Almost six weeks ago, Shorter hired Mr. Wayne Phipps as director of its Department of Human Resources. Wayne came to Shorter from Oglethorpe University, where he had spent 5 years in the human resources department. Prior to working at Oglethorpe, Mr. Phipps had worked in human resources in the corporate environment. Mr. Phipps was well-liked by his colleagues at Shorter and there was hope that he would be effective in keeping proper hiring procedure in place. All in all, it seemed like a good match – until last week.
Mr. Phipps has turned in his resignation at Shorter.
Why would someone who had already been on the job for six weeks turn in their resignation? Possibilities abound, but several reasons come to mind. He could have resigned because he was having trouble with relocation. But in this economy, six weeks is a very short amount of time to expect a home to sell and a commute from Atlanta, while difficult, was something he surely considered before accepting the job. He could have been offered a higher salary by Oglethorpe or some other institution, but Mr. Phipps impresses us as a man of integrity. He might have changed his mind and accepted another position prior to actually beginning at Shorter, but once there, one would think he would honor his commitment. He is a youth pastor at a GBC church, so surely he would have felt honor-bound to help the GBC and remain at Shorter.
We have heard from numerous sources that the current hiring practices at Shorter are, to say the least, unconventional. We understand that Mr. Phipps was intent on doing things the right way – the LEGAL way. We suspect that Mr. Phipps found the administration’s hiring practices downright unethical. Background checks have been waived (does no one in administration understand the implications of that?), the “mandatory” interview with Don Dowless to ascertain the “Baptist worthiness” of candidates, candidates, no matter their experience and aptness for jobs, have been hired.
Shorter’s faculty handbook clearly sets forth the procedure for hiring new faculty. All candidates’ information goes through the Human Resources Department. Faculty candidates are to be reviewed by the Dean and faculty of the department. The candidates are interviewed by the Dean or Chair, faculty within the discipline, the Provost, and (when he desires) the President. The candidates present a teaching demonstration for interested students and faculty. Observers are encouraged to complete an evaluation form. As we understand it, many of the steps above are being ignored.
The President of Shorter is responsible for the hires of all administrative personnel. It is the responsibility of the president to ensure that any hires are done with the highest and best interest of the university in mind. One can reasonably assume that procedures for hiring would follow, at least in form, the written practices for hiring faculty. Positions should be advertised in a variety of newspapers and professional journals, candidates should be vetted for suitability and accuracy of information by the human resources department, qualified candidates should be submitted to the president and selection should include the exposure to, if not the counsel of those individuals whom the position will most directly affect.
When we were in school, one of the most dreaded assignments in any class was to “compare and contrast.” When comparing and contrasting the credentials of the individuals who have left the university with those of Shorter’s most recent hires, we observe a rather startling gap.
While we are sure that all of the new hires are fine individuals, in the case of the two professorial hires, their education and experience in the teaching field falls far short of their departing colleagues. The new Dean of Education compares favorably in credentials, however she seems to have changed employment far more frequently than most academics do, and we find that troubling. She was at Brewton-Parker from 2004-2008, moved to Charleston Southern Certainly, there is good explanation for such frequent changes. Tenure track usually does not begin at an institution until a professor has taught for at least three years and has been reviewed by their peers.
Only two hires have been reported publicly. It is Shorter’s practice to name all incoming faculty at the beginning of the school year, however we are aware of two individuals.
Departing faculty – Allen Dutch
See Mr. Dutch’s credentials here.
Incoming faculty –
Matthew LeHew We learned of Mr. LeHew’s hire via a tweet on Twitter “I’m excited to announce that at the beginning of August I will be moving to Rome, GA to join the faculty at Shorter University!” He describes himself on Twitter as “Preacher. Web Designer. BCF Grad. FSU Grad” According to the information on the Baptist College of Florida website, Mr. LeHew graduated from Baptist College of Florida in 2009. He received his Master of Arts at Florida State in 2011. His profile reveals limited teaching and/or field experience in his discipline.
Departing faculty –
Dr. Sarah Kathryn Cantrell -assistant professor of English and French. Dr. Cantrell earned a doctoral degree in comparative literature from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She received a Master of Arts degree in French languages and literature from Vanderbilt University and a bachelor’s degree in French and Elementary Education from Centre College.
Dr. Renae Applegate House – assistant professor of English; Writing Center Director. Dr. House earned a doctoral degree in English from Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Master of Arts in Women’s Studies from State University of New York at Albany, Master of Arts in English from Slippery Rock University of Pennsylvania and has 9 years of teaching experience.
Incoming faculty – Renee Emerson – You may find Ms. Emerson’s credentials here. A Master’s degree and tutoring experience hardly replaces the credentials of the professors who have departed.
