Author Archives: bantryb

Professor Nobody

The following letter was submitted to us anonymously. We suspect that the sentiments expressed here are common on The Hill.

IN all of my years in academia, this school year at Shorter has been the most emotionally difficult, mentally challenging and physically exhausting. I say this not because I have frustrating students, a hectic schedule or mounds of paperwork – but because my colleagues, my students and the staff that supports us has been in “survival mode” since the upheaval caused by the adoption and impending threats of the Personal Lifestyle Statements.

There seem to be four titles to describe both my colleagues and students:  “Hoping for Change,” “Staying Regardless,” “Pursuing the Back-Up Plan” and “Seizing the Better Opportunity.” While these four titles are common to every faculty and student towards the end of the semester, the numbers at Shorter are staggering. Every day, someone posts the name of another faculty or staff member who has announced their resignation and new appointment. Every day, another student comes to me and tells me about their roommate or sorority sister who has just committed to another school. The numbers seem to have increased throughout the last several weeks. There is an air of detachment that is hindering productive class time, lunchtime banter and even the students’ effort and attention to grades. Emotional tensions are extremely high as faculty are secretly meeting and students’ parents are calling for recommendation letters, extremely upset about the toll this semester has taken on their sons and daughters.  Knowing that colleagues and students have written emails and personally met with members of the administration only to be left with more doubt, more anger and more confusion is frustrating.

As ridiculous is the fact that every week in my Inbox there is a Wellness announcement for faculty and staff. I wonder if they know WHY my blood pressure is sky high, WHY I am experiencing IBS, WHY my doctor has upped my antacid prescription and most importantly – WHY my doctor is suggesting anti-anxiety medications.  The reason is the university I that I have learned to love – which I am so proud to be a part of – is experiencing changes that affect me emotionally, mentally and physically.  No one from the administration has reached out to me to ask “What can we do to support you during this time of transition?” No one has reached out to me to ask “May I come and give your students some reassurance that they are going to be okay?” No one has reached out to me to say “Your job is not at stake. If you agree to sign these documents we will make sure that your program thrives.” No one has reached out to me to say “Your diligent research, work and talent make you so valuable to our University. We hope you will sign these documents and stay on board.”

I do not find it necessary here to announce which title I have chosen. Just let me say when I was assured that I was doing well in my job, even knowing that Shorter contracts were one-year commitments, I, like many of my colleagues, bought a home in Floyd County. I established my family in this community. We have a church family we love and have close friends in dance programs, sports and local civic organizations. The thought of moving is completely overwhelming: pulling our children from their educational environment and neighborhood to another city or state, asking my spouse to seek another job in this economy, considering trying to sell our house – the home that my spouse and I prayed over, toiled for and have worked to make a haven for our family. To say I am devastated is an understatement. One thing is certain – this entire situation and these documents have made me question trust in authority, my need for religion, my faith in Christianity and my place in higher education. All of these questions are contrary to every assurance I had when I walked into the Chapel on October 24, 2011.

Back to Our Roots

On Sunday afternoon, April 1, Dr. Don Dowless released a statement through the Rome News-Tribune.  In his statement Dowless addressed an earlier RN-T article regarding the results of a survey sent to full-time faculty by a group named the Committee for Integrity.

In the article Dowless made a number of gross misstatements.  Dowless was, in fact, aware of how the survey was conducted and did know how the results of the survey were tabulated.  Dowless was clearly aware of the contents of the letter accompanying the survey. Anticipating an objection to the way the survey was conducted, the Committee for Integrity chose to have the letter inform the faculty members that Reed, Martin and Slickman, CPA had mailed the survey forms and letters; enclosed was a self-addressed stamped envelope that was addressed to the firm’s office.  Shortly thereafter, the CPA firm received a letter from Shorter’s attorney.  Either Dr. Dowless has an attorney that acts without instruction from his client or Dowless knew precisely how the survey was being conducted.

In his statement, Dowless did as the GBC, Nelson Price and Shorter Board of Trustees Chair Joe Frank Harris Jr. are wont to do. He deflected the issues of the survey results entirely and addressed the Board’s desire to return Shorter to its Christian roots.

We strenuously object to the notion that the Shorter Board of Trustees and Dowless needed to return Shorter to anything. Shorter was founded as a Christian school and is today a Christian school. Perhaps Dowless and the board should learn a bit about the institution before they make such rash claims.

