Monthly Archives: August 2012

Dr. Hall’s Idea of a University

Dr. Hall’s Idea of a University

In the fall of 1987, I joined my fellow Juniors early on a bright Saturday morning for that Rite of Passage known as the Junior English Exam. JEE proved you could, regardless of degree or major, communicate in English and were worthy of a degree from Shorter College— in fact, you had to pass to graduate.

You were given topic, a Blue Book, and 90 minutes to fill that Blue Book with your prose. Before any test, I am nervous, even if I’ve studied and know the material. A test like the JRE increases my nervousness exponentially; I fixate on the possibility probability that I will fail and earn a permanent seat in the Hall of Shame.

I don’t recall the topic; I do recall mulling it over for a few minutes then filling the Blue Book with something…words that resembled prose. I was one of the last ones out of that particular exam room.

Several weeks later, I pulled the envelope from my mail box (Box 83—the things memory recalls) and much to my surprise, I, uh, failed. Said the Man, in coldest blood, that’s not writing, that’s typing.

I went to see Dr. Wilson Hall, who graded my attempt, to see what I would have to do to undo this. he spared no words and came right to the point. It was terrible; I had come nowhere near the point. We spent the better part of an hour going over my effort. I was forced to take a look at what was going on in my writing. In the back and forth that followed, I could see that I had too many adjectives, too many adverbs, taking too long with those adjectives and adverbs to come to the point—and did I have one?

Recently, a friend from that time came across an essay that Dr. Hall wrote in that time frame. Titled, The Two Shorters, Dr. Hall told of the first Shorter, physical campus, which students, faculty, and visitors know. The hill top of buildings, trees

He spoke of the second Shorter,

The other Shorter is a subtle place, dimensionless and invisible, and often fraught with conflict and struggle, where whole worlds can be twisted apart and put together again with expanded depth and possibility. This Shorter exists only in the minds of students and faculty. It is a domain filled with disturbing ideas, intellectual adventure, and invisible experiences, a domain where only they can go.

He was writing about Shorter, but really, he was writing about any university.

I fear too many people have the idea that higher education is about professors with The Answers and students with The Questions. All that has to happen is teachers and students show up at the same place at the same time, and knowledge rolls downhill to a—hopefully—receptive audience. Knowledge is transferred!

Well, something is transferred.

The only way a university can work is for all who participate to bring something to the table. Professors do not have all the answers and cannot expect to do nothing more than spend 55 minutes serving up their knowledge. Students cannot show up, ask rote questions, get pat answers and expect to gain anything from the process.

The university is not about having your biases and prejudices confirmed. Everyone—students and teachers—must give of themselves. Everyone must struggle with the disturbing ideas, and, with what they contribute, and what they gain from others, make sense of it.

Some of what you do in this process, can be discerned in the moment, some things, you may not see for years. Other elements, you may never quite figure out; they are just a part of the struggle and conflict that is education at its best.

If I had shown up at Dr. Hall’s office, and he’d given me a mark up showing the errors, I might have made sense of it and eventually passed the test. I am certain I would have gained nothing from the experience that would have taught me anything in the long run. I would have learned how to think by rote for that one problem. Could I solve another problem myself later? Probably not.

I eventually passed the Junior English Exam. I didn’t pass it because I corrected the mistakes I’d made and resubmitted. I passed it because I looked at the source of my mistakes, to see why I’d made them at all.

My JRE moment was a defining one for me. A moment that I hope others on the Hill can still experience. Rereading Dr. Hall’s idea of a university put what this fight is about in perspective for me.

Alan Williams – Class of 1989

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A MESSAGE FROM DR. WILSON HALL

Editor’s Note:  The following essay was written by Dr. Wilson Hall in 1988.  During his four decades of dedicated, invaluable service to Shorter College as Professor of Humanities, Dr. Hall was loved and respected by students and faculty alike.  Dr. Hall states that he is convinced that the essay contains the purest definition and description of the goals of an institution of higher education.
Dr. Hall has given us permission to release his essay.

There are two Shorters.  There is the physical campus which is 150 acres of land, buildings, parking lots, woodlands and grass, open places.  It is a peaceful place where students and faculty come and go in a seemingly pacified atmosphere.  This is the Shorter which the visitor sees.  The other Shorter is a subtle place, dimensionless and invisible, and often fraught with conflict and struggle, where whole worlds can be twisted apart and put together again with expanded depth and possibility.  This Shorter exists only in the minds of students and faculty.  It is a domain filled with disturbing ideas, intellectual adventure, and invisible experiences, a domain where only they can go.

