“Georgia Baptists should be deliriously delighted and eternally grateful for what is happening at our Georgia Baptist institutions of higher education” So begins the editorial by J. Gerald Harris in the May 17 edition of the Christian Index. The article, a paean to the virtues of Baptist school presidents, goes on to extol the direction of the Georgia Baptist institutions and to address the opposition to the direction Shorter University is taking. J Robert White, Executive Director of the GBC weighs in on his Open Door column, calling Dr. Mike Simoneaux “just what the doctor ordered for Brewton-Parker.” He also calls Dr. Don Dowless “an amazing gift for Shorter University and the Georgia Baptist Convention.”
In reality, the beginning line should have read, “Georgia Baptists should be alarmed and angry for what is happening at our Georgia Baptist institutions of higher education”. In fact, any time the Christian Index tells its readers how wonderful everything is, those readers should see a red flag. The following is the factual accounting of how things really are at Georgia Baptist institutions.
Contrary to media reports, Truett-McConnell College has, in fact, required its faculty to sign the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message as a condition of employment. Readers should understand that the Baptist Faith and Message is a much broader document than the Shorter Personal Lifestyle Statement. While the Baptist Faith and Message of 2000 substantially expanded the section on The Christian and the Social Order to include such statements as, “Christians should oppose racism, every form of greed, selfishness, and vice, and all forms of sexual immorality, including adultery, homosexuality, and pornography” and “We should speak on behalf of the unborn and contend for the sanctity of all human life from conception to natural death” nowhere in the Baptist Faith and Message is there a requirement for active church attendance or a statement forbidding the use of alcohol in public. While the loss of faculty has not been widely reported, Truett too has lost faculty and will lose more. Faculty were given a far more generous 18 months to sign the statement as opposed to Shorter’s six month window. Many faculty are looking and several have already left. Perhaps Baptists should look for an exodus at Truett-McConnell as well.
Truett-McConnell President Emir Caner has touted the growth at Truett and has cited that growth as a reason to expand, but we must note that many of the new students are music students who came with Dr. Ben Caston, when he left the debacle at Brewton Parker College. Caner is leading the college away from a liberal arts focus and toward a seminary preparatory school while making grand plans for expansion. New facilities are being built and old ones are being renovated. According to our sources, Caner and the Georgia Baptist Convention is planning to build a chapel designed to seat 2,500. Perhaps this is a case of over-expansion, considering the fact that the Truett-McConnell has approximately 700 students, and according to its website, conferred degrees upon its largest graduating class – 70 – this spring. According to the latest available data, the total population of Cleveland, Georgia stands at 3,410. For whom is Caner building such a large chapel/auditorium? Does he have information from his admissions department that the student population is going to more than triple? We would like to see that data, if in fact, he does. We would also like to know the source of funding for such rapid expansion. Could the Georgia Baptist Convention, who we are told, finds itself in apparent financial difficulty, requiring the elimination of between 60-70 jobs this year and the need to put its new building up for sale have “found” money to assist in this expansion?
Brewton Parker College is perhaps in the saddest state of all three institutions. Brewton-Parker College will be facing a situation in June where the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools will most likely pull its accreditation. BP has been under a warning by SACS for a while now and the SACS visit to the campus on the third week of April did not, according to sources, go well. Perhaps it is the attention to the issues surrounding Brewton-Parker’s SACS accreditation that led to the lack of attention to daily business which caused Brewton-Parker Inc. to be administratively dissolved for lack of re-registration, though the corporation was later reinstated.
Brewton Parker faculty is also leaving in droves. According to our sources, “Everybody who can, is leaving.” The building and grounds of a once beautiful campus show signs of gross neglect, with grass left uncut and shrubbery untrimmed, and buildings with peeling paint. The Education building was condemned three years ago and other buildings have been closed to eliminate the need for heating/cooling and electrical expense. A bad roof on the auditorium has caused leaks into the building, allowing mildew and mold to grow behind the wallboard, but there are no funds to remove the wallboard and eliminate the mold, so students attend chapel in an environmentally dangerous building. There are only two housekeepers for the entire campus; so thorough cleaning of facilities is impossible.
The computer system for the college is literally falling apart and a minimal crew is struggling to maintain service for the college. No money is available to replace an outdated system. Students no longer have a bookstore where they can by the texts necessary for their classes. Many no longer make any attempt to buy the textbooks and come to class unprepared.