Departing faculty –
Dr. Sandra Leslie Dean of the School of Education Dr Leslie’s academic background includes a B.S. from Pennsylvania State University in Secondary Education (Latin), M.Ed. in Middle Grades Language Arts; and an Ed.D. from the University of South Carolina in Curriculum and Instruction. Dr. Leslie taught Latin in the public schools (middle and high school) for many years. Dr. Leslie taught in the Department of Education at Belmont Abbey College (BAC) in Charlotte, North Carolina for eight years before joining the Shorter faculty. She served as Director of Secondary Education and Educational Technology at BAC and taught undergraduate and graduate level education classes. She has worked with the Board of Examiners for Georgia Institutions of Higher Education and served on several institutional review teams for National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE). She served Shorter for six years.
Incoming faculty –
Dr. Norma Harper – Rome News Tribune article here. We hope Dr. Harper will remain at Shorter for a longer period of time than she has at the numerous colleges where she has taught.
Tomorrow, we will look at the administrative replacements at Shorter. It only gets more interesting.
Guys and Gals,
Your are really grasping at straws now using pure speculation and, at best, specious research. You have no idea why Mr. Phipps resigned, yet you spend paragraphs speculating about it. The only “evidence” you present is tenuously related rumor. And, come on, at least read the whole articles you cite from the soon-to-be-defunct Rome News-Excuse: “[Renee Emerson] graduated with a Master of Fine Arts in Poetry from Boston University. At Boston University, she […] was a teaching fellow in creative writing. While there, she also served as an intern at Agni literary magazine and as a contributing editor for The Basilica Review literary magazine.” She has an MFA–a terminal degree in the Arts–and she was a teaching fellow–not just a tutor. “Emerson is the author of three poetry chapbooks: Something Like Flight (Sargent Press, 2010), The Whitest Sheets (Maverick Duck Press, 2010) and Where Nothing Can Grow (Batcat Press, 2011).” I understand that no matter whom Shorter hires and no matter how clearly they spell out their credentials, they will never live up to your expectations, but, come on, at least make an effort to put together an acceptable smear campaign!
Hey, Johnny, you’re back! & it seems like you might have a personal investment or connection to Ms. Emerson…perhaps you’d like to share how you know so much about her credentials? And perhaps then that might lead to a better underestanding of your rabid defense of the hiring practices at Shorter.
John of Silence,
Congratulations to Ms. Emerson for publishing three chapbooks and working as an intern at a literary journal. That’s great. The reality remains: Her prior position was secretary at a seminary; her prior teaching experience consisted of one class at Boston University. Her teaching experience was extremely limited, and Shorter did not hire Ms. Emerson to write chapbooks of poetry. She was hired to teach, so, John, let’s examine her comments on teaching.
She says, “My experience in my M.F.A. program at Boston University, studying under former U.S. Poet Laureates Robert Pinsky and Louise Glück, has prepared me to teach Shorter students how to write poetry with skill and creativity.” How so? What are the parallels between the graduate students at BU and undergraduate students at Shorter? What are the parallels between Ms. Emerson and Poet Laureates Pinsky and Gluck? I would suggest there are few parallels between graduate courses at Boston University and undergraduate courses at Shorter University. Experienced professors understand we don’t teach subjects, we teach students, and Ms. Emerson’s experiences studying in graduate courses under former U.S. Poet Laureates Pinsky and Glück will not help her teach the students at Shorter. What would help? Experience and professional development. Ms. Emerson’s credentials upon joining Shorter display no experience and no desire to develop as a professional. Many young instructors take adjunct teaching positions to develop their credentials as educators. Ms. Emerson chose to take a position as a secretary.
Later in the column, Ms. Emerson says, “I want to help students know how to write pieces that will do well in the world of poetry. My goal is to help them be able to write well and to get into the top M.F.A. programs.” […] “I plan on making my students read a lot. It is important for students to read all the contemporary poets so that they produce works that are relevant for today. We want them to know what is being written now so when they send poems to literary magazines those pieces will be well received.” I’m not sure what “we” want students to read, but, clearly, Ms. Emerson has a clear agenda, based on minimal experience and minimal—if any—interaction with her students. What happens in her classroom if her students don’t want to get into the top M.F.A. programs? What if students simply want to learn how to become better writers? What if the poets Ms. Emerson wants her students to read have little or no relevance to her students’ writing lives? Ms. Emerson’s agenda doesn’t consider those students. Her comments suggest a lacking understanding of the process of teaching and a lacking concern for the needs of students.
