UPDATE: Michael Wilson’s plight has drawn national attention. Inside Higher Ed is the most widely read academic journal on the web.
The following article appeared in last Sunday’s edition of the Rome News-Tribune, and is reproduced here with permission.
Shorter librarian prepares to leave, would love to stay
by Kim Sloan, staff writer
For 14 years Michael Wilson has worked at a job he loves as the off-campus librarian for professional studies at Shorter University.
That job is threatened by a new policy the university is enacting requiring all staff and faculty to sign a Faith and Personal Lifestyle statement in which they agree, among other things, to “reject as acceptable all sexual activity not in agreement with the Bible, including, but not limited to, premarital sex, adultery and homosexuality.”
Wilson is gay. School officials never asked him about his lifestyle when he was hired on April 20, 1998, which is also his father’s birthday, he said. But he thinks they probably knew when he was tenured in 2006.
Wilson signed his contract, but he marked out portions of the statement and sent it to the provost. He also sent a letter to Shorter University President Donald Dowless.
“I believe, for reasons that should be obvious, that the provisions therein constitute a grave violation of the principles of academic freedom and tenure, core values in academe that were formerly embraced by the university’s administration,” Wilson said in his letter. “I am aware of your intent to dismiss anyone, regardless of tenure status, who may express any disagreement with these provisions. Nevertheless, I would like to appeal to you, as a fellow academic, to reverse this significant departure from academic norms by creating an atmosphere in which faculty may teach, and students may learn, without these ideological restrictions.”
If a staff member doesn’t sign the statement of faith, their employment will not continue, according to Dawn Tolbert, Shorter University spokeswoman.
That leaves Wilson with the real possibility that he will be without a job in the next few weeks. But he plans to fight for the job he has loved so much, he said.
It’s a small department, he said, and it has given him a chance to do “a lot of everything,” he said.
“I’ve been everything from janitor to head librarian,” Wilson said. “I’ve learned so much and I made this job my own.”
Shorter University’s handbook states that, “tenure is the reasonable expectation of continued employment on an annual instructional term basis as long as, and only as long as: 1) The tenured faculty member does not breach his/her current contract or any subsequent annual instructional term contract; 2) Shorter is financially able to continue to employ the tenured faculty member; and 3) There is sufficient demand at Shorter to justify the need for performance by the tenured faculty member in his/her particular field.”
While as of today Wilson still works for Shorter, his name is on a list provided by the website SaveOurShorter.com of 53 staff and faculty members who have left or are expected to leave the university this year, mainly because of the faith statement passed by the Board of Trustees last October.
When asked if the number was accurate, Tolbert said in an email, “We don’t have a final number on who is leaving yet; faculty contracts are still out. We are interviewing for positions that are open and will announce new hires as they are finalized.”
Wilson hopes there is a way he could stay.
“I genuinely care about the library, my students, and the well-being of the university, and I am concerned that my sudden departure would create hardship for all involved,” he said in his letter to Dowless.