To the occasional visitor who comes onto the Hill, passes through our halls, and looks into our classrooms to see students dressed in unacademic jeans and ragged sweat shirts, listening to a teacher who paces and leans and writes occasionally on a dusty chalkboard, what he sees is all that exists there.  But within that room, within the invisible Shorter, Hecuba grieves on the defeated coast of Troy for the loss of her family and happiness, or young Isaac McCaslin walks into the confusion of a Mississippi wilderness in order to learn the truth by which he will live his life.  Within the invisible Shorter, where the visitor cannot see, numbers take a shape and meaning, and a mathematical manipulation reveals a mystery and a truth.  Within the invisible Shorter, music divides itself, reveals its parts, touches the mind and emotions and reunites in a sum larger than its parts.  Here, in the amazement of students’ eyes, as they come to understand something heretofore incomprehensible, the mind of the professor and the student unite for a moment and an indefinable energy, intangible and immeasurable, flows between them.

In this world of the mind, dimension dissolves along with time, and Plato, Turner and Emerson exist together with Bach, Shakespeare and Einstein.  In this world, thoughts of God, the nature of the Psyche or the origins of consciousness, can lead a student and teacher away to a place where there is no time, where Alpha and Omega stand as one and where there are no beginnings and endings.  Looking into the classroom from the hall, a visitor would never suspect that inside that bare room and before a dusty chalkboard such things were going on.
The significance of the invisible Shorter cannot be quantified, cannot be defined precisely but my collection of letters and notes from over the last two and a half decades attests to the fact that it does have impact on the lives of those who enter it, and that those magic moments in which the mind of the professor and the student unite are indeed significant moments, that afterward the students never again see the world as it was before they came to Shorter.  They know that surface is not what it seems and that behind physical fact lies a universe unknown to the physical eye.  When these letters come, I know that I have chosen the right path for my life.

GOING TO THE NARROW SCHOOL

I grew up in a Southern Baptist Church. Went to a daycare/elementary/high school run by that same church. I was immersed in Southern Baptist beliefs and traditions my whole childhood; no pants at church, no clapping, dancing, drinking etc. My Junior and Senior year in high school we didn’t have a prom, we had a banquet where we all dressed up, went and had a fancy dinner at a country club or some nice place that the current Junior class set up for the seniors and a slide show of the Seniors growing up. Then we went to someone’s house and hung out before going home. I grew up learning Bible verses from the time I was in preschool. Every grade had a Bible class and chapel every week. A Bible was just as an important class requirement as pen and paper. The first time I was exposed to a pregnancy out of wedlock was our Senior year when the Homecoming Queen got pregnant by her best friend’s brother who was also her boyfriend. The school didn’t know what to do with her so they let her be homeschooled when she started to show and didn’t let her walk the aisle with us at graduation. But they couldn’t really hide here since there was only 11 of us in our graduation class and there was a total of 300 in the Jr/Sr High at that time. It was quite the scandal!

When it came time to look at colleges, Shorter just immediately appealed to me. I didn’t even look at my local colleges for some reason. I think Shorter’s small classes appealed to me due to the small classes I had in high school. The moment I stepped foot on the campus I knew it was where I wanted to be even though it was three hours away from everything and everyone I had grown up with. Did I also mention that I was the first person in my family to even go to college? So, needless to say this was a HUGE step for a sheltered ( yes, I realize I was sheltered growing up), sometimes shy girl.

I learned so much during my time at Shorter. I learned of differing opinions on the same topic, that you’re not going to hell if you don’t attend church every time the church doors are open, and learned that there are SO many different people out there! One room mate I had taught me that you can cut loose AND worship at the same time. She took me to her home church ( which was Pentecostal) and I heard speaking in tongues for the first time. Another time we visited a very friendly black church ( where we stood out as the only two white girls there) but they welcomed us with open arms and firm handshakes. I never knew that worship could be so exciting with clapping, dancing and just speaking with whatever came out of your heart . No sitting stock still with blank expression for these folks!

Speaking of dancing, I was surprised to learn that Shorter had dances! Dances at a BAPTIST school???! Dances for the beginning of the year, Halloween, end of the year and sometimes just to blow off steam! I learned to do the electric slide at Shorter. Coming from a childhood where dancing was frowned on, I was surprised to say the least, But I discovered that all dancing wasn’t bad and can be quite de-stressing! I even learned to waltz and polka at the yearly Viennese Ball ( which I loved).

