Category Archives: Departures

WHY THE TRUSTEE SILENCE?

UPDATE: 

Shorter Departure #67
Mr. Allen Dutch
Instructor of Communication
Advisor SC49
8 years of service

Shorter Departure #66
Mr. Brian Taylor
Chair, Department of Art, Professor of Art
16 years of service

TITLE 14.  CORPORATIONS, PARTNERSHIPS, AND ASSOCIATIONS  
CHAPTER 3.  NONPROFIT CORPORATIONS  
ARTICLE 6.  MEMBERSHIP  
PART 2.  RIGHTS AND LIABILITIES OF MEMBERS

O.C.G.A. § 14-3-610  (2012)

§ 14-3-610. Voting rights

Members as defined in paragraph (22) of Code Section 14-3-140 shall have no voting rights, other than to elect directors, except as specifically provided in the articles or bylaws. All members shall have the same rights and obligations with respect to any other matters, except as set forth in or authorized by the articles or bylaws.

In order to understand the relationship between Shorter University and the Georgia Baptist Convention, it is necessary to look at Georgia law and at the meaning of “fiduciary responsibility”.

In the 2005 court decision, the Georgia Baptist Convention was declared by the courts to be a member of the nonprofit corporation that is Shorter University (College).  According to Georgia code, the only right of the member is that of electing directors, or in Shorter’s case, trustees unless otherwise specifically set forth in the bylaws.

So what does fiduciary responsibility entail?  Professor Paul G. Haskell addressed that issue in an article entitled “The University as Trustee”, in the Georgia Law Review.  Professor Haskell contends that the university is a corporation, which is chartered specifically for charitable purposes (thus earning its nonprofit status) for the good of the public – in this case, to provide educational opportunities to the public. He further asserts that “the university should be considered a trustee for the public generally and the students, faculty, donors, and alumni particularly, and that as trustee the university owes the fiduciary duties of selflessness, care, fairness, and disclosure in all its dealings with students, in the administration of its admissions policy, and in the management and allocation of its assets”

The Shorter University Bylaws directly address the issues of the rights of the member (GBC) and the duties of the trustees of the institution. The member shall have the right to appoint all trustees and to approve any amendments to the bylaws. The trustees “shall serve the best interests of the college  . . . and The Board of Trustees shall be free from undue influence from political, religious or other external bodies, and shall protect the corporation from such influence.”

So far, so good. The GBC elects trustees and approves amendments and the Trustees, whom the GBC chooses, have a responsibility and duty to the University, not to the GBC.  This is the relationship approved by SACS during the 2005 court settlement.  If that were the reality, then there would be no need for SOS or for the massive exodus from Shorter. The GBC inherited a Christian college with an on and off affiliation with the Georgia Baptist Convention. They did not inherit a Baptist college, established strictly on Baptist principles or which had historically abided with the ideology of the GBC.

The Reality

The University Bylaws: There is nothing in Shorter’s bylaws that demand that a trustee hold a specific affiliation with a GBC church. By extension, it can be assumed that trustee nominees can come from any faith or from no faith at all.

The Reality: Since the 2005 court case, the Georgia Baptist Convention has elected to the Board of Trustees only individuals with membership in a GBC affiliated church. Of the 31 current board members, six are GBC pastors.  In addition, one is the minister of music at a GBC church; one is the director of missions with the Bartow County Baptist Association; one works for the National Christian Foundation for Ministry Services.

Of those in the ministry, one, Dr. Carlisle Driggers, served for 15 years as Executive Director of the South Carolina Baptist Convention and holds honorary doctoral degrees from, among others, Charleston Southern and North Greenville Universities. The two institutions are the former employers of Shorter President, Don Dowless. Readers should be mindful that Robert White, Executive Director of the Georgia Baptist Convention, also sits on the Board of Trustees as an ex-officio member.

Two of the current trustees, one of whom is the current chairman of the board, are employed by AFLAC. AFLAC offers its products to the faculty and staff of Shorter University.

Two current trustees and one former trustee are members of Roswell Street Baptist Church, from which Nelson Price holds the title Pastor Emeritus.  The former trustee, Bob English, who just rotated off of the board in January and was on the board when the Personal Lifestyle Statement, Statement of Faith and Biblical Principles for the Integration of Faith and Learning were adopted, is an officer with ADE Builders, the company which received the contract, without the necessity of going through a bidding process, for the new library extension and the new.

Three trustees are members of Tabernacle Baptist Church, and Shorter’s President has a very close relationship with that church. One of these is Don Hattaway, who serves Tabernacle as senior pastor. Don Hattaway has served on the board of Brewton-Parker College and was Chairman of the Board in 2005-2006. His term expired in 2008. Brewton-Parker is in deep financial trouble and stands to lose its SACS accreditation this month. The college is currently on Warning from SACS for numerous violations. In 1998, Brewton-Parker settled a lawsuit for $4 million that was brought by a former employee and joined by the Federal Government for the misuse of federal funds.  Incidentally, the newly-named Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences and chief designer and chair of the Quality Enhancement Plan is also a member of Tabernacle.

