Monthly Archives: September 2012

THE TRUTH, THE WHOLE TRUTH, AND NOTHING BUT THE TRUTH

UPDATE: We aren’t the only ones concerned about Shorter’s bottom line.

A few days ago, the Rome News-Tribune published an editorial regarding the enrollment at Shorter and Berry for the Fall semester.  The editorial wisely cautioned the reader not to read too much into the numbers that were published for each college.  Little do they know what good advice that was, however; numbers do matter.

Berry College showed a significant upsurge in enrollment. They should be rightly proud of their new record. They reported 716 new freshmen enrolled for the semester. On the other hand, Shorter has been noticeably reluctant to publish their numbers. When the numbers did come, Shorter’s announcement gave a number of people pause.

The announcement began with the heralding of the university’s Princeton Review rankings.  Now, Berry College had reason to cheer when it was named as one of the 322 most environmentally conscious colleges for 2012. As its announcement, and a reading of the Princeton award qualifications state, the award was based on a 2011 survey of colleges across the United States and Canada.  (In the US News college rankings, Berry ranks#124 in the list of National Liberal Arts Colleges, Shorter is reported as “rank not listed”. Berry is ranked #230 in private colleges on Forbes Best Colleges list. Shorter is not listed at all.)

Dr. Dowless, on the other hand, announced that “We are pleased with the recognition that the Princeton Review as again given us (emphasis, the author’s).  The truth of the matter is that unlike the Green award given to Berry, the Best Colleges rankings are only formally conducted once every 3 years.  In viewing Shorter’s profile, one finds that Shorter University is listed as Shorter College, and comments are still the same as they were back in November 2011. Chances are pretty good that a formal survey was not conducted last year; therefore, Shorter is still on the Best Regional Colleges in the Southeast list. We would be appreciative if any of last year’s students let us know if they were surveyed in the 2011-2012 academic year.

Of far more interest to us is the enrollment figure that was given. Dr. Dowless takes great pains to announce that Shorter has had enrollment over 1,500 for the third straight year. What he does not say, however, is far more telling. He has announced that the enrollment for Fall 2012-2013 for traditional (normal college age) students is 1528. According to the Shorter Fact Books, the main campus enrollment for 2010-2011 was 1555. The main campus enrollment for 2011-12 was 1696, including 52 main campus graduate students. The Princeton Review undergraduate figure is given as 1642. That would indicate a loss of 114 students for the current academic year. The whole truth is that while the reported figure is above 1,500, it is down substantially from last year and is also down from the 2010-2011.

Normally, Shorter, like Berry would report the number of new freshmen that it had on campus and would break down the student enrollment, if asked by the local paper. This year, they refused to do so. Why would numbers that usually were readily given now be kept so close to the vest. After all, the Shorter announcement trumpets “strong enrollment”.  If enrollment is strong, does it not stand to reason that the university would be happy to provide that breakdown?

If you have not driven to the Shorter campus recently, we would suggest you do so.  Numerous reports from frequent visitors to the hill and from students indicate that there are plenty of parking spaces available this year. Not so in previous years.  Students report that their class sizes are down, many of them substantially. Freshmen are bewildered as to why the robust classes that they saw on their visit to campus now contain far fewer students than they were led to believe would  be in their program. Construction on the new dormitory has been slowed.

Last year, approximately 200 students were housed in off-campus apartments. This year, no off-campus housing is being used to house students.  There are reports of at least 40 beds available in the residence halls. If Shorter is only down by 114 students, does it not stand to reason that all of the residence hall beds would be filled and at least some off-campus housing would be necessary? The whole truth is that simple math would tell you that it would be.

We suspect that the real enrollment number that Shorter is down this year is somewhere between 260 and 300. Shorter trustees, we are asking that you demand an accounting of exact figures at your board meeting in October.  Be sure you ask for non-duplicated numbers ( duplicating numbers is a real no-no to federal reporting agencies) and remember that the whole truth is that  you have a fiduciary responsibility for the success of the school.

