Category Archives: Academic Freedom

WHERE ARE THE TRUSTEES?

On March 30 of this year, the Board of Trustees of Shorter University met on the Atlanta campus for their regularly scheduled meeting. SOS had sent board members a packet of information prior to the meeting. In addition to a cover letter outlining what SOS felt to be serious issues on the Shorter campus, copies of letters that should have been of interest to the board members were included. A copy of the letter from the AAUP (American Association of University Professors), expressing concern about reports by Shorter faculty on the impingement on academic freedom, was included. Other letters were from concerned alumni, one of whom was on the Alumni Governing Board, were also a part of the packet. You will find the letters in the Documents section of this website.

The cover letter cited the following concerns:

Specifically, we object to the following personnel and policy issues:

  • As the President of Shorter University, it is incumbent on Dr. Dowless to communicate with all constituencies of the university. It should be expected that he communicate in a civil, non-accusatory, and non-demeaning manner. He has failed to do that.
  • Dr. Dowless has refused to have dialog with Rome citizens, clergy and alumni despite his public statements to the contrary. He has assigned that role to Mr. Epting – in itself a poor leadership decision, since Mr. Epting has just recently been hired. Dr. Newman’s door was always open to anyone who wished to speak with him.
  • Two well-respected staff members, both Shorter grads, were dismissed without due cause but for ideological reasons, despite the fact that they had signed the Personal Lifestyle Statement. While the firings are within the rights of the administration, to lose two dedicated individuals who have the love of Shorter at heart and who had defended the actions of the administration to their constituencies is shameful. We are seeing embarrassing consequences within the Rome community for those actions.
  • Faculty search guidelines as outlined in the Faculty Handbook are being ignored while a contentious and dictatorial administration defies the faculty to speak up.
  • A total of 40 faculty and staff have left or announced their intention of leaving Shorter this year. Many more are expected to leave before the beginning of the next academic year.
  • The School of Fine and Performing Arts, which has been called the “Conservatory of the South” and which, incidentally, just produced the national winner of the Music Teacher’s National Association competition, has been gutted, with both students and professors leaving because of the censorship guidelines that have been mandated. NASM has been notified of potential violations of its standards and loss of accreditation is highly possible
  • The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) has been notified of the censorship of materials and the repression of academic freedom that is a hallmark of Dr. Dowless’ administration. The AAUP may censure Shorter if they have evidence of the above charges. You should be aware that North Greenville and Charleston Southern are under censorship by the AAUP. While the current administration may not find this significant, the broader academic community considers the opinion of the AAUP quite the opposite.
  • Over 30 third party complaints have been filed against Shorter with SACS. Again, while this might be dismissed by Dr. Price and Dr. Dowless, we remind you that, to quote the Georgia Supreme Court from the 2005 decision, “The controversy was precipitated by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, which questioned the College’s independence and threatened its accreditation because the power to select trustees was vested in GBC. And from the dissenting opinion, “The majority opinion holds that Shorter College’s Board of Trustees complied with its governing documents, the Georgia Nonprofit Corporation Code,1 and its fiduciary duties in dissolving the College and transferring its assets to the Shorter College Foundation.” In other words, the court affirmed that SACS did, in fact, threaten accreditation because of undue influence of the GBC.
  • More than a few professors fear for their jobs, but with the dissolution of the Faculty Senate, they have no voice to express their dissatisfaction and their anger.
  • Dr. Dowless and Dr. Price have clearly underestimated the academic community and Rome community’s tolerance for the dramatic shift away from academic freedom and the heritage of Shorter University. Major donors and foundations have either withdrawn their contributions or are seriously contemplating doing so. Donors who have already fulfilled their pledges have vowed that because of the direction currently being followed by the administration, they will never support Shorter again. Those losses will be substantial.

It is our understanding that when the packet sent to Shorter Board of Trustee members was mentioned, it was quickly dismissed as the rantings of a few. It was reported that no Board of Trustee member questioned the validity of the claims in the documents. If academic freedom and institutional integrity were being questioned, why was there no discussion?  We will look at some possibilities in an upcoming post.

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MICHAEL WILSON TERMINATED

UPDATE: Two more departures.

