Category Archives: Ed Schrader

AND SO IT BEGINS

When, in 1958, Dr. Randall Minor and the Shorter Board of Trustees agreed with the Baptist Convention of Georgia to change Shorter’s charter, they did so in good faith.

Since 1914, Shorter had maintained control of its Board of Trustee selection process. As early as 1919, Shorter had continued its affiliation with the GBC, receiving funds and making annual reports to the Convention, however it had maintained its independence.  In 1938, the Board of Trustees agreed to submit names of new shorter trustees to the GBC “for its approval or disapproval before final action by the Board”, however the college still had the power of formal and final approval of the new trustee. A 1953 GBC adoption of a new selection process for its affiliated college’s trustees allowed for each college to nominate 3 persons for each trustee position. The Convention chose one from the three.

Finding the college in dire need of funding, Minor negotiated the new charter and the College agreed to the changes that all future trustees would be elected by the GBC and that each trustee be a member of a Baptist Church which is affiliated with the Baptist Convention of the State of Georgia. Until then the charters had continued to renew the stipulation of the original charter, which said “members of regular Baptist churches of good standing.”

According to a speech by Dr. Rob Nash, entitled “On Being Baptist: The Soul Purpose of Shorter College” in his Founder’s Day Address, October 7, 1997, “From 1873 – 1902 and from 1914 until 1959, Shorter’s trustees were either self-perpetuating or had final power over the trustee selection process.” At the time of the ’59 charter change, Dr. Minor knew he was dealing with gentlemen and that they would honor the 1953 GBC selection process. As a result, he failed to include in the new charter the process by which new trustees would be elected. He never envisioned, nor would he have been able to conceive of the Georgia Baptist Convention of 2001.

When, during the selection process for the new trustees in 2001, Shorter did as it had done since 1953 and submitted a slate of candidates – three for each open position – to the Georgia Baptist Convention, they expected the GBC to continue to honor the ’53 process. What they didn’t reckon on was that the GBC was finally under the total control of Baptist Fundamentalists. When the GBC failed to accept any of the candidates and proposed and elected a slate of its own candidates, The Shorter Board of Trustees refused to seat them.  In retaliation, the GBC withheld its annual contribution to Shorter.

For months, Dr. Ed Schrader tried to negotiate with the GBC in order to reach an amicable settlement of the matter. For months, Robert White and the Executive Board of the GBC stalled, refused to negotiate and made excuses. However an even greater problem was on the horizon.

On January 4, 2002 Dr. Schrader sent a memorandum to Dr. Bob White and pertinent officers of the GBC. In that memo, Dr. Schrader addressed the upcoming SACS re-accreditation visit. He writes, “Shorter College has been warmly regarded by Georgia Baptists for its entire 129 year history. Personally, I want Georgia Baptists to view me neither as a politically ally nor opponent, because I am neither, but as a Brother who is committed (and called) heart and soul to Christian higher education, fostering a good relationship between Shorter College and the Georgia Baptist Convention, and unswervingly dedicated to the spiritual and academic advancement of Shorter College.  I will fight to insure Shorter College remains a Georgia Baptist College and Shorter College will fight to insure that its progress and future are undiminished and unblemished.”  These were hardly the words of a man who later would be portrayed by GBC executives as intent on “stealing” Shorter from the Georgia Baptists.

The memo further relates a conversation between Dr. Schrader and the President of SACS, in which Dr. Schrader assured the SACS president that Shorter was addressing its concerns with the GBC proactively. “Since these issues (over-involvement of the GBC in the running of the college) were of concern in the previous re-accreditation review 10 years ago and not satisfactorily addressed then, the visiting team would take a very harsh view of our ignoring them in the intervening period.”

Dr. Schrader was concerned about the impact the loss of accreditation would have on the college. “Such public rebuke is the death knell for external fund raising, recruiting of top students and faculty and maintaining – let alone advancing –  the school’s academic and artistic reputation and standing.”

