On Friday, May 4, the latest graduates of Shorter University will participate in a traditional graduation ceremony to mark their transition from college to work. One part of this ceremony involves the students marching through the exit gates in front of the Sheffield-Thompson building, on which the words, “Go Forth to Serve” are inscribed. While we hope that our new graduates will indeed be inspired to serve others in humane ways, it seems ironic that another departing contingent, whose members have served the present institution faithfully for decades, is being ushered out quite unceremoniously. We are referring, of course, to those whose consciences will not allow them to remain at our good school. To these brave men and women, the following is respectfully dedicated.
“But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.”
― George Eliot, Middlemarch
When I look back on my time at Shorter, I can’t help but fondly remember those who were perhaps the most important part of my education: my teachers. I was a student in the School of Fine Arts, and it seemed at times that we students were so busy with classes, recitals, shows, concerts, and any number of other activities that we barely left those buildings. We were there at all hours of the day and night because we were learning. Beyond learning the basic standards for an education in the arts, we wanted relevant artistic experience – and we got just that. The school’s reputation was built upon its incredible artistic integrity. To gain admission to a school that provided so many opportunities to perform in such high caliber situations was something we knew was special. What we didn’t anticipate was the depth of personal dedication that the faculty and staff members would show us.
I wasn’t the most accomplished music student when I came in to Shorter. I had a natural talent and a willingness to learn, but there was a lot of work to be done. I’d never taken voice lessons before college, so my voice teacher literally had to build my technique from the ground up. He required me to sing in front of our studio class (which was not an easy feat for a girl who had never really done much solo singing, let alone solo singing in a foreign language). With a good dose of encouragement (and certainly a good amount of “tough love”!), he made me the singer I am today.
My teacher’s dedication was not limited to regular business hours. He went from competition to competition with me. He was there for every single recital. He even volunteered to teach a summer course of music theory when a few of us (literally, the minimum number of students allowed to constitute a summer class) needed to pass it in order to be able to graduate within four years. I remember seeing him in the computer lab as late as midnight and beyond, transcribing music from scores so that a show in the musical theater department could happen. He even came to First Baptist in Rome and sat right alongside my family when I was baptized. His dedication to my academic success, my artistic integrity, and my life was evident. The thing is, he wasn’t the only one. Many, many more faculty members than just this particular one generously gave their time. They taught full days from 8 a. m. until 5 p. m., and then more often than not they spent their evenings at the school running rehearsals, building sets, giving recitals, and supporting their students in performance. I left an undergraduate program with training that literally made schools and employers sit up and listen, but more than that, I left with an enriched life and a group of educators who were now my mentors and my family.
This Friday’s Commencement marks not only the graduation of the 2012 class of Shorter University, but also the departure of so many members of the faculty and staff at every campus. Thus far, 54 employees, whose combined years of service totals an amazing 432 years, have chosen to leave rather than sign the Personal Lifestyle Statement. At this point, there are likely to be more who choose to leave. This is not surprising; results of the recent poll of Shorter employees indicated that this was coming. Eighty-nine percent of the employees who responded to this survey did not agree with Dr. Donald Dowless and the direction in which he is taking Shorter University, and voted no confidence in his administration. Sixty-five percent plan on resigning at some point, and 75 percent – read that, 75 percent of Shorter University employees – are opposed to signing the Statement.
While there are many faculty and staff members who are choosing to leave, there are others who are staying on and who will, however reluctantly, sign the Statement. Some are too close to retirement to try to find a job elsewhere; signing the Statement is the only way to keep their jobs and make it to retirement. Some have tried very hard to find other jobs, but in the current market they cannot. Signing the Statement, while it goes against every fiber of their being, is the only way they can be sure that they’ll be able to put food on their families’ tables. Some are staying to see their remaining students through the end of their college careers; signing the Statement is the only way to ensure the educational integrity of their degrees. What is increasingly evident is that the vast majority of employees who are staying at Shorter do not want to sign this Statement. For whatever individual reason, they cannot simply leave their jobs, and so they must pretend to buy into the whole ludicrous situation in which they find themselves, thanks to Dr. Donald Dowless.
Throughout this awful year, each member of the faculty and staff has supported their students. They have walked with their heads high, and they have had to make some incredibly tough decisions. For the employees who are staying on at Shorter, whether it be for your own well-being or for the well-being of your students or department, we wish to thank you. Your decision could not have been an easy one to make, and there isn’t a single person here who would wish to be in your position. Thank you for making the difficult decisions, and know that you are in our prayers. For the 54 faculty and staff members who have decided to move on, we wish you well and thank you for your dedication. Your show of integrity for what is best for yourselves, for your families, and for Shorter University has not been overlooked. You have given so much of your time to ensure that the integrity of Shorter is intact. We particularly understand that sometimes in order to save something you love, you must be willing to walk away from it. We see that, and we thank you. You will be missed.