy such as Shorter had become. It only takes moments to destroy all of that.
Sadly, nothing can now save Shorter. The damage has been done and it is irreparable. Sure, it could be saved, but it would take decades and centuries to rebuild it to what it had been.
Jamie, Shorter gave you so much more than your beautiful, wonderful, magnificent voice, it gave you critical thinking skills which is the trademark of undergraduate higher education.
Thank you for writing so eloquently what so many of the community that surrounds Shorter and has supported her throughout all the years she has stood on this hill a voice. I am so sad to see Shorter in the dire straights that she is in now.
Christie Hufstedler Boyd
It is not my school when they changed to university. My days at Shorter were special. David Beaty, Mrs Buday. Such special people — I am so glad they are not seeing this.
A very heartfelt and articulate statement, Jamie. Shorter won’t attract students like you any more.
As others have shared, thanks for your willingness to honor the contributions of our departing faculty and staff. I’m sure folks on both sides of the aisle, so to speak, would quickly acknowledge that their faithful service over the years has enriched this university. I am a bit concerned, or rather confused, about some numbers you shared in your article. Correct me if I am mistaken, but wasn’t the survey only administered to current full-time faculty members? I also recall reading that the return rate was about sixty percent. If this is accurate, then the numbers wouldn’t support your assertion that seventy-five percent of all Shorter University employees are opposed to the Statement. Of course…it may be true…I simply don’t know. Anecdotal evidence may support this…but the numbers don’t seem to, if I’ve understood the results of the survey correctly. I recently wrote a guest editorial in the Rome Tribune…neither supporting nor opposing the policies per se, but rather calling for a more charitable discourse. I received many emails and phone calls from supportive faculty and staff members after the article was published. While these are only my own anecdotal observations…there does seem to be more than a few employees who are generally supportive of the institutional direction. I don’t say this to dismiss your point…that many are unsatisfied…but rather as an invitation to consider the issues holistically, including the possibility that not all faculty and staff members share this point of view.
Jamie, you are a jewel! My daughter, a fellow student of yours, is proud to know you and to have been at Shorter with you! Thanks for your sentiments, and for being a credit to Shorter and to her rich tradition. We pray God’s very best for you!
My two cents: As someone who grew up educated in a Baptist church that was a place where historical Baptist principles such as ‘soul competency’, ‘priesthood of believers’ and assuming responsibility for pursuing truth in scriptures w/o having my beliefs dictated to me was encouraged and expected, I resist any/all calls to sign ANY document…I am not a child, I am not a mindless prole, and I am not afraid to blunder my way through my faith journey with the Grace of God…I am not open to Spiritual Extortion, either.
I saw your response a few days ago and wanted to address your questions. (Apologies for the delay… I have been travelling quite a bit lately.)
I am sorry if the numbers were confusing to you. Yes, the surveys were only sent to faculty members of the Rome campus (to my knowledge… I was not a part of the creation of this survey.) I understand why you may be confused as to why the survey results do not match the official return rate, but it’s quite simple. As noted in my letter above, many of the employees cannot simply leave their jobs. A lot of this could be due to the fact that there simply aren’t jobs to go to outside of Shorter, or they’re too close to retirement to quit. The fact of the matter is that 75% of the Shorter University employees who replied to the survey stated that they *do not want* to sign the Personal Lifestyle Statement, and the official return rate is only indicative of those who are able to leave (either through luck of the job market or through the force of their own will and the faith that another job will come along). Considering that the jobs of Shorter University employees are on the chopping block if they do not sign it, many must sign the PLS in order to keep their jobs. Because of this unfortunate reality, the survey numbers most assuredly cannot match the actual current return rate.
To put it into further perspective, the number of employees leaving continues to rise even right now. So, it seems as though the official return rate calculations are also in fluctuation.
I hope this helps.
Thanks for writing,
While chaos on the hill is well known, less has been documented about changes to the CAPP — adult education, MBA, and Masters — programs based in Atlanta. As an adjunct professor in the CAPP program, I can report that it is not a pleasant environment. A couple of months ago, Dean Finn (head on the CAPP program) was talking about her continued work with Shorter. About 4 weeks ago, telephone calls to Dr. Finn began going to a recording announcing that she had decided to retire at the end of the semester but would not be in her office or conduct any University business. There were about 325 adjunct professors teaching in the CAPP program, but I suspect that number is much smaller today. Many are being asked to leave or simply told they will not be given any future classes to teach. We have lost some excellent Christian teachers.
Thanks for your response. I hope you’ve enjoyed your travels! I appreciate you indulging my curiosity…and forgive me if I am mistaken…but I thought the survey essentially collected data from four categories: those who planned to resign at the end of year, those who planned to resign when they found other employment, those whose plans were uncertain, and those who planned to stay.The survey seems to account for those who have been unable to find other employment (and those who are not seeking other employment). This leaves forty percent of the faculty whom we can only speculate how they may feel…since they did not respond (for any number of reasons). Also…we may be able to generalize some of the responders feelings over to staff members, but we must do so cautiously, as faculty will likely feel much more strongly about issues pertaining to academic freedom than staff.
With about 274 full-time staff members, and about 109 full-time faculty members (of whom 60% responded to the survey), per the most recent fact book, the survey seems to only measures about 17% of the total full-time university workforce. For that reason, I would encourage our readers not to use too broad a brush when painting their comments. Suffice it to say, there are many who are leaving whose service will be dearly missed, and those numbers will likely grow in the coming weeks. There are also many who will choose to stay, whose faithful scholarship and service will assist in attracting other qualified colleagues. I’m prayerful for a rich future for Shorter…a hope I’m sure we both share.
To answer your further questions regarding the survey, you are correct that the staff was not included in the distribution of the survey. And, I would agree with you that many of the faculty might feel more strongly than staff members about issues pertaining to academic freedom. However, the keyword there is “might”. I say “might” because I am neither a staff member nor faculty member, and I can only presume to know how they feel. From the postings on this website, and from the recent articles coming out which feature a staff member speaking out about his feelings regarding the PLS, I feel it is safe to infer that staff members may feel as strongly as faculty members about the issues at hand. I also want to point out that the issue at hand is not just academic freedom, as you pointed out… there are many, many issues that pertain to the PLS that many are worried about. While the staff may not have been included in the survey (for whatever reason), I feel that it is safe to assume that they opinions may be similar percentage-wise… especially considering the number of staff members who have worked at Shorter for the years preceding the GBC regime.
Regarding the actual data of the survey, it did not collect data from only 4 categories. If you take a look at the survey results, each question has several optional answers. They range from 2 to 6 possibilities for answers, and in my opinion, spans the gamut of possible answers. (I.e. It was an unbiased group of answers to choose from, and therefore gave way to the most accurate data possible.)
I know we disagree on much of this, but I want you to know that I am prayerful as well for a rich future for Shorter. I truly love this school, and it made such a difference in my professional life, as well as my spiritual one. While I am fearful that the possibility of a rich future at Shorter does not exist with the leadership at hand, it is still a wish I have. This is the reason I continue to work to let people know of what is going on at Shorter.
Much love in Christ,