A complete list of those who have departed may be found here.

Departure #64
Dawn Garrett, Director of Accounting Services
6 years of service

Departure #65
Dr. John Head
Vice President of Enrollment Management
10+ years of service
Shorter Class of 1987

UPDATE: Please see our new tab, Right Religion for some thoughts for this Sunday.

Michael Wilson is gone. Shorter administration terminated him as of May 31. You may read Mr. Wilson’s story here. He did not want to leave. He loved his job. He was, at the age of 50, working on his doctorate so that he could better serve his students. He was a tenured faculty member who has served Shorter and her students for fourteen years.

Despite the careless journalism on the part of some of the media who claimed otherwise, Mr. Wilson did not resign. He returned his contract with the phrase regarding homosexuality struck out from the Personal Lifestyle Statement. One can do many things, but they cannot change what God creates them to be.

When, on May 3, 2012 he returned his contract to the Shorter Provost, he also sent a letter to Shorter President, Dr. Don Dowless.

Dear Dr. Dowless:

Please find enclosed for your reference a copy of my signed employment contract for the 2012-2013 school year; the original document has been submitted to the Provost’s office. As you can see, I have redacted Clause 10; I believe, for reasons that should be obvious, that the provisions therein constitute a grave violation of the principles of academic freedom and tenure, core values in academe that were formerly embraced by the University’s administration.

I am aware of your intent to dismiss anyone, regardless of tenure status, who may express any disagreement with these provisions. Nevertheless, I would like to appeal to you, as a fellow academic, to reverse this significant departure from academic norms by creating an atmosphere in which faculty can teach and students can learn, without these ideological restrictions.

Should you be unwilling to reconsider your stance, I ask that you extend to me the courtesy of informing me as promptly as you can that my services will no longer be required. It is my hope that I may at least work until my present contract expires on May 31, 2012; I genuinely care about the library, my students, and the well-being of the University, and I am concerned that my sudden departure would create hardship for all involved.

Sincerely,

 Michael Wilson

For 20 days Mr. Wilson waited. He had begun his career as a librarian with Shorter. It had been his intent to retire from Shorter.

 A letter from then-Provost Dr. Craig Shull appeared in Mr. Wilson’s mail box on May 23. The text of the letter:

 Dear Michael,

Shorter hereby accepts your resignation effective May 31, 2012.

We wish you the best of luck in the future.

Sincerely,

Dr. Craig Shull, Provost.

Two lines after 14 years of committed service. Two lines.

Mr. Wilson responded to Dr. Shull’s letter on May 24.

Dear Dr.Shull,

I have received your letter of May 22 in which you stated that Shorter had accepted my resignation. I am puzzled as I have not resigned from my position as Off-Campus Librarian and I have no intention of doing so. I am not aware that any of the documents that I have recently sent to your office would remotely suggest my intention to leave my job voluntarily. If I am to be dismissed for having spoken out in favor of academic freedom, please let me know as soon as possible. Otherwise please update your records to reflect my status as a continuing tenured faculty member.

Yours,

Michael Wilson

Later in the week, he received the following from Dr. Dowless.

Dear Michael,

Shorter has received your letter of May 3, 2012, wherein you requested to work through your contract date of May 31, 2012. Dr. Shull sent you a letter acknowledging your resignation, and you have now written an email stating that you had not resigned. Shorter had not received a valid, fully-executed contract for continued employment. Since you have not returned a valid contract, you do not have a contract for the upcoming academic year.

Shorter appreciates your services to the University and students and wishes you well in the future.

Sincerely,

Dr. Don Dowless

It should be noted that Mr. Wilson, in his role as Off-Campus Librarian, served a constituency that, according to the Shorter Fact Book, is comprised of only 25% Baptist-affiliated students. It should also be noted that the largest sector of students in the off-campus programs are in the 40-49 age group. 

SCOPES AND SHORTER

In the summer of 1925, biology teacher John Scopes was on trial for illegally teaching the theory of evolution. The trial, soon to become known as the “Scopes Monkey Trial” drew spectators from around the state of Tennessee who feared that teaching evolution would destroy the very fabric of America. That trial, conducted almost 85 years ago, ended with John Scopes being fined $100.00.