By losing dozens of experienced, qualified faculty members, Shorter’s administration shows their lack of concern for the needs of the students. In the past two years, the department in which Ms. Emerson will be teaching has lost Dr. Sarah Kathryn Cantrell and Dr. Renae Applegate House, mentioned above, as well as Dr. Rob Turner, Dr. Cheryl Thrash, and Dr. Stephen Barnes. Five experienced teachers who could have contributed greatly to the stability and growth of the English department are now gone. In their places, they have hired inexperienced teachers—one, Ms. Emily Thomas, who had no teaching experience, resigned after teaching only a couple of weeks during the fall semester of 2011, leaving students without a teacher. How did the Shorter administration address these painful failures with Dr. Ben McFry, Chair of the Department of Language and Literature? They promoted him to the position of Associate Dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences. Dr. McFry—who bled away five experienced, qualified faculty members from his department during the past two years—was promoted? Why?
A college concerned about the well being of their students shouldn’t hire inexperienced faculty such as Ms. Emerson, and they certainly shouldn’t promote inexperienced administrators who fail to create stable learning environments for their students. What are the priorities of the current administration? Their actions suggest their priorities are not the students they’ve been entrusted, and that’s shameful. Somebody should write a poem, perhaps an elegy for the education Shorter student will lose in years ahead. Can you write an elegy for the students of Shorter, John of Silence? Perhaps you, Ms. Emerson?
Someone like this Dr. McFry has the most to lose if the Dowless-Price experiment goes badly. Unlike so many of the people at the top, he is not an ordained minister, so he can’t fall back on a paid preacher slot like Dowless, Martin, etc. It increasingly looks like Shorter may get a SACS warning or probation this winter — not directly due to the Lifestyle Agreement but because of all the financial, personnel, instructional and curricular disruption that’s accompanied it. As an assistant dean appointed by the new regime, he’ll be tarred in the academic job market with Shorter’s many new problems. He won’t be viewed sympathetically by academics outside Shorter as a victim but rather as one of the perpetrators. Potential employers will probably pick up the phone and call some former Shorter profs to learn more — I wonder what they’ll say about Dean McFry now.
If I were Dean McFry, I’d be banking all those new, bigger paychecks and trying to line up my next job before things get really messy this winter. A Shorter dean’s resume will craw even more questions than it does now after this winter.
I’d also be looking at my bosses to see just how loyal they are to subordinates when the going gets tough. My impression is that if you’re not already part of their inner circle, they’re quick to throw you under the bus if it fits their needs — even if you’ve been loyal to them. That inner circle’s hard to really join, too. Lots of honorary memberships, but they don’t really count. Makes Coosa Country Club look easy to join. If you’re not a personal friend to Dowless, Epting, Price, or Martin, or if your resume doesn’t include North Greenville or Charleston-Southern. Even Sabrena Parton is just an associate member. As for Ben McFry — just a caddy.
In the meantime, I’m reminded of the old saying, “you don’t have to worry about stepping on little people on your way up the ladder — as long as you don’t plan on ever, ever having to go back down!” If I were him, I try, however belatedly, to make as many friends among the victims as possible — he’ll probably need them.
All in all, this “promotion” is likely an expensive career move if this Dean McFry doesn’t bail out fast. I wonder if he’s realized this yet? He may not be as fast a learner as Wayne Phipps was.
My comment above should’ve read:
“A Shorter dean’s resume will draw even more questions than it does now after this winter.”
“draw” not “craw” — sorry
For whatever reason, losing an HR director after six weeks on the job is not a good thing. He sounded like a person who knew what he was doing, and losing him has to be quite a setback so close to the beginning of the new school year. Tuition at Shorter is high enough that students and the parents paying the bills are entitled to teachers with more than just a pulse and a master’s degree.
After prayer and deliberation, I have realized that my comments on this site have been mean-spirited and produced much ill will. I know that we will likely never see eye to eye, but being destructive certainly won’t help that situation. I apologize to those whom I have hurt here and elsewhere.
It must have been painful to have been in Mr. Phipps’ shoes knowing how things are supposed to be done, in charge of making sure they’re done correctly — and being totally powerless to make the situation right. No wonder he left.
I’m sure that the folks that worked for him or with him miss him and wish he was still there. It must have been hard for them to watch, knowing (as Mr. Phipps probably didn’t when he first arrived) where it was going to end.
I feel sorry for the people he left behind. I can only imagine the stuff they’ve seen and been forced to turn a blind eye to.
Well, I hope he can go back to his old job or that he has something better to go to. It would really stink to have taken a job that didn’t work out and then be left out in the cold. John, it is gracious of you to say something kind. This is an issue that is very close to the hearts of all Shorter graduates and we feel that our school, in many cases our spiritual home, has been desecrated by people who have no heritage there and no heart for the institution.