Category Archives: Bert Epting

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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