A loss of 114 students means a loss of revenue of over three million dollars. If the numbers are, as we suspect, higher than that, GBC church members better start digging in their pockets. A three million dollar loss is severe enough, but more than that could substantially cripple the school, and it will be up to GBC churches to decide whether to pony up more money to the Cooperative Program in order to foot the bill.

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THE GBC BORG

In the television series “Star Trek-The Next Generation”, there was an alien being known as the “Borg”. This entity floated through space, absorbing any life form with which it came in contact. Individuality no longer existed. Everyone became part of the collective “Borg”. Any opposition was silenced by elimination, except for that of the central character of the show – a man named Picard. He was able to hold on to a thread of his individual uniqueness, and was eventually able to escape the clutches of the Borg.

How does this sci-fi story relate to Shorter? It seems there is a GCB (Georgia Baptist Convention) “Borg” that has absorbed Shorter Trustees, administration, faculty, and alumni relations. If this was an act born solely of a Christian mindset, a love for Jesus, I would be wholeheartedly supportive of such a measure. There is nothing more important than a relationship with Jesus Christ. Unfortunately, the “Borg” at Shorter is cast from a different mold. Its mindset is rooted in POWER.

Control of the trustees is a huge achievement for the “GBC Borg”. With the trustees being part of the collective vision, no potential idea outside of this narrow-minded vision is considered. One idea is presented and all seem to nod in collective agreement. They seem to forget that the Board of Trustees’ fiduciary responsibility is to the well being of the school, not the well being of the GBC.

Another important achievement of the “GBC Borg” is the absorption of Shorter’s administration. President Dowless, whose individuality was absorbed long ago, does not seem to see Shorter University as an institution of higher learning, but as a subsidiary of the Baptist mission organization. Any suggestion or alternate view to his plans for Shorter has been ignored or squelched by firing. Many strong Christian men and women were fired in this manner. He has surrounded himself with like-minded thinkers from the GBC collective vision. By doing so, he has total control of the day-to-day activities at Shorter.

This brings us to faculty. Many left because of the now infamous statement of conduct that was presented by the Trustees and President. What this served to accomplish was to eliminate anyone who did not adhere to control of their freedom to live and teach, no matter their Christian beliefs. “Borgs” are bullies, and threats of termination did and do abound because of what might happen in the classroom as well as out of the classroom.

Now let’s examine the Alumni Governing board and alumni in general. The AGB once was a channel for two-way communication between alumni and administration. Now that it has been absorbed by the “GBC/Shorter Borg”, it trumpets only the new collective vision and how wonderful and glorious the GBC-chosen interlopers and their changes are. Instead of conveying concerns of hundreds of alumni, they tell the alumni it is wrong to speak against the supreme leadership. “Join us,” they say, “The OLD Shorter is dead. Its time for the NEW Shorter”.

But there are a large number of alumni who do not care for this new vision, not because of some wistful remembrance of olden times on the Hill, but out of concern for current and future students at Shorter, whose education deserves to be strong and focused on a pursuit of Truth, taught by instructors who teach with high personal and professional standards that are grounded within that individual instructor, not determined by the President’s office.

Many other concerns by these alumni are being ignored. Many alumni dissenters are called liars. Problem is, alumni cannot be fired, their voices cannot be squelched.

As it becomes apparent that more and more voices are rising in resistance to the GBC-Shorter “Borg”, perhaps these alumni resisters can serve as sort of a “Picard” hero and eventually help Shorter escape the clutches of a vision that could eventually strip Shorter of any continuity of her heritage.

DISASTER AT ANOTHER BAPTIST COLLEGE

If you believe that what we have been reporting as happening at Shorter is either a) untrue or b) isolated, we recommend that you read this post at the Save OBU website.  If what you read disturbs you, then imagine this incident happening times 51.

Are we painting with a wide brush? Yes, yes we are. The same lack of any sort of fair, ethical hiring processes for the majority of the new appointments at Shorter were denied at Shorter as well.  As a result of the practices of Don Dowless and the Shorter Board of Trustees, the new human resources director walked out after six weeks. (Ask Don Dowless where the applications and files are for many of his new hires. They aren’t in the human resources office where they belong.) The same sort of individuals willing to forsake the sciences in order to follow the drumbeat of fundamentalist creationism are now sitting in faculty seats at Shorter, and whether it becomes apparent today or tomorrow or next year, it IS coming.