Sixty percent of the students are there on athletic scholarship. Many of these students tell the professors “I came here to play ball” and show no interest in class attendance or test taking. They know that professors have been told that these students are to pass the course regardless of whether or not they have completed their coursework.
The music department, for which a new expansion was built just a few years ago, is gone and only one biology professor is left to teach the remaining students.
According to public information, BP’s president, Dr. Simoneaux, had been “on loan” from Truett-McConnell and Truett was paying Dr. Simoneaux’s salary.
At Shorter, the total of faculty and staff leaving now stands at 60. A once excellent School of the Arts has been decimated. Thirteen members of the school are gone. The much-heralded School of Nursing, opened in the 2010-2011 academic year, has two remaining faculty members, as Dr. Vanice Roberts and many of the faculty left. Dr. Roberts is to open a similar program on the Berry College campus. In the School of Sciences and Mathematics, 4 chemistry professors are gone.The current count for Biology professors that have left is 5: The dean (40+ years of service), a tenured professor of 30+ years, and three assistant professors. A professor of mathematics and one of accounting have also turned in their resignations. From the College of Arts and Sciences, one of two Spanish professors is gone, as is the only French professor. The College has also lost a professor of history and one from Christian Studies. The School of Business has also taken a significant hit. Two of a total of three accounting professors have left. The Dean of the School of Education, one faculty member and the Assistant Director for the Center for Teacher Preparation have also resigned. Add to these numbers three librarians and the Director of the Shorter Museum and Archives.
For those of you that may be sports fans, the head soccer coach has resigned, as has the head cross country coach, a football coach and an assistant professor of Sports Management.
There have been significant losses in upper administration, as the Assistant Registrar, the Assistant Vice President for Planning and Institutional Effectiveness, Acting Vice President of Institutional Advancement, and the Director and Assistant Director of Alumni Affairs.
Losses also have ranged from Information Technology to Financial Aid to Human Resources to the Student Services Advisor to Facilities Management. These support staff have been vital to the running of the university.
Of significant importance is the loss of the Dean of Adult and Professional Programs, which has been the cash cow for Shorter. Perhaps she knew that non-traditional (adult) students on satellite campuses would have little patience for the changes occurring at the institution and would balk at the idea of having the GBC brand of Christianity crammed down their throats through the policy of integration of education and Georgia Baptist religion.
Students by the dozens have transferred to other schools – a loss of 40 alone who were Fine Arts majors, and others are still exploring their options.
Alumni who had made pledges to support the building of the new library have withdrawn significant pledges out of disgust for the actions of the current administration. The citizens of Rome and alumni speak out almost daily in the Rome News-Tribune, decrying the loss of this once great institution.
Most interesting of all the comments by White and Harris are their references to the Save Our Shorter movement and the tireless work of Betty Zane Morris on behalf of Shorter. White refers to our concern as “juvenile behavior” and accuses Dowless’ critics, saying that we have “all but declared that Dr. Dowless is going to be responsible for the demise of Rome, Georgia and perhaps, the end of the world as we have known it.” The facts presented above indicate a need for grave concern, not for the end of Rome or the world, but of Shorter University, Truett-McConnell College and Brewton-Parker College due to the Fundamentalist agenda supported and even lauded by White.
Mr. Harris takes his slap at the highly respected former Chair of the Communications Department and Teacher of the Year recipient Betty Zane Morris, first by calling her Mary Zane Morris, (in what must have been an intentional error writing, since Mrs. Morris has communicated many times with the Christian Index). Mrs. Morris also has a scholarship named after her at Shorter, established and supported by friends, faculty, alumni and students. At the Celebrate Shorter awards recognition this year, Mrs. Morris’ name was left off from the title of the scholarship. Harris says, “In my opinion, her prognostications may prove to be nothing more than the forlorn lamentations of a sullen soul.” That sort of rhetoric will not go over well among Betty Zane’s hundreds of friends and supporters. Betty Zane Morris earned her right to speak out about the school that she so loves. More importantly, Harris’s remark is not the type of comment that is appropriate for a Southern gentleman in regards to a lady. Mr. Harris owes Mrs. Morris an apology, which we are certain she will never receive.
We would be delighted to link you to the entirety of these two articles, however the Index, in its effort to spread the gospel to believers, requires a $6.00 subscription to the full text. We recommend that you check with your local library, your local Baptist church or friends and neighbors and read both articles. We suspect that proponents of higher education will find both articles sobering and thought provoking in light of the above information.