When, in 1836, Shorter (then Cherokee Baptist Female Seminary) was founded, it clearly had ties to the Georgia Baptist Convention. The Georgia Baptists, however, did not support the school with enough money to keep it viable. The school was sold to Alfred Shorter and a group of Rome businessmen in 1877.  For 25 years, the school operated as a Christian institution until in 1902, it re-affiliated with the GBC.  That relationship was short-lived.  In 1914, when again, the GBC failed to live up to its financial obligations, Azor Van Hoose removed Shorter from the GBC.

From 1914 to 1958, Shorter remained a Christian school. The Christian ethos was a part of Shorter’s identity – so much so that in 1958, when the school became over-extended, the Georgia Baptists were more than happy to re-affiliate with Shorter.  There was no need to have professors sign Personal Lifestyle statements or pledge to integrate the Christian faith into their classrooms. They lived a Christian life every day.

For many years, prospective employees have been asked to give a personal accounting of their faith. Surely, in all this time, administrators must have turned away the prospects who did not clearly hold Christian values. The difference, however, was that what previous presidents were looking for were Christian, not necessarily Georgia Baptist, employees.

Those administrators were wise enough to realize that to be a Christian was enough. Whether an individual chose to practice their faith as a Catholic, as a Methodist, as a Presbyterian, as an Episcopalian or any other Christian denomination was not the focus of the hire. The focus was simply on upholding Christian values.

When, in 1958, Dr Minor chose to re-affiliate the school with the Georgia Baptists, there was no murmur in the community. The Georgia Baptists of 1958 were far different than the Fundamentalist power running the GBC today.  They lived peaceably with their fellow Christians.  They respected the values of others. They realized that we are called to practice our faith in our own way.

Ostensibly, that is what the Baptists practice today. The Baptist Faith and Message states in part:

1) That they constitute a consensus of opinion of some Baptist body, large or small, for the general instruction and guidance of our own people and others concerning those articles of the Christian faith which are most surely held among us. They are not intended to add anything to the simple conditions of salvation revealed in the New Testament, viz., repentance toward God and faith in Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord.

(2) That we do not regard them as complete statements of our faith, having any quality of finality or infallibility. As in the past so in the future, Baptists should hold themselves free to revise their statements of faith as may seem to them wise and expedient at any time.

(3) That any group of Baptists, large or small, have the inherent right to draw up for themselves and publish to the world a confession of their faith whenever they may think it advisable to do so.

(4) That the sole authority for faith and practice among Baptists is the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. Confessions are only guides in interpretation, having no authority over the conscience.

(5) That they are statements of religious convictions, drawn from the Scriptures, and are not to be used to hamper freedom of thought or investigation in other realms of life.

Baptists cherish and defend religious liberty, and deny the right of any secular or religious authority to impose a confession of faith upon a church or body of churches. We honor the principles of soul competency and the priesthood of believers, affirming together both our liberty in Christ and our accountability to each other under the Word of God.

These are the principles under which Shorter faculty and staff have always lived and worked. They have never added more than repentance to God and faith in Jesus Christ. They have never assumed that the statements of faith were final or infallible. As academics, they believed in the idea that religious convictions were not to be used to hamper freedom of thought or investigation into other realms of life. And they believed that each person was not to be responsible to anyone other than his or her God.

Shorter has never changed. It is the Georgia Baptist Convention, channeled through Nelson Price, Don Dowless and the Shorter Board of Trustees that has changed.

Shorter doesn’t need to be led back to its Christian roots. It has never left them.

Meanwhile, the faculty continues to leave in droves.

All in the Name of Jesus

Breaking News: The major professors of faculty of the Shorter School of Nursing have just resigned. Dean Vanice Roberts resigned Friday. Three faculty members have also turned in their resignations. This follows the resignations of the Dean of Sciences and the Dean of Education, which have occurred in the last 2 weeks. Stay tuned for updates.

For Documents Pertaining to the Shorter Faculty Survey, click here

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They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ And he will answer, ‘I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.’ Matthew 25: 44-45

The following was written by Michele Turner, a Shorter employee. We thank you, Michele, for sharing your experience with us.

I love being a therapist. I have been working in the mental health field for over 10 years and I’m a licensed professional counselor and a certified rehabilitation counselor. My background spans from working with the homeless populations in Boston to people with severe psychiatric and physical disabilities in Nashville.