For too long now, the fundamentalists have operated under a cloak of secrecy, making slow, calculated moves intended to destroy any semblance of open, free exploration of ideas and the pursuit of truth. First they took the seminaries, now they intend to take over the colleges.  How do they do it? By one carefully placed, easily manipulated Board of Trustee member,  Alumni Governing Board member and one faculty member at a time – or in the case of Shorter, in a sweeping replacement of all Board members and 51 new faculty.

These actions are not going unnoticed within the academic community. The repercussions for the students of these schools will be profound.

Fundamentalism is an insidious cancer determined to destroy the very fabric of academics in order to increase and maintain control of those who follow the GBC and SBC banners. It is up to Shorter’s alumni to stand up and stand up now against this abomination.

Save our Shorter is calling for some alternatives for its alumni and discussions will begin soon.

GO HAWKS!

Go Hawks” seems to be almost as important a combination of words at Shorter in this era as any combination of Biblical phrases. The following musings are not intended to disparage any student, faculty, or administrator currently on the Hill”, but to point out the use of this term in a manner which overlaps every aspect of Shorter and the possible motivation behind this repetitive usage.

As an alumnus, I received an invitation to homecoming. This two day series of events is intended to allow alumni to gather together… and do what? Upon examining the itinerary, the only conclusion I can reach is that it will give many opportunities for alumni to say “GO HAWKS”! Most every planned activity on the mailed invitation orbits around a pep rally, alumni sporting events, and the cheering of current Shorter athletic competitions slated for the weekend. It is indisputable that these young student/athletes deserve our heartfelt support as they compete in their chosen skill of study. Why the effort to make almost every alumni activity a sporting activity? (GO HAWKS!)

I have also seen documents of correspondence sent by alumni voicing concerns about actions taken by the Shorter administration in recent months. These concerns are generally answered by Bert Epting, a Shorter employee who serves as a liaison between alumni and Shorter leadership, an unenviable task these days. Mr. Epting seems to be a good man, but it seems he has to toe the party line. Every letter of response to concerned alumni has the words GO HAWKS right before his signature. This seems to trivialize whatever concerns that were voiced. Mr. Epting is not to be singled out in his usage of these two words, for it can be used for any occurrence at Shorter to capture the spirit of the administration. Here are some examples:

-Fine arts program gutted and began anew… GO HAWKS!

-Nursing program turned on its ear… GO HAWKS!

-Science program in flux…GO HAWKS!

-Respected professors and staff run off or fired… GO HAWKS!

-Any contrary opinion to Dowless/Price vision ignored… GO HAWKS!

What is the motivation to use GO HAWKS at every turn? Perhaps it is to remind us of our mascot as a symbol of a Shorter student displaying prowess in the field and in the classroom.

More fitting would be to reflect the shift of focus at Shorter from academic to athletic achievement. The plan may be to attract new donors who will be excited about football and other athletics on the “hill”. These could replace longtime donors who have withheld support because of the seeming abandonment of Shorter’s longtime focus as an institution of academic excellence and replacing it with a focus on athletic excellence. GO HAWKS!

A CALL FOR ACTION

For 5 months, Save Our Shorter has endeavored to share with our readers what we perceive to be an assault on the traditions, Christian values, and academic excellence at Shorter University. Our intent has been to bring you factual information to help you understand what is happening on the Hill.

We have been accused by supporters of the Georgia Baptist Convention’s actions at Shorter of disseminating lies about the status of the current situation.  Sadly, we have been accused by some who should be our strongest supporters, of being angry bullies who should just say a prayer over the bones of a once-great Shorter, and move on. We have been labeled as left-wing liberals intent on destroying Christian values. We have been dismissed as the voice of an angry few.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

We are many. You know our names. We have stood before you in a classroom or helped you as you worked your way through your degree. We sit beside you in church. When we see each other, we share memories of “how it used to be” on the hill. We say hello to you in the grocery store, while pumping our gas, as we stand in line to vote.  We know each other. And we are devoted to telling you the truth.