Shorter has always been the best four years of my single life. This school made such an impact on me in so many areas of my life. I made friends that I still keep in contact with. I keep more in touch with my college friends more than most of the high school friends because I feel my Shorter friends are truer than most of the shallow friendships I had in high school. I was always proud to say I graduated from Shorter and even more proud when it became a University, but am now rather embarrassed due the current situation. I was even more proud to hear when the school was going to get a nursing program. Being a nurse myself, I knew these nursing students would get a quality education like I did for my Biology degree. But my heart was saddened to hear of the departure of so many nursing faculty before the nursing program had really gotten its feet wet. Knowing how hard it is to get quality nursing faculty these days I feel the students will suffer in some part.

I understand that things must change, but some changes are more detrimental than they are worth. I see Shorter becoming the narrow minded school of my youth. I know that the Shorter I loved and became a better person through has to change to keep up with the times but why take 10 steps back into the dark ages and run off so many wonderful people in the process? I remember going back for my 5 year reunion and seeing the old gym now a student center with a Starbucks, Pizza Hut and Subway. I would have never seen that coming, but I know that the school had to add those things because of the current student population. Those are GOOD changes. I just don’t want to see my dear friend Shorter become a hollow version of herself. That instead of being a place of personal discovery and challenging yourself to be even better, it becomes a cookie cutter university churning out the same sort of people every year. I grew up a lot at Shorter. Mentally, spiritually, and philosophically. I have never regretted going there and miss it terribly. I would love to visit the campus again but feel that I would have such an overwhelming sense of loss that it would be more akin to attending a funeral than reliving fond memories with a wonderful friend.

I hope that Shorter can come out of this somehow with her reputation intact and the school doesn’t have to teeter on that ridge of the abyss where some schools have fallen into. I hope that Dowless and company can take off their blinders and take out their earplugs before it’s too late and a grand lady is thrown overboard by a callous dictatorship.

Sharon Huff is a Shorter alumnus. Thank you, Sharon, for sharing your story with us.

Do you have a story you wish to share? Please send it to us at saveourshorter@gmail.com.

ON CRITICAL THINKING

We are busy working on several articles and waiting for the Fall semester enrollment numbers from Shorter, but we still find time to check out what is happening in the news.

We expect to see good numbers from Shorter, since it appears that other private colleges in the area are experiencing good enrollments. Reinhardt and Berry (ranking #121 on the U S News rankings of Best Liberal Art’s Colleges) seem to be doing especially well.

Dr. Charles Negy is an associate professor of psychology at the University of Central Florida. He is also author of several textbooks, including Introduction to Psychology and Cross-Cultural Psychotherapy.  Dr. Negy brooks no nonsense in his classes. His students rate him as “interesting” but note that he “will make fun” of comments in class.

While we don’t know Dr. Negy personally, we do know that good professors often call into question statements that are made in class and challenge students to defend them.  Students are expected to think through their comments, to be open to new concepts and to weigh the merits of all arguments before reaching a conclusion. This is part of the critical thinking process; a necessary skill that is learned in a higher education classroom.

After what must have been a particularly difficult class, Dr. Negy wrote an email to his students. That email has gone viral and has been published in many places online. You may find the email here.

Dr. Negy, we couldn’t agree with you more.

Meanwhile, Shorter has had two more departures:

SHORTER UNIVERSITY DEPARTURE # 85
MS. TARA M. JONES
DIRECTOR OF FINANCIAL AID
6 YEARS OF SERVICE

SHORTER UNIVERSITY DEPARTURE # 86
MS. ROBIN HOLT-MCLAREN
ASST. DEAN OF STUDENTS, CAPPS
4(?) YEARS OF SERVICE

Parents of Shorter students, you better hope your child’s financial aid is already in order.  According to our calculations, there are only a couple of people left in that department. Handling the aid packages of all those students is going to be mighty difficult.

WHAT SHORTER MEANT TO ME AND WHAT I HOPE FOR ITS FUTURE

As an FK (faculty kid) my perspective on Shorter is different than most. I grew up on the hill and it was simply always a part of my life. I was on campus after school while growing up and also during the summers when my mom taught summer school. I grew to know every nook and cranny of the Shorter campus thru these childhood explorations. I always knew that I was somewhere special…a place where music, theater, art and the sciences thrived and grew. Shorter produced businessmen and student athletes. I went to plays, concerts and basketball games. I was aware, even at an early age, that Shorter was a distinctly Christian college that had as large a Baptist Student Union  population as the Greeks did and a place where the chapel was also the auditorium. Shorter’s Christian roots were reflected everywhere.