However, In August 2006, I found my dream job in Rome, Georgia. I was hired as the Director of Student Support Services for Shorter College and started working with the most challenging, and yet by far my favorite, population of client—the college student. For four years I thrived in this position until it was cut short. In March 2010, my wonderful boss came in to my office and closed the door. She informed me that my contract was not going to be renewed. I asked her if I had done something wrong professionally.  She assured me that my work was impeccable. I then looked her in the eye and asked if it was because I was Mormon. The answer was yes.

She told me that the Board of Trustees had been informed that I was a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and that they felt threatened having a Mormon in such personal and confidential setting with students.

After my boss left my office, my composure fell apart. I called my husband (a professor at Shorter) and I started to hyperventilate on the phone because I was crying so hard. I was devastated.

A few days later, I had a meeting with the president of the school, President Newman. He admitted to me that this was the most “un-Christian” thing to do, but that his hands were tied. The Board of Trustees had made the decision.  President Newman offered me another position, one where I could be hidden somewhat from the Board of Trustees’ view. I gratefully accepted the offer since it provided me a way to maintain my health insurance and the ability to sustain myself and my family in this difficult economy.

Ironically, in the same year I was removed as the Director by the Board of Trustees, I was selected as “Staff Member of the Year” for my work in that same position by the faculty and staff. I felt such love and support from my Shorter family. I can honestly say that I have worked with some of the finest people I have ever known and have grown in my testimony of Christ because of them.

Sadly, a year and half later, I hardly recognize the Shorter that I love so much.  I ache for the school that is a shadow of what it once was. With the new changes being instigated by the Board of Trustees, my husband and I no longer fit. We are forced out of a place that was our home.  Fortunately, we have found employment elsewhere. I pray for all the others who are still looking.


The Price for Dealing With Price

Sherry K. Lewis, Ph.D. is a licensed clinical psychologist, organizational consultant and Shorter alumnae. With her permission, we are sharing an email that she wrote to Dr. Nelson Price in November 2011, in an attempt to help ameliorate what had become, in her view as well as ours, an untenable situation between faculty, staff, alumni and the public after the release of the Personal Lifestyle Statement and Statement of Faith Integration.

Dr. Price,

I am writing this email as a means of introducing what I hope will be a part of a conversation. Dr. Price, I have personally found you to be accessible through email and hope you will be open to discussion with me as an individual. I have attempted to maintain civility in our correspondences (as have you, thank you – very much) and am interested in Shorter’s past and future successes, again as are you.

Let me describe my rationale for the attachments that accompany this message and the attachments themselves.

I am a psychologist with many years of international organizational consulting experience working with leaders as they strive to be effective in transition, communication, conflict resolution and goal achievement. I am also a person who values scholarly pursuit, Christian values and Shorter University (née College). I am an alumnae and have been an active volunteer in the past and a small financial donor. I have drafted responses to the current conflicts as if I were called in to consult on the matter. Certainly you are under no obligation to even review them. But, in the spirit of caring about Shorter and a desire to improve on her current circumstances, I hope that you will. I really do. Caring about Shorter and desiring an improvement on current circumstances is my only motivation.

First, I am no theologian and am vastly unprepared to discuss on a philosophical level the Bible or any of its fine points with an educated person like yourself, a man who has dedicated his life to the study, understanding and sharing of The Word. I would not want to seem arrogant.

In the documents related to faith I have been intentionally taken a “50,000 ft. level” approach. This is not about “wiggle room.” It is about meeting the requirements that you have for commitment and definition and continuing Shorter’s ability to retain its very qualified current faculty and attracting high quality academic faculty in the future. As you may know, working with academics can call to mind the reference, “herding cats.” These are people who have made their lives about thought and very much enjoy thinking for themselves. While the personal faith of these fine professionals has been an inspiration to many students, I believe emphasizing their continued roles as educators will resonate more strongly with them than taking a “100 ft. level” view of their beliefs as they fulfill a central role in a Christ-centered institution. I have affirmed the affiliation of Shorter with the GBC without requiring faculty members to endorse its specific beliefs verbatim. Many reasonable people have varied beliefs about the tenets of the Statement of Faith as it is currently detailed – many of them are “good Baptists” and many more are “good Christians.” I have intentionally chosen to focus on what I consider to be the necessary and sufficient agreements. I do not see this as a compromise (wherein all parties typically “lose” some things of importance to them) but rather a beginning of collaboration (wherein all parties have their critical ideas represented.)