When we began this blog, we told you we were dedicated to telling you the truth; here is what we told you:

  • Shorter has NOT always belonged to the Georgia Baptist Convention. Time and again, the GBC has failed to financially support this institution.  For over 73 of Shorter’s 139 years, the GBC had no control over the administration of the school. Every falling out between the school and the GBC has been over the lack of financial support and/or the demand for too much control. Contributions of 4.2% of Shorter’s annual budget should not give the GBC license to determine the academic direction of the school.
  • Shorter is NOT owned by the GBC.  The GBC is the sole member of the corporation, and therefore has control of how the school is operated, but no group or individual owns Shorter. It is a non-profit corporation, which has its status because it provides a service to the community.
  • Shorter faculty and staff were angry about the imposition of the Personal Lifestyle Statement, the Statement of Faith and the Biblical Principles on the Integration of Faith and Learning.  Issues included but were not limited to 1) Avowing Biblical inerrancy 2) the demand for conformation to a specific fundamentalist viewpoint 3) academic freedom.
  • A survey revealed an intent by faculty to leave the institution rather than conform to the above three documents and a vote of “no confidence” in Dr. Dowless by 89% of those responding to the survey.
  • We told you that prior to their March meeting, the Shorter Board of Trustees each received a packet of information with survey results and other documents that should have been of grave concern. The board chose to ignore the information that was sent to them.
  • We have also reported and in some instances, printed the dozens of letters and emails that were sent to Dr. Dowless, Dr. Price or the members of the Board of Trustees.
  • We warned of a massive faculty exodus and that has occurred. We did not address the issues of staff resignations, but those, too, have been staggering and will have a profound effect on the students
  • .Reported incidences of restriction of academic freedom.  We have also explained the necessity of academic freedom within higher education.
  • We have told you of the firings at least three individuals for no greater reason than their perceived incompatibility with the new regime. One was a 22-year employee of Shorter and was much loved and respected by faculty and students alike. Two were Shorter alumni who despite any misgivings they may or may not have had, gave Shorter their best.  We have reported the demotion of the chief academic officer (Provost) and the Vice President of Student Affairs and Dean of Students, both of whom had served Shorter well.
  • We reported the questionable practices in the hiring procedures for new members of the administration and faculty.
  • We reported the resignation of a Human Resources Director, who had only been on the job for 6 weeks, reportedly because of those hiring irregularities.
  • We reported the conflict between the Rome Mayor’s version of her involvement with the Shorter Board of Trustees and the administration’s contention that there was a “misunderstanding”.  Shorter administration never addressed the use of the mayor’s name in the commencement program, despite the fact that the mayor had explicitly said that she was NOT a member of the Board of Trustees, prior to the commencement program’s appearance.
  • We have expressed our concern about the multiple hires from Charleston Southern, the lack of substantial (and in some cases, appropriate) credentials of some of the recent faculty hires and our concern about the quality of education that will be offered on the Hill under the GBC’s control. (We have copies of an email sent from a current faculty member telling the students that all quizzes and tests will be “open book”.)

These are the issues we have presented on these pages. Neither Dr. Dowless, Nelson Price nor the Board of Trustees has adequately addressed these issues to the satisfaction of donors, alumni,faculty, many GBC members and the public at large.

 There are many more issues of which we are aware. When we have verifiable documentation, we will reveal those as well.

Are we bullies? Bullies, according to the New Oxford American Dictionary, use their strength or power to harm or intimidate those who are weaker. We are observing what is happening on the Hill and telling you what we see. Our strength is used to those call attention to those who have abused the power given them to take advantage of others. We are speaking truth to power and speaking truth to you.

We have been told by some that Shorter is dead, but she is not. Yesterday, students full of bright promise began their classes at Shorter. They did not see banners with LUX VERITAS flying from the street lamps. They were not greeted by a full complement of staff to help them through the myriad tasks necessary to be a student. Their classes had fewer students and too many of their professors, who understood that higher education was a business of collaborative learning in an open environment where questioning was encouraged and science embraced, were gone.

Donors: Are you satisfied with the way your dollars have been spent? When you gave your donations for the library, were you satisfied with it being named after Nelson and Trudy Price? Are your dollars furthering the cause that impelled you to give in the first place? Are your scholarships giving the students who receive them the type of education that you have come to expect from Shorter?