 I associated with my mom’s peers on a regular basis. They knew me by name and I had certain faculty members that always welcomed me for a visit to their office. I was intrigued by the science department, with the specimen jars, Dr. Allee’s office with all of the mounted animals, and the warm smell of pipe smoke from Dr. Greear’s cluttered domain. I knew that on that campus, I was loved and protected. I also knew that I had a certain degree of immunity, which probably led me into my share of “situations”. I knew that my family had been a part of Shorter, and I suppose that on some level I always knew that I would go to school there.

When I started at Shorter, there was a certain transition in my relationship with the faculty, from a status of “friend” to student. As I worked my way thru the core curriculum, I began to appreciate Shorter more and more for what it was..a loving place that demanded academic excellence coupled with a distinctly Christian environment and atmosphere, that was presented in a non threatening or confrontational manner. A place where the attitude was that of a loving embrace rather than termination when opinions differed and when attitudes clashed. A place where all where accepted as God’s children and even though there might have been disagreements over subject manner or behavior, at the end of the day, all were accepted and loved and the participants might just have to agree to disagree. We understood that it was not our role to stand in judgement of others, and since we were being schooled in critical thinking skills , we understood that each individual has to have their own relationship with God and not something that is programmed or dictated.

I am very aware that at this particular this point in my life, if someone was insisting that I had to believe a certain way to conform to a legalistic interpretation of scripture or faith, I would have totally rejected that concept then, as I do today.

I have watched the changes at Shorter with anger, disgust and frustration. The greatest emotion though is sadness. I know Shorter for what it was. It was a place of great academic diversity and freedom. It was a place that has always held outstanding core Christian Baptist values, at least up until these recent changes by the G.B.C. It was a place where differences where appreciated and even encouraged. It was a place where the combined experience of the now departed faculty numbered into the hundreds of years. This experience of the faculty is what made Shorter into the academically rigorous institution that it was always known for. I see the Shorter administration as now on the defensive as to their posture to the rest of the community and they are proactively touting the quality of their new faculty, something that Shorter has only recently felt the need to do; it was always a given. The quality of the vast majority of the new faculty, recently announced by Shorter, appears to leave a lot to be desired. These are individuals that do not have terminal degrees in their field. These are people that, largely, have not published. They are a group that by and large does not have sufficient teaching experience to be at a college level. These are all qualifications that the hastily exiting Shorter faculty took with them when they fled from the Baptist Taliban. I see Shorter being transformed and stolen (again) by the G.B.C. and the academic excellence that Shorter was always known for being stripped away. I see artistic integrity highly compromised, and a dwindling arts and music program. I see a new president that threatens to stand up in the middle of a play or musical that does not meet his moral standards and interrupting it in the middle. I see a science department that has faculty that will only teach what the G.B.C. deems acceptable as creationism based curriculum. I see the reputation of the Pre-Med majors being ruined. I see a place where people of all faiths, or no faith, are no longer welcome. I see a place where if you don’t fall lock step with the fundamentalist bent, then apparently you are not “Christian enough” to work there. I see a place where the majority of the Board of Trustee members are handpicked by the G.B.C., based not on their abilities to fulfill the role of trustee, but to further the religious agenda of the fundamentalist right. I see a place where the Board of Trustees is not autonomous and free from undue outside influence, but simply an extension of a religious extremism. If the G.B.C continues this course for Shorter, I anticipate that it will be nothing more than a second rate seminary prep school within my lifetime.

I am proud to be a Christian. I used to be proud to be a Georgia Baptist; the Georgia Baptist that I grew up with used to represent Christianity and not the power and control games the G.B.C. represents now. I am proud of my degree from Shorter, but that is now tempered by embarrassment and shame that the G.B.C. and the current administration of Shorter has brought upon itself. I am grateful for what Shorter taught me: tolerance, love and appreciation for diversity. Shorter taught me how to learn, not what to learn. It gave me an education, not an indoctrination. It loved me when I messed up and gently corrected me when I needed it.

My hope for Shorter is that somehow, someway, it will be freed from this nightmare. I hope it is restored to as a school where all are loved and accepted, not just a select few.  I pray for the day when Shorter is not a laughing stock and object of curiosity for the average onlooker. I dream of the time when the arts can be performed without the fear of heavy handed censorship. I look forward to the time when the faculty has the freedom to teach without fear and when the Christian views that Jesus  taught are restored to the campus and that the dictatorial environment of fear and intimidation of Dour Don and Nelson Price are kicked to the curb for the garbage it is. I wait for the time when Shorter does not need a P.R. consultant to repair its tarnished image.