In some of these documents I have referred to Shorter’s objective to educate and her strong reputation in the Fine Arts. My guiding assumption is that as leaders you want to continue pursuing education primarily and leverage the strengths of the liberal arts focus. This also presumes that your vision for Shorter is not for it to be a Bible University. (I believe Shorter’s constituents want her to be good liberal arts college with growing academic programs where biblical principles are lived and taught.) If I am wrong and the vision is for Shorter to be a Bible University, please tell me. That would clear up quite a bit for me.

You will no doubt notice that I’ve referred mostly to principles and behaviors – principles being well defined and agreed upon Christian teachings and behaviors being observable and measurable. For me, this is an improvement over the word “faith” because it takes the administration out of the position of judging what is in someone’s heart and instead focuses on the impact of positive acts (and the consequences for negative acts.) Please understand, this is no attempt to remove faith from our lives and relationship with God – it is an attempt to clarify the expectations between an employer and employee and address the concerns that some have stated in having any employer judge an individual’s beliefs.

Finally, I’ve drafted what I would recommend as a letter to address the responses (positive and negative) to the recent policies and explain the rationale for revisiting them. Again, understand I am not suggesting the existing policies are wrong (though I would personally hate to see them enforced at Shorter), but that they can be improved upon in meaningful ways and that as effective leaders, the administration of Shorter is open to improving upon ideas. In organizations I have often heard leaders use the adage, “you can be right or you can be happy.” I believe this is a good example of that wisdom. I am not suggesting that these changes will make everyone happy – I do not believe that making people happy, or cowing to the loudest voices is effective, value-based leadership. But my experience has shown me that value-based leadership is concerned about the welfare of others and is open to improvement.

I have spent many prayerful, focused hours on this topic and hope you will give my ideas your consideration.

As I have reviewed the documents before I email them to you I can see how they may be perceived as intrusive or unwelcome. My intentions are not to overstep, but to provide examples of what might be final products should the Board of Trustees agree to revisit their recent policy decisions.

Respectfully,
skr

And what was Nelson Price’s response? Did he begin by thanking Dr. Richards for caring enough about Shorter that she would have taken the time to craft a potential plan for ameliorating the situation? Was she thanked for submitting what was, in essence, a change management plan for which a consultant of her caliber might have been highly paid?

He began his email by writing, “Dr. Richards I was there when the person knowing it was a lie said we wanted to make Shorter a Bible college. There is NO desire to diminish the academic standard of the school. We have many individuals with prestigious degrees from Division I schools who have recently expressed a desire to come to Shorter. If we lose any faculty they will be replaced with highly qualified professors with considerable experience.”

The third sentence is confusing, in that the categorization of Division I only applies to a ranking for athletics. According to the U.S. News 2011-2012 college rankings, Shorter is an unranked Tier 2 school. Does Price believe that we can get “highly qualified professors with considerable experience” from other schools that have an athletics department or does he believe that Tier 1 professors are clamoring to come to a Tier 2 school? This is the same kind of stonewalling that has been the hallmark of the Fundamentalist movement – obfuscate the facts, ignore the offers for help, deflect the question. We won’t post the entire email response here, but here are the facts, as Price sees them.

After citing a number of Tier 1 schools with denominational ties, Price compares the Lifestyle Statement with the standards set by the likes of Emory and Notre Dame. Shorter is, according to Price “simply ask[ing] our faculty to respect the fact it is a Baptist school”. He then mentions the incident at Penn State and alludes to the fact that by mandating the Personal Lifestyle Statement, the Board is reducing the liability of the institution.

So why hasn’t Price, Dowless or the Board met with alumni or concerned citizens to explain the above position? Why do they refuse to entertain any discussion? According to Price, “With people saying change the policy or thousands of us will stop at nothing to destroy the school, issuing death threats, threatening the burn buildings, and consigning me to hell I am not about to meet with any group.”

We find it odd that, like the reported bomb threat that coincided with a planned protest of the policies, there have been no reports by the local newspaper of any arrests for terroristic threats.

Price closes the email with mentions of those with whom the administration met, prior to the complete shut-out of any further communication, writing that the individuals had totally misrepresented what had been said in the meetings.

Such is the posturing of the then Chairman of the Board of Trustees of Shorter University. After calling an individual a liar in his first sentence and excoriating those who would question the decision of Dowless and the Board, after calling Dr. Richards a well-intended professional, (Honorary Dr.) Nelson Price ends with a call for harmony. Harmony, which will only be achieved if all of those lying, threatening, damning heathens come to Nelson’s version of the light.