The repercussions of the trial have echoed over and over in the ensuing years, but the mentality of a repressive Victorian society still exists.

At a 2002 meeting of the Louisiana College Board of Trustees, the following motion was introduced. Whether the motion was adopted or not, we do not know, but what is exhibited below reflects a mindset that has only grown more narrow. It ignores science, it discounts documented facts and buries its head to anything other than its restricted view. More importantly, it is the antithesis  of academic freedom and indeed, higher education itself.

For more information on the current state of Louisiana (Baptist) College, we suggest you read Accreditation: What Fundamentalism Eventually Costs You on the Save OBU website and the SACS re-accreditation report from December 2011.

WHEREAS “Liberalism” is the “Cancer” of Biblical Christianity specifically as it affects denominations and

WHEREAS, The “Hotbed” of “Liberalism” is most often cultivated in the colleges, universities and seminaries within the denomination; and

WHEREAS, this “Cancer” of “Liberalism” is sown and cultivated by selected faculty members within these institutes of higher learning; and

WHEREAS, the hiring of faculty and the awarding of tenure or tenure track to faculty is of the utmost importance; and

WHEREAS, The Louisiana Baptist Convention has entrusted the Board of Trustees of Louisiana College with the duty to protect the college from becoming less than Baptist in character; and

WHEREAS, the majority of Louisiana Baptists hold that: (1) All scripture is inerrant; (2)Homosexuality is not an acceptable life style but is an unacceptable and sinful life style and as such , not acceptable to Louisiana College; (3) Creationism – not evolutionism – is the proper view of the origin of man; (4) Abortion constitutes the murder of an innocent baby; and (5) the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message speaks clearly as to what Louisiana Baptists believe,

THEREFOR THE FOLLOWING MOTION IS RESPECTFULLY SUBMITTED TO THE LOUISIANA COLLEGE BOARD OF TRUSTEES:

TENURE OR TENURE TRACK STATUS:

Before granting tenure and/or tenure track status to any faculty member of Louisiana (Baptist) College, the motion is made that the following factors be included in the present procedure for granting tenure and/or tenure track status:

  1. The candidate requesting tenure and/or tenure track status appear before the Academic Affairs Committee for a brief introduction and interview;
  2. The candidate submit a statement of opinion (one paragraph or less per issue) to the chairman of the Academic Affairs Committee ten (10) days prior to interview in regards to the following issues: (a) the inerrancy of Holy Scripture (b) the Baptist Faith and Message (c) the evolution theory; (d) abortion (e) homosexuality; and (f) the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and
  3. The candidate submit a letter of reference from their attending church pastor as to their Christian character and service.

If Shorter supporters do not stand up for her, this is surely where we are headed.

THE TRUTH ABOUT THE CHRISTIAN INDEX ARTICLES

“Georgia Baptists should be deliriously delighted and eternally grateful for what is happening at our Georgia Baptist institutions of higher education” So begins the editorial by J. Gerald Harris in the May 17 edition of the Christian Index. The article, a paean to the virtues of Baptist school presidents, goes on to extol the direction of the Georgia Baptist institutions and to address the opposition to the direction Shorter University is taking.  J Robert White, Executive Director of the GBC weighs in on his Open Door column, calling Dr. Mike Simoneaux “just what the doctor ordered for Brewton-Parker.” He also calls Dr. Don Dowless “an amazing gift for Shorter University and the Georgia Baptist Convention.”

In reality, the beginning line should have read, “Georgia Baptists should be alarmed and angry for what is happening at our Georgia Baptist institutions of higher education”. In fact, any time the Christian Index tells its readers how wonderful everything is, those readers should see a red flag. The following is the factual accounting of how things really are at Georgia Baptist institutions.