Are these things to much to hope for? It seems a daunting task now that the G.B.C. was allowed to “steal” Shorter based on a legal technicality. It is up to us–alumni, and community members–to get involved and let the Board of Trustees and administration know your displeasure every time you see them. If you are a member of a G.B.C. church, it is time to question your leadership about what is going on with our controlling institution. It is misrepresenting what the Baptists have always stood for in the past: Love thy Brother as thyself and and that we are to be tolerant of others. Is this heavy handed treatment of Shorter indicative of the G.B.C. leadership from the top down? It would certainly seem so. The Board of Trustees and the G.B.C is just waiting for all of this to “die down.” We must not let this happen and it is our responsibility to prevent it from happening.

Jim Morris

REVIEWING THE “NEW” FACULTY

UPDATE: GPB Radio covers new hire story

The Dowless administration has announced, with much fanfare, what it has done to meet SACS requirements for faculty numbers for the university. The announcement was made with much fanfare at the Faculty Retreat on Thursday – a retreat, by the way, where the morning was designed like this:

  • 8:00 – 8:20 “Voluntary” prayer session
  • 10:00 – 10:30 Devotional
  • 10:45 – 12:00 “Defining Faith Integration in College Teaching” – Testimonies and panel discussion.

The afternoon session (from 1:00 – 3:00) actually devoted 45 minutes to “Faculty Business”. (More on this subject in a future post.)

The list of “new” faculty can be found in an article posted today in the Rome News-Tribune.   On the surface, the hire of 51 “new” faculty seems impressive. According to the article, Dowless claims “. . . our focus remained fixed on delivering the highest-caliber education to our students within an authentic Christian context.”

Really, Dr. Dowless?  Did you really want the “highest-caliber” educators at Shorter?

 Let’s examine that statement and the truth about the hires.

According to the 2011-2012 Faculty Handbook, the following is the prescribed procedure for hiring new faculty:

2.2 Policy for the Recruitment of Faculty

2) New or vacated faculty positions are announced through various sources as follows:

a) Chronicle of Higher Education

b) Minority publication such as Black Issues

c) Area newspapers

d) Journals or trade papers

e) Graduate schools

f) Denominational publications

g) Higher Ed Jobs.com

A very few of the 44 vacant faculty positions were advertised in the Chronicle of Higher Education. For those of you who are not aware, the Chronicle and Inside Higher Ed are the two most highly respected sources for academic recruiting. In other words, if an institution wants a quality hire, they advertise in the Chronicle first. They may also advertise in other publications, but generally, the academically best-qualified applicants will be reading the Chronicle and Inside Higher Ed for faculty openings.

Rather than searching for the brightest and best, exposing Shorter’s limited educational view and restraint of academic freedom to the world, Dowless and the Board have cobbled together an assortment of shuffles within the school body, raids on one of Dowless’ former employers, adjunct hires that had already been vetted for limited teaching opportunity, as well as a large assortment of un-tested (pedagogically speaking), hires who will be using Shorter as their first opportunity to prove their abilities.

Again, according to the 2011-2012 Faculty Handbook:

2.2.3 Faculty Credentials and Preparation

Faculty members are expected to hold a terminal degree in the teaching field. Any deviation

from this requirement must be justified in writing and approved by the School Dean and Provost.

The respective Deans and Dr. Martin must be justifying and approving a large number of newly hired faculty.

As the report below will show, many of the new hires do not yet hold terminal degrees and/or those degrees have been recently awarded. As seen below, many new faculty have extremely limited/no teaching experience.

Another item of note – many of the “New FULL-TIME Faculty” are simply former adjuncts who have been hired for full-time positions. We do not argue that some of these hires are good for Shorter. We do, however, question whether their positions were duly advertised and whether the best, most highly qualified faculty have been hired for full-time positions.

New Full Time Faculty Info

Formerly Adjunct:

Ms. Agan

Ms. Brown

Dr. Daniel

Dr. Derrick

Ms. Goad (PhD candidate – does not yet hold a doctorate from Georgia State)

Ms. Hunt

Ms. Koontz

Ms. Mack-Weir

Mr. Myers

Ms. Stiles

Ms. Storey

Listed as New Full Time, but had been full time employee at Shorter in other positions

Ms. Avant –Formerly Assistant Vice President of Affairs and Dean of Students (Both administrative jobs) Interesting observation – she has been named Dean of the College of Adult and Professional Programs, yet she has no doctorate. She is ABD (all but dissertation) at Mercer University, however. Normally, a Dean of a school has deep academic credentials to support the position.

Mr. Butcher – Director of Online Programs.

