When, in 1958, Dr. Randall Minor and the Shorter Board of Trustees agreed with the Baptist Convention of Georgia to change Shorter’s charter, they did so in good faith.
Since 1914, Shorter had maintained control of its Board of Trustee selection process. As early as 1919, Shorter had continued its affiliation with the GBC, receiving funds and making annual reports to the Convention, however it had maintained its independence. In 1938, the Board of Trustees agreed to submit names of new shorter trustees to the GBC “for its approval or disapproval before final action by the Board”, however the college still had the power of formal and final approval of the new trustee. A 1953 GBC adoption of a new selection process for its affiliated college’s trustees allowed for each college to nominate 3 persons for each trustee position. The Convention chose one from the three.
Finding the college in dire need of funding, Minor negotiated the new charter and the College agreed to the changes that all future trustees would be elected by the GBC and that each trustee be a member of a Baptist Church which is affiliated with the Baptist Convention of the State of Georgia. Until then the charters had continued to renew the stipulation of the original charter, which said “members of regular Baptist churches of good standing.”
According to a speech by Dr. Rob Nash, entitled “On Being Baptist: The Soul Purpose of Shorter College” in his Founder’s Day Address, October 7, 1997, “From 1873 – 1902 and from 1914 until 1959, Shorter’s trustees were either self-perpetuating or had final power over the trustee selection process.” At the time of the ’59 charter change, Dr. Minor knew he was dealing with gentlemen and that they would honor the 1953 GBC selection process. As a result, he failed to include in the new charter the process by which new trustees would be elected. He never envisioned, nor would he have been able to conceive of the Georgia Baptist Convention of 2001.
When, during the selection process for the new trustees in 2001, Shorter did as it had done since 1953 and submitted a slate of candidates – three for each open position – to the Georgia Baptist Convention, they expected the GBC to continue to honor the ’53 process. What they didn’t reckon on was that the GBC was finally under the total control of Baptist Fundamentalists. When the GBC failed to accept any of the candidates and proposed and elected a slate of its own candidates, The Shorter Board of Trustees refused to seat them. In retaliation, the GBC withheld its annual contribution to Shorter.
For months, Dr. Ed Schrader tried to negotiate with the GBC in order to reach an amicable settlement of the matter. For months, Robert White and the Executive Board of the GBC stalled, refused to negotiate and made excuses. However an even greater problem was on the horizon.
On January 4, 2002 Dr. Schrader sent a memorandum to Dr. Bob White and pertinent officers of the GBC. In that memo, Dr. Schrader addressed the upcoming SACS re-accreditation visit. He writes, “Shorter College has been warmly regarded by Georgia Baptists for its entire 129 year history. Personally, I want Georgia Baptists to view me neither as a politically ally nor opponent, because I am neither, but as a Brother who is committed (and called) heart and soul to Christian higher education, fostering a good relationship between Shorter College and the Georgia Baptist Convention, and unswervingly dedicated to the spiritual and academic advancement of Shorter College. I will fight to insure Shorter College remains a Georgia Baptist College and Shorter College will fight to insure that its progress and future are undiminished and unblemished.” These were hardly the words of a man who later would be portrayed by GBC executives as intent on “stealing” Shorter from the Georgia Baptists.
The memo further relates a conversation between Dr. Schrader and the President of SACS, in which Dr. Schrader assured the SACS president that Shorter was addressing its concerns with the GBC proactively. “Since these issues (over-involvement of the GBC in the running of the college) were of concern in the previous re-accreditation review 10 years ago and not satisfactorily addressed then, the visiting team would take a very harsh view of our ignoring them in the intervening period.”
Dr. Schrader was concerned about the impact the loss of accreditation would have on the college. “Such public rebuke is the death knell for external fund raising, recruiting of top students and faculty and maintaining – let alone advancing – the school’s academic and artistic reputation and standing.”
Schrader and the Board of Trustees had reason for concern. In the Reaffirmation Committee Report from the February 18-21, 2002 visit, the committee came down hard on the GBC involvement in Shorter affairs:
“It is the judgment of the Committee that Shorter College is in compliance with all Conditions of Eligibility except Condition Three. The College has an active policy-making board, which meets the mandatory requirement of this section. However, undue pressure is being placed on the Board of Trustees by an outside agency, namely the Georgia Baptist Convention. The issue is the selection of trustees. In November 2001 the Convention broke with a long-standing practice and elected several trustees, which were not nominated by the College. Serious concerns exist regarding the existence of an independent governing board and for its ability to protect the Institution from undue outside influence from the Georgia Baptist Convention. Specific actions by the Georgia Baptist Convention this past year regarding the politicization of the trustee election process demonstrate that the College is subject to external political and religious influence that may affect its ability to carry out its mission, infringe upon its academic integrity and threaten academic freedom. Additionally, a pattern of activities carried out by the Georgia Baptist Convention and its agents has demonstrated a desire to affect outcomes of the College’s internal governance by this external third party entity. Therefore the Committee recommends that the Institution demonstrate that its bylaws and other legal documents ensure the independence of the board (Recommendation 3). This recommendation does not reflect a problem with the institution or its administration. This is a problem between the Board of Trustees and the Georgia Baptist Convention leadership over the issue of governance.
The recommendation of 10 years ago echoes the same issues facing Shorter faculty and students today. Academic freedom and integrity are core values of higher education. As Mr. Pirkle’s letter of resignation reveals, the Georgia Baptist Fundamentalists have only increased their hold upon the University. To what sorts of interference was the report referring? Who from the GBC would have tried to influence the Board of Trustees? How is that influence being carried out with the current board? There is much more to this story, which we will disclose in our next post.