Contrary to media reports, Truett-McConnell College has, in fact, required its faculty to sign the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message as a condition of employment. Readers should understand that the Baptist Faith and Message is a much broader document than the Shorter Personal Lifestyle Statement. While the Baptist Faith and Message of 2000 substantially expanded the section on The Christian and the Social Order to include such statements as, “Christians should oppose racism, every form of greed, selfishness, and vice, and all forms of sexual immorality, including adultery, homosexuality, and pornography” and “We should speak on behalf of the unborn and contend for the sanctity of all human life from conception to natural death” nowhere in the Baptist Faith and Message is there a requirement for active church attendance or a statement forbidding the use of alcohol in public. While the loss of faculty has not been widely reported, Truett too has lost faculty and will lose more. Faculty were given a far more generous 18 months to sign the statement as opposed to Shorter’s six month window. Many faculty are looking and several have already left. Perhaps Baptists should look for an exodus at Truett-McConnell as well.

Truett-McConnell President Emir Caner has touted the growth at Truett and has cited that growth as a reason to expand, but we must note that many of the new students are music students who came with Dr. Ben Caston, when he left the debacle at Brewton Parker College. Caner is leading the college away from a liberal arts focus and toward a seminary preparatory school while making grand plans for expansion. New facilities are being built and old ones are being renovated. According to our sources, Caner and the Georgia Baptist Convention is planning to build a chapel designed  to seat 2,500. Perhaps this is a case of over-expansion, considering the fact that the Truett-McConnell has approximately 700 students, and according to its website, conferred degrees upon its largest graduating class – 70 – this spring. According to the latest available data, the total population of Cleveland, Georgia stands at 3,410. For whom is Caner building such a large chapel/auditorium? Does he have information from his admissions department that the student population is going to more than triple? We would like to see that data, if in fact, he does. We would also like to know the source of funding for such rapid expansion. Could the Georgia Baptist Convention, who we are told, finds itself in apparent financial difficulty, requiring the elimination of between 60-70 jobs this year and the need to put its new building up for sale have “found” money to assist in this expansion?

Brewton Parker College is perhaps in the saddest state of all three institutions. Brewton-Parker College will be facing a situation in June where the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools will most likely pull its accreditation. BP has been under a warning by SACS for a while now and the SACS visit to the campus on the third week of April did not, according to sources, go well. Perhaps it is the attention to the issues surrounding Brewton-Parker’s SACS accreditation that led to the lack of attention to daily business which caused Brewton-Parker Inc. to be administratively dissolved for lack of re-registration, though the corporation was later reinstated.

Brewton Parker faculty is also leaving in droves. According to our sources, “Everybody who can, is leaving.” The building and grounds of a once beautiful campus show signs of gross neglect, with grass left uncut and shrubbery untrimmed, and buildings with peeling paint. The Education building was condemned three years ago and other buildings have been closed to eliminate the need for heating/cooling and electrical expense. A bad roof on the auditorium has caused leaks into the building, allowing mildew and mold to grow behind the wallboard, but there are no funds to remove the wallboard and eliminate the mold, so students attend chapel in an environmentally dangerous building. There are only two housekeepers for the entire campus; so thorough cleaning of facilities is impossible.

The computer system for the college is literally falling apart and a minimal crew is struggling to maintain service for the college. No money is available to replace an outdated system. Students no longer have a bookstore where they can by the texts necessary for their classes. Many no longer make any attempt to buy the textbooks and come to class unprepared.

Sixty percent of the students are there on athletic scholarship. Many of these students tell the professors “I came here to play ball” and show no interest in class attendance or test taking. They know that professors have been told that these students are to pass the course regardless of whether or not they have completed their coursework.

The music department, for which a new expansion was built just a few years ago, is gone and only one biology professor is left to teach the remaining students.

According to public information, BP’s president, Dr. Simoneaux, had been “on loan” from Truett-McConnell and Truett was paying Dr. Simoneaux’s salary.

At Shorter, the total of faculty and staff leaving now stands at 60. A once excellent School of the Arts has been decimated. Thirteen members of the school are gone. The much-heralded School of Nursing, opened in the 2010-2011 academic year, has two remaining faculty members, as Dr. Vanice Roberts and many of the faculty left. Dr. Roberts is to open a similar program on the Berry College campus. In the School of Sciences and Mathematics, 4 chemistry professors are gone.The current count for Biology professors that have left is 5: The dean (40+ years of service), a tenured professor of 30+ years, and three assistant professors. A professor of mathematics and one of accounting have also turned in their resignations. From the College of Arts and Sciences, one of two Spanish professors is gone, as is the only French professor. The College has also lost a professor of history and one from Christian Studies. The School of Business has also taken a significant hit. Two of a total of three accounting professors have left. The Dean of the School of Education, one faculty member and the Assistant Director for the Center for Teacher Preparation have also resigned. Add to these numbers three librarians and the Director of the Shorter Museum and Archives.