Alumni: Do you feel any obligation to pass on the legacy that you inherited? Do you feel any commitment to the teachings of your Shorter professors? Are you concerned about the welfare of the young people who enter your alma mater as students?

 Former faculty: Are you willing for your reputation to be smeared by those who call you a “cancer,” whose work is contrary to the teachings of Christ? Do you feel any responsibility for those who remain on the hill though their hearts are torn, who battle every day to keep doing the right thing for their students?

 Members of Georgia Baptist Convention churches: Can you reconcile what you’ve read here with the glowing reports about Shorter you’ve read in the Christian Index? Do you feel comfortable in asking questions and demanding answers about what is being done with your Cooperative Program donations?

Shorter Parents:  Are you concerned about the quality of education and the fallout from this turmoil that your child will receive on the Hill? Are sports rankings enough for you? Are you comfortable with the idea that your precious child may be short-changed in their education and indoctrinated in fundamentalist views?

Romans: The quality of that school that sits up on the Hill reflects your values too? Are you willing to lose the reputation of having two highly respected institutions of higher learning in your town? Is one really enough? Does having the nation look at Rome as a backward, bigoted community who fosters fundamentalism sit well on your shoulders? How does that reputation affect your chances of drawing industry and growth into your community?

How great is your commitment to Shorter?  We need you to join us. We need for you to stand up for more than a memory of times gone by; stand up for what created that memory. We need your commitment to action. In the weeks ahead, we will be calling on you to respond in tangible ways. We will ask you to demand that balance be restored at Shorter so that it can resume its legacy of being a light on the Hill and a teacher of truth – an example to the world of a tradition of academic excellence nurtured in a truly Christian environment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A UNIVERSITY IS NOT A LOCAL CHURCH

I am a proud graduate of Shorter College, class of 1988.  My years spent there were very special to me.  I grew so much as a student and as a person because of the professors, classmates, and overall environment I was subject to during my time on the “hill”.  Over the years, I have watched Shorter grow and evolve. New buildings, renovations, satellite campuses, online courses…UNIVERSITY STATUS!  However, no matter how much it grew, when I would go to visit the campus and check in on my professors and Gary Davis in the post office (no trip would be complete without seeing him), the heartbeat of the original intimate learning atmosphere was strong. I felt at home!

I also began to observe another occurrence that I was not quite sure how to comprehend: the Georgia Baptist Convention (GBC) / Shorter Trustee battle and subsequent takeover of full authority by the GBC.  At first I thought it would not be a big deal, after all it is a Baptist school. Well, as events unfolded, especially over the past year, it is a VERY big deal.

As an entity to govern local churches in the Southern Baptist denomination in the state of Georgia, the GBC is well organized and useful. Many strong Christian leaders perform ministerial duties that are important to the local Baptist churches and outreach ministries under the Baptist wing. However, viewing what has transpired at Shorter recently, I question whether running an institution of higher learning needs to be included in these outreach ministries. While the governmental structure of a local church (with GBC oversight) works well in that particular context, governing a university requires a much more diversified approach. There should be a willingness to listen to and merge multiple and sometimes divergent viewpoints that will create a strong educational chord that uses these viewpoints as its fibers. This environment of different ideas should be devoid of single-minded dogma.

While “Transforming Lives Through Christ” is a wonderful concept, the methodology of having President Dowless in a pastoral role with the Board of Trustees serving as a choir of Deacons and the GBC providing supreme authority seems to be transforming Shorter into a missionary preparatory academy. This is not the purpose of Shorter University. The purpose should be to provide a strong diversified education for students that prepare them for the diverse educational/career opportunities that will follow their years on the “hill”. Not every student has missionary or pastoral aspirations.

It is my wish that a congruence of ideas and beliefs can occur at Shorter that will allow students to return to their alma mater in years to come and be able to hear the same heartbeat that I once heard on my visits, not the drumbeat of single-mindedness that is echoing throughout the Rome area and beyond that is being pounded at this time.

Submitted by an alumnus who wishes to remain anonymous.