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.