For those of you that may be sports fans, the head soccer coach has resigned, as has the head cross country coach, a football coach and an assistant professor of Sports Management.

There have been significant losses in upper administration, as the Assistant Registrar, the Assistant Vice President for Planning and Institutional Effectiveness, Acting Vice President of Institutional Advancement, and the Director and Assistant Director of Alumni Affairs.

Losses also have ranged from Information Technology to Financial Aid to Human Resources to the Student Services Advisor to Facilities Management. These support staff have been vital to the running of the university.

Of significant importance is the loss of the Dean of Adult and Professional Programs, which has been the cash cow for Shorter. Perhaps she knew that non-traditional (adult) students on satellite campuses would have little patience for the changes occurring at the institution and would balk at the idea of having the GBC brand of Christianity crammed down their throats through the policy of integration of education and Georgia Baptist religion.

Students by the dozens have transferred to other schools – a loss of 40 alone who were Fine Arts majors, and others are still exploring their options.

Alumni who had made pledges to support the building of the new library have withdrawn significant pledges out of disgust for the actions of the current administration. The citizens of Rome and alumni speak out almost daily in the Rome News-Tribune, decrying the loss of this once great institution.

Most interesting of all the comments by White and Harris are their references to the Save Our Shorter movement and the tireless work of Betty Zane Morris on behalf of Shorter. White refers to our concern as “juvenile behavior” and accuses Dowless’ critics, saying that we have “all but declared that Dr. Dowless is going to be responsible for the demise of Rome, Georgia and perhaps, the end of the world as we have known it.”  The facts presented above indicate a need for grave concern, not for the end of Rome or the world, but of Shorter University, Truett-McConnell College and Brewton-Parker College due to the Fundamentalist agenda supported and even lauded by White.

Mr. Harris takes his slap at the highly respected former Chair of the Communications Department and Teacher of the Year recipient Betty Zane Morris, first by calling her Mary Zane Morris, (in what must have been an intentional error writing, since Mrs. Morris has communicated many times with the Christian Index). Mrs. Morris also has a scholarship named after her at Shorter, established and supported by friends, faculty, alumni and students. At the Celebrate Shorter awards recognition this year, Mrs. Morris’ name was left off from the title of the scholarship. Harris says, “In my opinion, her prognostications may prove to be nothing more than the forlorn lamentations of a sullen soul.” That sort of rhetoric will not go over well among Betty Zane’s hundreds of friends and supporters. Betty Zane Morris earned her right to speak out about the school that she so loves. More importantly, Harris’s remark is not the type of comment that is appropriate for a Southern gentleman in regards to a lady. Mr. Harris owes Mrs. Morris an apology, which we are certain she will never receive.

We would be delighted to link you to the entirety of these two articles, however the Index, in its effort to spread the gospel to believers, requires a $6.00 subscription to the full text. We recommend that you check with your local library, your local Baptist church or friends and neighbors and read both articles. We suspect that proponents of higher education will find both articles sobering and thought provoking in light of the above information.

WHERE ARE WE GOING WITH SOS?

You must not be called Teacher, because you are all equal and have only one Teacher.9 And you must not call anyone here on earth Father, because you have only the one Father in heaven.10 Nor should you be called  Leader, because your one and only leader is the Messiah. Matthew 23: 8-10

For the past seven months, a raging battle has ensued over the documents issued by the current Shorter administration. Chief among them has been the Personal Lifestyle Statement found elsewhere on this site. It is not the intention of Save Our Shorter to wage a theological battle on these pages. We believe, as did Martin Luther and our Protestant forefathers before us, in the priesthood of the believer – that is, that every believing Christian has the God-given right to a direct relationship with God, without interference from the edicts of man.