Three trustees are members of Calvary Baptist Church, a small Baptist church in Rome. There are, however, no trustees from First Baptist Church in Rome, despite the fact that First Baptist was the church home of Alfred and Martha Shorter and has been a long-time supporter of Shorter.

It should be noted that according to the Shorter 2009-2010 form 990 (no later filings are available online) the institution has no members.

It should also be noted that the trustees of Shorter University have NOT been asked to sign the Personal Lifestyle Statement. They have, however, been given “ Talking Points” for dealing with the public.

We recommend that alumni, students, faculty and staff, to whom the Board of Trustees holds a fiduciary obligation, contact the Board of Trustee members and demand answers as to why the Board has placed Shorter in financial jeopardy from loss of students, academic jeopardy from the flight of top-rated professors and administrative staff and indeed, placed the entire institution in peril. Since the Shorter website has not updated its Board of Trustees page in the six months that the new board has been in place, we kindly provide that information for you upon request.

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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.

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. 

63 RESIGNATIONS AND COUNTING

For the previous list of resignations, please see the post “Hail and Farewell Redux“.

STATEMENT OF FAITH AND PHILOSOPHY OF TEACHING

The last sentence of the University’s Mission states that it “affirms a commitment to the Christian faith and strives to integrate Christian values within a nurturing community in its whole process of education.” This mission mandates that all faculty members live out a commitment to Jesus Christ in both belief and practice. Thus, potential faculty members must provide a written statement of faith indicating their basic beliefs and the ways in which they anticipate putting faith into practice. Also, potential faculty members must provide a well-written philosophy of teaching in which, again, they frame teaching in the ethos of a dynamic academic and Christian institution. This written document will serve to initiate a discussion with the University Provost regarding a candidate’s faith in Christ.

This has been the procedure for hiring faculty members for a number of years.  All employees have had to provide the statement of faith and the Provost has always discussed the issue of faith with potential candidates.  Why, then, have 63 people decided to leave Shorter?  Surely there is some answer that surpasses the issue of the new Personal Lifestyle Statement. Could it be the interference of the GBC and the Board of Trustees in academic matters and the threat to academic integrity?

The latest resignations:

Shorter University departure # 63.

Ms. Laura McRaney
Director of International Programs
6 years of service

Shorter University departure #62.

Dr. Christopher Brown
Asst. Professor of Biology
Freshman Lab Coordinator

Shorter University departure #61

Nickie Nicholson
Administrative Assistant
of Choral and Recruitment
Activities

Additionally, Provost Dr. Craig Shull  “stepped down” as of June 1 to teach in the Adult and Professional Program. Eleven days later, the recently named Executive Vice President Dr. Donald Martin, recently of Dr. Dowless’ former employer, Charleston Southern, (where he had been named provost in March of this year) has now been additionally named as Provost. This despite the fact that there seems to have been no advertisements, search committee or meetings with faculty as has is the custom at colleges and universities across the nation.

AND YOU ASK WHY THEY LEAVE

MY STORY

Four years ago, I arrived onto the campus of Shorter University (then college). I know this sounds odd since I am a freshman vocal performance major, but it’s completely true. Four years ago, I attended the Summer Arts Institute for piano. That week forever changed my life. Being surrounded by great counselors, campers, professors showed me what college life was going to be, and from that first day, I knew Shorter was where I was going to go to college.

Time went on, and my plans changed. I decided to go into Vocal Performance rather than piano, but I still knew that Shorter was the place to be. It was like a second home to me. When the time came for me to audition for my undergraduate program, Shorter was one of three schools I applied to, and the only one I actually auditioned for. I was excited to start my career at Shorter University! I had my voice teacher selected; I had my rooming assignment; I had attended Summit; I had bought things for my room. I was ready to go. The first few months went by in a flash: the chorale retreat, recitals, opera rehearsal and performances, and then the unthinkable happened: The Personal Lifestyle Statement.

At first, I didn’t know what to think about such a document – surely this could not be a legitimate request. No one could force another human being to sign such a hate filled and limiting document. It was impossible for me to think about. A week (I think) went by, and I was informed that people were going to leave if this didn’t change, and it seemed as if things weren’t going to change. I found solace in nothing. I became a shadow of the person I was. How could anyone destroy my beloved Shorter? How? It just wasn’t fair. Groups and protests were organized, and for a while it seemed like there was a glimmer of hope that the document would be retracted, but the powers that be became even more relentless. Although I wanted to stay, it didn’t seem like I would be able to, so I started applying to new schools. How funny… I spent my first year of college looking for a new one.

When first deciding about transferring, I had to sit down with myself and ask if transferring was the correct option for me. I mean, of course there were the obvious facts – my voice teacher wanted to leave, and other countless teachers and students did as well, but were those good enough reasons to leave? No. That alone was not enough. This issue dug deeper than just my peers leaving. This was personal. They had attacked me personally just because I have a “disease.”