Dr. Derrick – Formerly Director of Student Support Services

Dr. Werner – Formerly Dean of the Chapel

Limited or no teaching experience

Dr. Aebisher – post-doctoral associate, lab assistant at CUNY

Ms. Benhardus – in a doctoral program at University of Iowa

Mr. Butcher – Director of Online Programs; no teaching experience

Mrs. Emerson –  administrative assistant at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Mr. Gill – Insurance rep/Pastor

Mr. Hooper – coach

Mr. Huey –adjunct at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (ABD)

Ms. Koontz – served as adjunct for Shorter, tutor at Chattahoochee Tech

Mr. LeHew – Assistant to the Senior Vice President – Baptist College of Florida.; Adjunct BCF

Dr. Luyai – Post-graduate fellow – Emory; research assistant- Emory

Dr. McMichael – Only teaching experience was as a second grade teacher. Mostly admin jobs.

Ms. Moyer – nurse practitioner

Dr. Naddy – no teaching experience

Ms.Harper-Storey – no terminal degree.

Dr.Vanderbush – has been a teaching assistant.

 

Charleston Southern – former employees (faculty only)

Dr. Douglas

Dr. Harper

Dr. Spitler

Dr. Weaver

Fully half of the 51 hires do not hold terminal degrees and are not listed as in doctoral degree programs. Three are in doctoral programs but currently do not hold terminal degrees.

Of the remaining 25 who hold doctorates, 5 have very limited/no teaching experience.

Dr. Dowless has touted the credentials of his hires, citing Harvard, Julliard and Emory. The truth of the matter is that NONE of his hires have TAUGHT at these schools.  We have new faculty that attended there, but to be a graduate of such prestigious schools and having been a professor there is as different as playing on the UGA football team and being the UGA Athletic Director.

Added to the over-all number of faculty employed by Shorter for the 2012-2013 academic year, the number of those with non-terminal degrees may only slightly affect the number of terminally-degreed faculty required by SACS. The current trend is very troubling to those who expect the academic standard of excellence previously experienced at Shorter.

We lost 400 cumulative years of teaching experience from faculty who departed Shorter. Take that number in for a moment.  Four hundred cumulative years.

Shorter is supposed to be the GBC’s flagship institution. Many small churches hire pastors straight out of grad school. Flagship churches hire pastors with a proven track record. Is this the best that Shorter can do for its flagship institution? Is the above assortment what Dowless and the Board consider to be “the highest-caliber education to our students within an authentic Christian context”?

Really?

Saving Our Shorter Legacy – The Spirit of Shorter: Dr. Sara Wingard

 UPDATE:

Shorter University Departure # 84
Ms. Anita Baker
Financial Aid Assistant
8 years of service

 

Saving Our Shorter Legacy

The Spirit of Shorter: Dr. Sara Wingard

Open your eyes, Shorter University: Get past your short-sighted legalism and see what you’re destroying.

I am compelled now more than ever to tell you about Dr. Sara Wingard—and her legacy of academic excellence—before you steam-roll it any flatter than you’ve made it so far.

Even though she’s gonna kill me for this later.

English professor Sara Wingard, a 1950s graduate of Shorter College, taught at her alma mater for thirty-plus years.  Nearly every student during my years at Shorter had to have at least one core class with her.  Her courses were rigorous, demanding.  She was absolutely intolerant of mediocrity—I think she actually cured most of us of it.  And, as one veteran faculty member told me, administrators and colleagues always knew exactly where they stood with her—she could be just as demanding and unforgiving with faculty and administration as she was with her students.  She earned respect, gratitude, loyalty—and occasionally, fear.

Months before her death in 2004, an aging Sara Wingard told my classmate who visited her, “If you have a memorial service for me, I will come back to haunt you.”

To say that Sara Wingard’s legacy lives on is an understatement—and that very phrase—her legacy lives on—has just the kind of saccharine sweetness, worshipful corniness, stilted greeting-card prosody that Sara must have had in mind when she forbade any kind of formal posthumous praise of her.  And if anyone could, from beyond the grave, smack down a roomful of kiss-ups and buffoons and legalistic demagogues with a single raised eyebrow, it’s Sara Wingard.

Hear her voice: “Shame on you, Shorter University.”  Hear how she pauses for rhetorical effect.  Now she whispers, just to me, that when I’m done writing this, she and I are going to have a little private talk about my breaking her anti-memorializing mandate.