We wish simply to point out that from 1926, with the first Baptist Faith and Message until a 1998 amendment to the 1963 version, the issues of lifestyle, as regards the family and the definition of marriage were not, historically, a part of Baptist doctrine.  Not until the 2002 Fundamentalist revision of the Baptist Faith and Message was there a mention of homosexuality, the denial of women as pastors, the loosening of restraints from worldly amusements and secular employment on Sunday, pornography and the right of the unborn. Nowhere in the Baptist Faith and Message is there any edict as to the refraining of the use of alcohol in public. That edict belongs solely to the Personal Lifestyle Statement.

The media has made much over the Personal Lifestyle Statement and has zeroed in on the issue of homosexuality. We believe that this is true, in part, because of the current controversy in America regarding the issues of “gay marriage”. While we welcome the media’s attention over the controversies surrounding Shorter, this sole issue is far from the heart of the conflict. Of equal and perhaps greater importance is the issue of control of the university and the threat to academic freedom through the interpretation and demands of the Biblical Principles on the Integration of Faith and Learning statement.

We believe in academic freedom. It is from this perspective that much of our disagreement with the Shorter administration and Board of Trustees arises.

Academic freedom has been defined by the Association of American Colleges and Universities and the American Association of University Professors as follows:

“Academic freedom to explore significant and controversial questions is an essential precondition to fulfill the academy’s mission of educating students and advancing knowledge. Academic responsibility requires professors to submit their knowledge and claims to rigorous and public review by peers who are experts in the subject matter under consideration; to ground their arguments in the best available evidence; and to work together to foster the education of students.”

Consider for a moment, the comparison of the three branches of government – executive, legislative and judicial – with the proper structure in an academic environment.

The administration and board of trustees (executive) holds primary responsibility for fundraising for the university, the proper administration of funds, the maintenance of the buildings and grounds and the provision of adequate resources for the faculty and students as they seek to explore the body of knowledge available in each discipline in higher education.

The faculty, with the Provost as head academician, holds primary responsibility for determining the credentials of its professors, deciding the curriculum, determining the degrees that are to be conferred and advancing knowledge through responsible instruction of its students.

The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS), through its Commission on Colleges, acts as the judicial branch, reviewing the actions, funding and policies of their member institutions and awarding accreditation to those institutions who meet its standards of excellence.

Each of these bodies have a distinct and clear purpose. The board and administration has no authority over the faculty with the exception of ensuring that faculty guidelines and policies are adhered to and to give their approval and support to such items as tenure, policy change submitted by the faculty and addition or change in degree programs. The board and administration are there, in fact, to support the work of the faculty, not to dictate and demand their own version of higher education. With Shorter, we have a case, if you will, of the tail wagging the dog.

As we will make clear in the coming days and weeks, the SACS accrediting body has expressed clear concern regarding the interference of the Georgia Baptist Convention with the Shorter Board of Trustees and their influence over the duties and responsibilities directly accorded to the faculty. Those concerns are legitimate and are far deeper than the policies contained in the Personal Lifestyle Statement.

We ask those of you who are Georgia Baptists to hold your judgement until we have set forth our case. We ask all readers to respond, to question, to inquire through the true nature of critical thinking.

LETTER TO THE EDITOR

The following appeared on the editorial page of the Rome News-Tribune on May 11, 2012, and is republished with permission. Please note that the current count of those who are leaving the school has climbed to 59 since this letter was written.

LETTER TO THE EDITOR: 53 display integrity, courage
by ROBERT K. FINNELL, Rome

HAVING NO relationship with Shorter I have observed the ongoing controversy from a distance and regrettably detached. The article and editorial in this past Sunday’s paper caused deeper reflection.To learn that 53 members of the faculty and staff were leaving was both disappointing and uplifting. The uplifting part is easy. Fifty-three people with the integrity and courage to say “no” to the bigotry, ignorance and selfishness which currently passes for leadership at Shorter. Let me be clear it is a private school and can lawfully follow the path it has chosen. But measure the action of those with power versus the character of those who have served the school well and now feel compelled to leave.I do not know Mr. Wilson but what has he done to merit losing his job? Up until being presented with a “life style” statement apparently the only thing he has done is his job and apparently well enough that the school had no other reason to terminate him. Mr. Wilson and the 52 others who have shown personal courage and integrity in dealing with this issue are to be commended. There have been plenty of circumstances when people have blindly “signed” just to go along not willing to confront the darkness in light of the power it possesses.

