Category Archives: Faculty Survey

HAIL AND FAREWELL

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.

Jamie Barton

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Back to Our Roots

On Sunday afternoon, April 1, Dr. Don Dowless released a statement through the Rome News-Tribune.  In his statement Dowless addressed an earlier RN-T article regarding the results of a survey sent to full-time faculty by a group named the Committee for Integrity.

In the article Dowless made a number of gross misstatements.  Dowless was, in fact, aware of how the survey was conducted and did know how the results of the survey were tabulated.  Dowless was clearly aware of the contents of the letter accompanying the survey. Anticipating an objection to the way the survey was conducted, the Committee for Integrity chose to have the letter inform the faculty members that Reed, Martin and Slickman, CPA had mailed the survey forms and letters; enclosed was a self-addressed stamped envelope that was addressed to the firm’s office.  Shortly thereafter, the CPA firm received a letter from Shorter’s attorney.  Either Dr. Dowless has an attorney that acts without instruction from his client or Dowless knew precisely how the survey was being conducted.

In his statement, Dowless did as the GBC, Nelson Price and Shorter Board of Trustees Chair Joe Frank Harris Jr. are wont to do. He deflected the issues of the survey results entirely and addressed the Board’s desire to return Shorter to its Christian roots.

We strenuously object to the notion that the Shorter Board of Trustees and Dowless needed to return Shorter to anything. Shorter was founded as a Christian school and is today a Christian school. Perhaps Dowless and the board should learn a bit about the institution before they make such rash claims.

When, in 1836, Shorter (then Cherokee Baptist Female Seminary) was founded, it clearly had ties to the Georgia Baptist Convention. The Georgia Baptists, however, did not support the school with enough money to keep it viable. The school was sold to Alfred Shorter and a group of Rome businessmen in 1877.  For 25 years, the school operated as a Christian institution until in 1902, it re-affiliated with the GBC.  That relationship was short-lived.  In 1914, when again, the GBC failed to live up to its financial obligations, Azor Van Hoose removed Shorter from the GBC.

From 1914 to 1958, Shorter remained a Christian school. The Christian ethos was a part of Shorter’s identity – so much so that in 1958, when the school became over-extended, the Georgia Baptists were more than happy to re-affiliate with Shorter.  There was no need to have professors sign Personal Lifestyle statements or pledge to integrate the Christian faith into their classrooms. They lived a Christian life every day.

For many years, prospective employees have been asked to give a personal accounting of their faith. Surely, in all this time, administrators must have turned away the prospects who did not clearly hold Christian values. The difference, however, was that what previous presidents were looking for were Christian, not necessarily Georgia Baptist, employees.

Those administrators were wise enough to realize that to be a Christian was enough. Whether an individual chose to practice their faith as a Catholic, as a Methodist, as a Presbyterian, as an Episcopalian or any other Christian denomination was not the focus of the hire. The focus was simply on upholding Christian values.

When, in 1958, Dr Minor chose to re-affiliate the school with the Georgia Baptists, there was no murmur in the community. The Georgia Baptists of 1958 were far different than the Fundamentalist power running the GBC today.  They lived peaceably with their fellow Christians.  They respected the values of others. They realized that we are called to practice our faith in our own way.

Ostensibly, that is what the Baptists practice today. The Baptist Faith and Message states in part:

1) That they constitute a consensus of opinion of some Baptist body, large or small, for the general instruction and guidance of our own people and others concerning those articles of the Christian faith which are most surely held among us. They are not intended to add anything to the simple conditions of salvation revealed in the New Testament, viz., repentance toward God and faith in Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord.

(2) That we do not regard them as complete statements of our faith, having any quality of finality or infallibility. As in the past so in the future, Baptists should hold themselves free to revise their statements of faith as may seem to them wise and expedient at any time.

(3) That any group of Baptists, large or small, have the inherent right to draw up for themselves and publish to the world a confession of their faith whenever they may think it advisable to do so.

(4) That the sole authority for faith and practice among Baptists is the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. Confessions are only guides in interpretation, having no authority over the conscience.

(5) That they are statements of religious convictions, drawn from the Scriptures, and are not to be used to hamper freedom of thought or investigation in other realms of life.

Baptists cherish and defend religious liberty, and deny the right of any secular or religious authority to impose a confession of faith upon a church or body of churches. We honor the principles of soul competency and the priesthood of believers, affirming together both our liberty in Christ and our accountability to each other under the Word of God.

These are the principles under which Shorter faculty and staff have always lived and worked. They have never added more than repentance to God and faith in Jesus Christ. They have never assumed that the statements of faith were final or infallible. As academics, they believed in the idea that religious convictions were not to be used to hamper freedom of thought or investigation into other realms of life. And they believed that each person was not to be responsible to anyone other than his or her God.

Shorter has never changed. It is the Georgia Baptist Convention, channeled through Nelson Price, Don Dowless and the Shorter Board of Trustees that has changed.

Shorter doesn’t need to be led back to its Christian roots. It has never left them.

Meanwhile, the faculty continues to leave in droves.