I’m up for the challenge and I’ll take what’s coming.  As 1985 alum Dan Treadaway said in the letter announcing his tough decision this year to remove Sara’s name from a scholarship endowment he established in her honor, “I know that when I see Sara Wingard again, I will do so with a clear conscience.”  I stand with Dan and more than a generation of students shaped by Sara Wingard’s career at Shorter College.  It’s Sara’s and Shorter’s longstanding tradition of academic excellence I’m fighting for, a legacy Shorter University’s misguided trustees and administrators and backroom planners are killing—as this year’s astronomical number of departing faculty and staff demonstrates.  Sara herself would be, were she alive, one of those departing faculty.  She’d not go silently.  I’d hate to be the recipient of the copiously detailed written criticisms she’d dole out to Shorter’s current leadership.  Five-foot and formidable Sara Wingard—vocal, articulate, and never unprepared—embodied the very spirit of Shorter College.  Sara’s Shorter always promoted critical thinking, academic freedom, and serious intellectual inquiry.  She refused to stand down in any challenge of such academic excellence.

I should know.

I came to Shorter in 1985 as a Solid Student of Great Potential but a salty smartypants sometime-fly-by-nighter.  Sara, diminutive though she was, had the look of an imperial schoolmarm—impeccably and traditionally dressed, always positioned behind the podium with books and notes, with glasses perched on the end of her nose to intensify the beam of her laser stare.  Severe arthritis had knotted her hands—and we’d learn later that she often taught us in great pain, that she’d get up early to warm her joints to make it through the day, that sometimes the pain would be so torturous she’d have to stay home in bed—but to a roomful of naive first-semester freshmen in Honors Comp, her body’s stiffness conveyed a kind of severity that made us tremble.  Some of our concern was grounded.  She never gave us grades: we just had to write and rewrite papers until she said we were done.  As one who believed myself (at seventeen, mind you) an accomplished writer—and as one enamored with Vonnegut-esque irreverence—I had to suck up my stylistic pride and adapt to Sara Wingard’s requirements for a formalism I thought belonged to decades past.

She quickly singled me out summarily for classroom shamings.  I could whip out a killer paper in an all-nighter.  Unfortunately, I’m also frank. “Whew, that one took me all night,” I said once in turning in an essay.  Also unfortunately, I’m sensitive.  My nascent impressionability likely exaggerates my memory, but I swear she said, “Oh? You will be sorry, Miss King.”  It took a whole roll of gauze to dab up the red-ink blood all over my prized draft—which I believe I had to rewrite five times.

I had it coming.

She could elicit a delicate balance of simultaneous reverence and terror from an entire classroom.  I came to loathe her evil-eye glare, her regal last-naming of all her students (“Hmmph, Miss King”; “Yes, Miss Chestnut”; “Mr. Montgomery, you’re not making any sense”), her tradition of scanning the room for shruggy evasive body language to pinpoint a victim for a question over last night’s reading.  As an English major, I had class upon class with her.  Sara’s World Lit tests required rapid-fire hand-cramping paragraph-long analytical recountings of symbols, images, plot points, character identifications, and instantaneous reproductions of universal theme strands—and usually a full multi-literary-work essay to boot.  She was furiously stingy with A’s and intimidatingly secretive about her subjective grading standards.  She forced students to play her game by her rules or else.  She made us memorize and recite Chaucer in Middle English (say it with me now: “Whan that Aprille with his shoores soote. . .” ).  She loved English manners and the Queen and high teas and Victorian novels and Jane Austen.  She was, as far as I could see it, a staunch traditionalist, a dictatorial figurehead married to rules, rigor, outright rigidity.  My polar opposite.

I had no idea then how much I loved her.

Though Sara was certainly more traditional than I am in her pedagogy, she knew her stuff—and she knew just how to push your buttons when they really needed pushing.  I recall more than one meeting in her office my junior year for lectures about responsibility.  I’d gone through a horrible and awkward breakup that distracted me not only from my studies but from my own personal potential—academically and otherwise—for the latter half of my time at Shorter.  I flubbed my way half-heartedly through homework.  Sara pulled me aside for a lecture, then another, then another: shoddy work ethic, misguided priorities, what regrets I might have down the road when I’d gained hindsight.

And though Sara’s Advanced English Grammar course ushered me into what became a thrillingly automatic propensity for diagramming extensive multi-clause sentences (I loved it when I had to attach a second page to fit it all in), she recognized that my breezing through what came easily to me (I could actually diagram on the chalkboard on the spot without having completed assignments ahead of time) was no excuse for ill-preparedness (her biggest pet peeve).  At the end of the course, a lecture, again, longer this time: “Melissa, you knew more grammar than anyone in this class.  I’d venture to say you know grammar better than most students across my teaching career. . . . ” (I fought rolling my eyes with an active internal monologue: please oh please, Dr. Wingard, good grief, just get on with it).  She closed her lecture with a zinger: “And that is why you get a B.”  Whatever, Sara.  “And not just a B, but a B minus.”