Ms. Morris asked us as a community to reflect upon what these actions by Shorter say about us and urges action. Certainly there have been some protest, especially among some alumni, but is there anything we as a community can do? The answer in a limited way is yes.

First, we can let those 53 people and their families know that we support them. Second, certainly there must be in the Baptist community an enlightened voice that will stand up against such intolerance. Third, I hope the Rome News-Tribune and other media will continue their reporting on this issue. Fourth, Shorter should be denied access to our public facilities.

Barron Stadium being the prime example, we should not allow our tax dollars to subsidize their intolerance. The Rome-Floyd Parks and Recreation Authority should not allow use of public facilities to any institution that discriminates on the basis of race, age, sex, religion or sexual orientation. The same should apply to the use of The Forum and other public facilities. If Shorter does not want to reflect the tolerance afforded to all citizens within the greater society, then they must not ask society to subsidize their intolerance regardless of how right they believe themselves to be.

History teaches us that people like those currently responsible for Shorter’s actions will not voluntarily reverse course. People who believe they are “right” seldom are open to critical self-assessment. Indeed we should expect them to defend their action and rebuke any call for review. However, the long arc of history bends toward the advancement of mankind toward tolerance and the willingness of people to extend the hand of friendship regardless of temporal differences.

Mr. Wilson, I hope you are allowed to keep your job but I am more thankful for your integrity and courage. May others be equally measured, including our community.

Read more: RN-T.com – LETTER TO THE EDITOR 53 display integriy courage

TENURED PROFESSOR REJECTS CONTRACT

NOTE: The text of the following has been changed at the request of the author. In the original text the phrase “reject as acceptable” was changed at printing to “reject as unacceptable”. The phrase quoted by the author came directly from the original text of the documents she had been asked to affirm.

The following appeared in the May 9, 2012 edition of the Rome News-Tribune on page 4A, and is reprinted with permission. As of this writing, no electronic version was available.

Tenured prof rejects contract by Dr. Sherri Weiler, Guest Columnist

I WAS RAISED Southern Baptist. Because my mother was a church organist and my father a deacon, I was literally there every time the doors were open. I am no stranger to the Baptist tenets, and subscribed to them for decades.

Two things changed that devotion: the rise of fundamentalism and the power struggle within the SBC during Jimmy Carter’s time in the White House; and the fact that I became a professional musician and was hired to sing in a wide range of faith institutions including Judaism, Catholicism, and numerous Protestant denominations. Singing in every possible religious denomination gave me an overview of religion and why it exists; more importantly I understood that organized religion is a man-made institution.

This knowledge did not cause me to doubt my faith (rigid fundamentalism did that), but instead allowed me to see that mankind’s search for God is a noble, elegant, and extremely varied one. My eyes were opened to the beauty of liturgy in different modes, to the infinite possibilities inherent in any form of genuine, heart-felt worship, and that with all these different options, it wasn’t really possible for one select group to be “right” and all others to be “wrong.”

SURELY A KIND and loving God wouldn’t condemn to eternal damnation those who didn’t interpret the Bible in an “approved” fashion! I am grateful for teachers who caused me to question my faith; my own Baptist mother taught me that unless faith was questioned and tested, it really had no value. It was my spiritual doubting that allowed me to decide for myself what to believe and then commit to it wholeheartedly. And it is that very same fearless questioning that so terrifies and threatens the Pharisaical revival of today’s religious fundamentalism.

While living in Anchorage, Alaska, with my husband and raising our two children there in the early 1990s, a referendum came before the municipality to make homosexuality one of the “protected” statuses for nondiscrimination, along with such things as race, gender, religion, etc. This caused a huge uproar among the religious right, the Moral Majority, and me. I listened and watched as both sides slugged it out in the public arena; as one pastor bellowed from his pulpit on TV about eternal damnation, while another preached Christ’s love and compassion. Everyone who had an opinion was absolutely certain his was the only true and correct one.