Schrader and the Board of Trustees had reason for concern. In the Reaffirmation Committee Report from the February 18-21, 2002 visit, the committee came down hard on the GBC involvement in Shorter affairs:

“It is the judgment of the Committee that Shorter College is in compliance with all Conditions of Eligibility except Condition Three.  The College has an active policy-making board, which meets the mandatory requirement of this section.  However, undue pressure is being placed on the Board of Trustees by an outside agency, namely the Georgia Baptist Convention.  The issue is the selection of trustees. In November 2001 the Convention broke with a long-standing practice and elected several trustees, which were not nominated by the College.  Serious concerns exist regarding the existence of an independent governing board and for its ability to protect the Institution from undue outside influence from the Georgia Baptist Convention.  Specific actions by the Georgia Baptist Convention this past year regarding the politicization of the trustee election process demonstrate that the College is subject to external political and religious influence that may affect its ability to carry out its mission, infringe upon its academic integrity and threaten academic freedom. Additionally, a pattern of activities carried out by the Georgia Baptist Convention and its agents has demonstrated a desire to affect outcomes of the College’s internal governance by this external third party entity. Therefore the Committee recommends that the Institution demonstrate that its bylaws and other legal documents ensure the independence of the board (Recommendation 3). This recommendation does not reflect a problem with the institution or its administration.  This is a problem between the Board of Trustees and the Georgia Baptist Convention leadership over the issue of governance.

The recommendation of 10 years ago echoes the same issues facing Shorter faculty and students today. Academic freedom and integrity are core values of higher education. As Mr. Pirkle’s letter of resignation reveals, the Georgia Baptist Fundamentalists have only increased their hold upon the University. To what sorts of interference was the report referring? Who from the GBC would have tried to influence the Board of Trustees? How is that influence being carried out with the current board? There is much more to this story, which we will disclose in our next post.

Documents cited here obtained from public records.

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The Truth About the GBC/Shorter Schism

The following was written and sent to us by Jim Morris, Class of 1984, approximately 7 years ago. It was originally published in the Rome News-Tribune. Morris grew up on Shorter Hill, as his mother was on the faculty there for 46 years. In sending this information, he writes ” I want for the public to see the pattern that the GBC has exhibited over this time period so that the public understands that this pattern of deceit and unscrupulous behavior on the part of the GBC is nothing new.”  We find his words of 7 years ago quite prophetic. Thank you, Mr. Morris, for sharing this with us.

To Whom It May Concern:

I am writing in response to recent publicity, exchange of letters in the Rome News-Tribune and other newspapers, and inaccurate information apparently being given to Georgia Baptist pastors, regarding Shorter College and the Georgia Baptist Convention. Many allegations have been laid forth regarding who initiated the conflict in which these two institutions are currently embroiled. I am a graduate of Shorter College and come from a long line of Shorter College graduates. I also attend and actively participate in a local church that aligns itself with the GBC. I have accumulated the following information from publicly available documents and interviews with people who have first- hand knowledge of the circumstances.

One of the most inflammatory and inaccurate allegations is that Dr. Ed Schrader came to Shorter College with the intent of separating Shorter from the GBC. This is scurrilous at best. To allude that he would come to Shorter and intentionally create the controversy in which these two institutions are involved is just flat out wrong. Dr. J. Robert White, Executive Director of the Georgia Baptist Convention and a member of the Shorter College presidential search committee in the years 1999-2000, enthusiastically supported Dr. Schrader for the position of president at that time. One would have to question the motive of those who would spread such harmful, false and unchristian tales about Dr. Schrader. Innuendo and rumor do not equal proof, no matter who starts the rumor, and there is no proof since the allegations are false.

Shorter College approached the GBC in the late 50’s to request assistance in managing some financial affairs. The college was in a difficult financial situation. The GBC agreed to partner with Shorter at that time. Part of that agreement was that the GBC would have the right to elect the Board of Trustees but the actual selection process of Trustee candidates was left up to the two groups to work out. For many years there was an amicable relationship between Shorter and the GBC regarding this process, a “give and take” if you will. The Shorter’s Trustees and administration would select two potential candidates for each opening on the board and would submit them for review and selection by the GBC.  In rare instances, the GBC would submit the name of a qualified candidate to the president of Shorter. The president would meet with that candidate, conduct interviews with him or her, interview associates and would generally, based on the outcome of those interviews approve that individual for a position for a seat on the board. It is important to note that was the same process used regardless of who nominated the candidate, the college or the GBC.