Lectures notwithstanding, I got what I had coming.  I missed valedictorian by .015.

They may not have sunk in, but all those lectures were evidence not simply of a tough professor’s overborne efforts to draw the best out of students not accomplishing tasks responsibly.  They were pure proof: Sara Wingard was not just my professor.  She was my greatest advocate.

At twenty I didn’t see myself in Sara Wingard.  Here was a woman my mother’s age who’d lived her life unabashedly self-propelled and single.  She’d fulfilled a need for family beautifully by taking in animal after animal (I remember her dogs Jane and Darcy, a cat or two, all named after Austen characters).  Sara saw me, though, for what I was: beneath my brash and salty and forthright exterior, I was vulnerable and heartbroken, someone who thought she’d lost the only love of her life.  Sara had pinpointed in me what I could not yet see: that deep down, in some inexpressible place, I feared that I could not truly stand alone and that I would be forced to do so.  I know now that Sara Wingard, lover of dogs and rescuer of feral cats, had taken me in, too, as a kind of protégé, a proud willful bulldoggish daughter after her own heart—but a misguided daughter who had yet to find herself, to find how to be herself independently, without fear or apology.

The last lecture was the best.  It wasn’t a lecture at all.  “I have something for you,” Sara said, so I walked down Shorter Hill to her house for what I thought might be yet another talking-to.  Over tea and English biscuits served up via antique china, Sara played for me a crackly recording of a song from the 1950s Leonard Bernstein musical Wonderful Town— Rosalind Russell brashly belting “One Hundred Easy Ways.” “I heard you were planning to be a contestant in the Miss Shorter pageant,” she said.  “This will be just perfect for you.”  She even had sheet music ready for me.

I took her up on it.  I love good musical theatre.  The song’s a real puncher, with quick quips I still sing to myself (“Just be more well-informed than he/ You’ll never hear ‘O promise me.’/ Just tell him where his grammar errs/ Then mark your towels ‘hers’ and ‘hers’./ Yes girls, you too can lose your man/ if you will use my little plan!/ One hundred easy ways to lose a man!”).

Sara, of course, was in the audience that night.  I don’t know if I rocked the house, but I certainly cracked up some of the more knowing members of the pageant audience (remember, everyone knows everything about you on the Hill, whether you like it or not).  I am not a pageant girl, but I got first runner-up.  But you could tell she wanted me to win.  She even gave me post-show coiffure commentary, some vague recommendations for a stylist.  “Your hair.  It was just . . . there.”  (see photo above; she’s right—like I said, I’m not a pageant girl.)

Dr. Sara Wingard made me think—even if in simply rethinking who I was, reshaping myself, rebecoming.  She made me believe in myself.  Lecture after lecture, she made me suck it up and be tough.

Lecture after lecture, Sara Wingard loved me.

I owe Sara Wingard everything I can to reclaim Shorter and give it back to her, the Shorter College that was: the Shorter that entrusted its faculty to carry themselves responsibly in public places and in public and private relationships without requiring them to sign away their name and their integrity, the Shorter that would never have forbidden the teaching of Gothic literature out of a Puritanical fear of occult influences, the Shorter that entrusted its faculty to teach, to teach without censorship or unwarranted oversight, to teach well because teaching is their calling, their duty, their profession.

Shorter University, why have you thrown away Lux Veritas—Shorter College’s decades-tested pledge to light and truth?  Sara Wingard’s Shorter, my Shorter, taught me that seeking the truth—whatever it is, wherever it lies—is not merely an opportunity, but an intrinsic mandate—the kind of Right We Do in this world simply and purely because it is right, not because we have signed a document forced upon us by an insultingly mistrustful administration.

Despite all that Shorter University’s trustees and administration have done to kill it, Sara Wingard’s legacy does live on—in her continuing influence in her students’ lives, in my own teaching, in my code of ethics, in my craving excellence from my students and demanding it from myself.  Yes, Sara Wingard, your powers certainly extend beyond the grave—but I trust that’s just a nice metaphor.

Nonetheless, I’d hate to be Shorter University’s current leaders and policy makers.  Open your eyes, Shorter University.  Shame on you, shame on you indeed.  You have killed everything Shorter College and Sara Wingard stand for.  Hers is a lecture I would fear.  And oh, is it ever one you have coming.

Melissa King Rogers, PhD

Shorter College Class of 1989