I WAS literally sick about this, because I was conflicted in my own soul. I would wake up in the middle of the night with my stomach in knots because I didn’t know what my response should be. This referendum challenged everything I thought I knew. It made me question what God’s stance truly was on this issue. I shed tears about this. I prayed about this. In the end I only wanted peace. I wanted the roiling stomach and the nighttime Angst to stop. I wanted the questions resolved.

God provided relief in the middle of one sleepless night with the realization that he had indeed created this 10 percent of his creation on purpose, and that it was his right, and his only, to judge them. That I could see immediate and long-lasting peace if I simply opened my arms to his creation in exactly the same way that Jesus showed us: with love for all of God’s imperfect, hurting, needy, and sinful creatures. So, as the cliché goes, I let go and let God, and found the peace I so desperately needed.

I STILL don’t know the “answers” to these questions, and I would not presume to tell others what those answers are; all I know is that I will not, cannot judge other sinners; all I know is that the only thing Jesus really taught was to love God with all my heart and my neighbor as myself.

I cannot control the political side of this issue, and I make no effort to do so. Lest anyone think I am “promoting” homosexuality, please know that I am not. I am simply not going to judge anyone who expresses his/ her sexuality in this way. I was taught that Jesus’ coming was the fulfillment of the Old Testament law, and all he preached was love. Therefore, all I know is that I must love, and in so doing serve both the letter and the intent of Jesus’ commandment (Mark 12:30-31).

All I know is that I cannot sign a document that “reject[s] as acceptable” any one of God’s creatures, be they adulterers, sexual “sinners” of any stripe, or drinkers of alcohol in public. All I know is that I cannot “reject as acceptable” people who have sinned in any way, because I’ve sinned, too, and no doubt will again.

I AM saddened beyond belief that the situation at Shorter has progressed this far; if I had just once been “invited to the table,” as I felt I was before Donald Dowless’ arrival, I could have happily signed an affirmative statement of faith. Instead I was asked for my membership card at the door and found wanting. Where are today’s Pharisees and Sadducees? On the Hill in Rome, Ga. Where is today’s American Taliban? At Shorter University. Religious fundamentalism in any form (Muslim or Christian) is sheer lunacy in today’s divided, fractured, and tormented world. True peace is only to be found in opening the doors, not closing the gates. By creating a false “us versus them” mentality, religious fundamentalism actually promotes acts of violence against the “not us” group because the “us” group is told from the pulpit with moral authority that they are superior to all others. This superiority complex based on supposed “Biblical principles” is most certainly not “Christ-centered.” It is based on the Old Testament God of vengeance, not the New Testament Jesus of love and forgiveness. It is based on a thwarted concept of justice, and not on grace or mercy. To be sure, it is based on fallen man’s desire to control and coerce, not in redeemed man’s desire to unify and consolidate Christ’s kingdom of love on earth.

TO THE CURRENT Shorter administration: Please be assured that as a tenured associate professor of Music at Shorter University I “reject as acceptable” any contract which connects me with you when our current agreement ended on May 8, 2012.

I am grateful for the wonderful eight years I spent at Shorter and for the irreplaceable and talented students who touched my life. I am grateful that so many wonderful Christians spent decades building a program of such renown, and I go now with a sad but loving heart because I know that the lives that touched mine and were touched by me are forever positively changed by the loving support we all found at Shorter University. I am confident that the lives we touched in love will continue to reflect that love into whatever communities they serve. Thank you, Dr. Alan Wingard and Dr. Harold Newman for the true Christian leadership and loving-kindness you provided the students and faculty who served under you. Thank you, John and Helen Ramsaur, Bill and Mary Ann Knight; Phoebe Pomeroy and the great host of other Christian faculty members who dedicated their professional lives to build the Shorter that nurtured and sustained so many artists as they began their careers. Your steadfast love through Christ witnessed to these students so that they could become bearers of love to the world at large from a foundation of faith and true respect for others.

We will all be forever in your debt.

Dr. Sherri Weiler was until Tuesday, when her 2011-2012 contract expired, associate professor of Music at Shorter University.