 I grew up in the Mormon faith, and I was treated the same way there as I am here. I struggled for years to come to terms with who I was as a person, and how I was different from people around me. I couldn’t help but ask why it seemed like I should be punished for something beyond my control. I chose to be gay just as much as someone chooses to be straight, so why am I a sinner? I was told every day that because I feel a certain way, I would never be with God in Heaven. How is that fair? It’s not. What made this predicament more difficult was that I could not talk to my parents about everything that was going on, for their religious dogma coincides with fundamentalist Baptists on homosexuality.

Like other countless music majors, I sing in a church choir in Rome. For me, my church was Saint Peter’s Episcopal. At Saint Peter’s I finally felt accepted in God’s eyes. I finally found the place where God’s love permeated to every last individual in their church. Not just the ones they said were worthy. Everyone is accepted there. Saint Peter’s was the epitome of what Shorter really should be to be considered a Christian university.

So, yes this is my biggest issue with the document. How can a self-proclaimed Christian university come out with a document that is not Christ-like at all? Homosexuals are people too, but it seemed like I wasn’t at Shorter. I felt judged every Tuesday when I would walk to the cafeteria as other were walking to the Chapel for their worship service. I felt judged every time I passed someone. Solely because I am gay and it obviously showed. Should I have to hide who I am? Not be proud that I am a child of God and I am perfect the way He made me even though it’s different from others around me? That’s not fair. The only place I found solace was in Chorale where I was among people who loved and supported me for who I was and not who they wanted me to be.

I started my audition process. It was tedious for I did not want to do it. I thought that I was going to be at Shorter for four years, not just one. I had some fun though. I took a road trip to New Jersey; I also went to Atlanta for a regional audition, and I went to my hometown to audition at Mercer. I received great honors and scholarships everywhere I applied, but nothing seemed right, because it wasn’t Shorter. I thought I was never going to be able to get over it. I lost hope. Some days, I could hardly even get myself out of my bed to go to class; in fact I skipped many classes because I did not want to be reminded of what I was not going to have. It became too hard to bear.

The only thing that kept me going and inspired me to get out of bed was Chorale rehearsal for ACDA, but sometimes it was hard to put forth effort to pretend I was not depressed. I went to convention and had a blast. It was such a treat to be out and away with the people I hold dear to my heart, but spring break came and afterwards came opera scenes which was just another reminder of the censorship and rules Shorter administration was putting us under. (We were supposed to do The Elixir of Love, but because of the alcohol references, we had to change our opera). During spring break I finally decided what I was going to do with my life: Musical Theater Accompanying. I applied at Shenandoah University, but I did not apply in time for their auditions.

April came and I found myself thrown into the craziest month of my life. I had performance after performance, but I enjoyed every last minute. It blew my mind how much great music I was making with people at Shorter and in Rome. How could such a small town produce such great music? I knew I was where I was supposed to be. There were so many great things happening for me, so this is what hurts the most: leaving the people I am emotionally invested in, leaving such a great opportunities for music making, being attacked so personally for something beyond control.

So why am I leaving Shorter University:

  1. My professors are
  2. My peers are
  3. For being personally attacked for my sexuality
  4. To be in a comfortable and supportive environment where I can be who I am.
  5. God’s love and guiding hand is not found at Shorter

I feel that Shorter, the GBC, the Board of Trustees, and/or whoever can do what they want to the school. It’s their school, but I cannot personally attend a school so full of hate. The personal lifestyle statement is picking and choosing which sins are worse than others, but a sin is a sin. Why were homosexuality, premarital sex, and adultery singled out? What about child molesters? Is it acceptable to be a child molester? Is it acceptable to rape innocent humans? NO! It’s not. It’s just as wrong, but it wasn’t pointed out. That to me screams bigotry. Let it be known that this is not an attack on a religion, this is an attack on the thoughts of individuals who believe that they are above others and believe that God speaks to them and moves them to do things. Well, it is my opinion that God does not work like this. “LOVE so amazing SO DIVINE!” It is through Christ’s love that people are changed not by forcing them to attend Chapels, and to deny what they are to themselves. I believe God made me perfect the way I am, not the way someone says that I should be, and because of this I cannot agree with what Shorter says. Jesus did not tell the adulteress to get out of his sight, he said “Go and sin no more” not: sign this document or lose your job. Once again, this screams bigotry. I feel slighted as a student as if I’m not even important. This whole predicament is not fair to the student body. I have had to spend my whole first year of college LOOKING FOR A NEW COLLEGE, and I’m mad about it.

To those who are in charge of everything going on, know that I respect your decision to do this, and I know you have every right, as Shorter is your school, but do know that a legacy that has been built at Shorter University will now forever be demolished. Shorter’s reputation preceded her in many cases, and it does again now, but for different reasons. Also, do know that it is wrong to claim to be something you aren’t: Shorter is no longer a liberal arts college; it is now a Baptist seminary. You are not transforming lives through Christ; you are transforming lives through narrow mindedness fundamentalist views.

May God bless the Hill to keep her in constant care and peace through the turmoil that will ensue. May every endeavor upon the Hill be met with strength and courage.

Finally, remember you cannot force people to transform their lives through Christ. It is only through an example of His perfect love that people can be turned to him. Forcing people to believe what you believe will accomplish nothing.

McKinley Starks

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.