Soon after Dr. Schrader assumed the presidency of Shorter, he received a communication from Dr. J. Robert White, the Executive Director of the GBC. Dr. Schrader was told that an influential member of the GBC nominating committee, Reverend Mike Everson, wanted to meet with him. Dr. Schrader met with Mr. Everson, who proceeded to question him about his professional and personal beliefs about his vision for Shorter College. It was during this meeting that Mr. Everson stated basically, I am the “new sheriff in town” and this is the way that the Trustees for Shorter College will be selected and this is what we want them to do. He presented Dr. Schrader with a list of five candidates who were of these same political convictions as he for openings for the Shorter Board at that time. This was approximately one month prior to the time that the new board members were to be nominated.

Mr. Everson also stated that the Board members needed to be “conservative” (I take that to be in the Baptist “political” sense meaning fundamentalist) like him. He also specifically pointed out two highly qualified religion department faculty members whom he believed to be too liberal for his liking and apparently needed to seek employment elsewhere. I need to stress here that the mark of a good faculty member is the ability to be an expert teacher of their specific area of the curriculum and not what their personal beliefs may or may not be since those beliefs are not the subject of the courses to be taught.

From what I have researched, of those five candidates, two said “no” from the start. One of the candidates was out of the country and could not be contacted. One was concerned about the time issues, but agreed to be placed on the list of nominees for the following year. The remaining candidate was placed by the College on the list of potentials. The College presented its nominees to the GBC Nominating Committee containing the one remaining candidate from Mr. Everson’s list. About two weeks after this meeting, Shorter received a revised list of the candidates from the GBC. Three names were included from Mr. Everson’s list of political allies, two of whom the College had not nominated including one with whom the college’s representatives had never even spoken. Excluded from the list were former trustees of the College that the GBC had elected previously (including one previous Chairman of the Trustees), one of the best known and respected African-American Southern Baptist Pastors in the country, and several Shorter College alumni including all of the women nominated by the College. To anyone’s knowledge at the College and in its written record, this was the first time this one-sided, politically based substitution of nominees had occurred and it happened in the actual academic year that SACS was reviewing the college’s reaccreditation. A year later, after much discussion about SACS accreditation concerns and attempts by the College to reach a middle ground with the GBC, the GBC Nominating Committee refused to collaborate on any new trustee nominees and rejected all16 candidates from the College and replaced them with 8 nominees whose names were not given to the College until the night before Trustee elections at the GBC Annual Convention

All schools that have any intrinsic value in their degrees have to pass a stringent inspection every ten years by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS). SACS determines a college’s ability to meet a number of requirements that primarily have to do with its ability to provide a valuable scholastic opportunity for its students. Without accreditation, a school’s diploma is virtually useless. A student would not be able to get into any type of graduate school, is not eligible for any type of Hope grants or any type of federal assistance, and the “degree” is next to useless in using with potential employers. Without accreditation, you might as well not bother.

SACS guidelines clearly state that the Board of Trustees must be able to govern without any undue outside influence. The actions of the GBC most certainly constitute that undue influence. Without SACS approval, Shorter will be just another unaccredited “Bible College” and almost 150 years of academic excellence would have been gone. Another request of the GBC’s nominating committee member was whether all faculty and staff would sign the new “Baptist Faith and Message Statement” as a condition of their employment with Shorter.  Guess what? Not everyone at Shorter is a Baptist, and they don’t need to be. For academic excellence and diversity to occur then there needs to be a wide variety of teachers with a wide variety of beliefs. That is the process of learning and is why God gave us a brain…to be able to think! The God that I understand allows me to reach conclusions and a level of comprehension that is comfortable for me. Religious and spiritual beliefs cannot be mandated. In the relationship that I have with God, He tells me that I don’t have to always agree with others, but I do have to respect their right to believe differently. Does this mean that we will always agree? Of course not, but in the academic world this is how the learning process takes place. If the GBC has its way, and the faculty and staff are required to sign the Baptist mission statement, then many well-qualified teachers will leave in droves, simply because they will be unwilling, and justifiably so, to be in an environment where intolerance is encouraged.

The general response from the GBC about the accreditation issue was “so what?”  The most probable scenario if the GBC were to win the case is that they install their own Board of Trustees, try to structure the Trustee Board as though it appears that they have not had undue outside influence, and then you will have a school with many problems: an exiting faculty, an accreditation crises, declining enrollment and bottom line, just another “Bible School” with over 100 years of academic excellence, diversity and tolerance for one’s fellow man and beliefs tossed like yesterdays garbage. Even if the GBC wins, it loses.

During this same 40-year period, the GBC donated over $ 21 million in operating expenses and scholarships.  Seven million of those dollars remain under GBC control in the Georgia Baptist Foundation.  It is noteworthy that during the time of this relationship, the annual contribution from the GBC to Shorter was an average of approximately $500,000. The College’s annual budget today, however, runs approximately $20 million annually. The Executive Director of the GBC, Dr. Robert White, in his recent editorial to the Rome News-Tribune stated that it was through this relationship that the new buildings at Shorter College were built. This is misleading at best. The buildings at Shorter were constructed through fund-raising campaigns and bond funds, some of which Shorter is still paying off.

Dr White and his colleagues at the GBC seem to have the misguided notion that they “own” Shorter College. This is a physical impossibility since Shorter is a Georgia nonprofit corporation, which can have no owner under Georgia law.  That fact has been upheld by both court rulings. With the GBC’s contributions to Shorter averaging eight percent of the operating budget, it is a little difficult for anyone to believe this idea that the GBC could have any claim to “ownership.”  The GBC is currently as close to ownership as is possible with two other schools, Brewton Parker and Truett McConnell. These are two schools that are a classic example of how not “to run a railroad.” They are in heavy debt and are consistently near the bottom of the U.S. News and World Reports annual review of Southeastern small colleges. Shorter, on the other hand, is consistently near the top. The GBC, through a power play, seeks to instill its vision for a fundamentalist school at Shorter and achieve the same result as the aforementioned schools.

Mike Everson was quoted in the Magazine Georgia Trend, that at the moment he’d be willing to let Shorter College part ways amicably with the GBC:  “It’s not worth wasting money,” Everson says. “We could go on and pour our resources into schools that are glad to be Georgia Baptist. But if Schrader goes on and keeps playing his little games and goes after our money, we’ll come after him. And when we do, this time we’re going to nail his hide.” What kind of graceful and Christian attitude is that?

Shorter College has always considered itself a Baptist school, and always will. They have been grateful for the support that the GBC has provided up till recent times and the GBC has benefited from that relationship as well, at a minimum expense to them. It is not Shorter that is “going after the GBC money” it is very much the other way around and a definite power play as well. It looks like pride will not let the GBC leaders back down now. Do they think that they have too much to lose with the other colleges that they have a relationship with now? If Shorter wins this dispute, as I pray that they do, or if the GBC were to miraculously “part ways” with Shorter, do the GBC leaders think they lose all semblance of authority with the other colleges that they have a relationship with?

I urge Shorter College stakeholders to speak to their pastor about this issue, particularly if your church is affiliated with the GBC. Let’s end this spectacle in front of the secular press and public. The Rome News-Tribune reported that Shorter College faculty has voted 99% in favor of the Trustees and the administration. My pastor and I have had to agree to disagree on this issue, but just like the issue of academic freedom and the ability to make one’s own decisions, in my church I also have the ability to disagree from time to time with the beliefs espoused there and not follow blindly.  I have specifically changed my tithe, so that no money whatsoever will go to the GBC to support their misguided tactics. I urge others to do the same. Be active in this affair. The heritage and future of a major piece of Georgia’s heritage is at stake here.

This is an unconscionable action by the GBC and must not be allowed to happen.

Jim Morris

Silver Creek, GA.