Category Archives: Letters

A WIDER VIEW

We would like to thank our readers for supporting SOS and for their feedback. We urge you to read the comments on the articles that we post, and respond as you see fit. Respectful, open dialog is what is necessary to bring to the table the best of all of us.

While we know that some may disagree with our opinions, we would submit that we are, as best as is possible, giving you the truth as we have learned it.

Some of our readers have been kind enough to share articles with us that we feel would be profitable to share with all of you.

An alum shared an article entitled “The Fallacy of Statements of Faith” from the Sojurners website.

The Save OBU (Oklahoma Baptist University) website continues its excellent series of articles on Understanding Fundamentalism. We’ll start your reading from the beginning of the series. Just click here.

Finally, SafetyNet, a support organization for LGBTQ youth sent us  this Letter to Save Our Shorter Community.

We thank our readers for sharing their thoughts and support.

There are insightful and thought provoking statements here and we would like your feedback.

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.

ANOTHER COLLEGE PROFESSOR SPEAKS

Dr. Charles Pecor, former Shorter professor, sent the following to us via email. We asked his permission to post it on the web page and he graciously agreed. Thank you, Dr. Pecor.

I only recently learned of the plight of Shorter College.   I am greatly distressed and disgusted to learn of what is happening.   My wife, Claudia Thompson Pecor is a graduate of Shorter.  Indeed, I met my wife at Shorter.  I taught at Shorter and was the theatre director from the fall of 1962 until the spring of 1967. I left Shorter for a similar position at Georgia Tech, and eventually ended up at Macon State College where I spent my last ten years in the academic world as Chair of the Division of Humanities.

I have many warm memories of the school, the faculty, and the students with whom I came in contact.  It was not perfect, no institution is, but it was a far cry from what it is becoming.  A positive religious life was emphasized on the campus, but it was not “cult like.”   No signed “pledges to be good” were required of students or faculty. (If pledges really worked, there would be no divorces.)

Within a few days of learning of what is happening, I called one of my former students who lives in New Jersey.  He was also appalled.  He said, “My years at Shorter were some of the best years of my life.” I felt the same way.  The relationships between faculty and students in those days was something special.

I’ve been around higher education most of my adult life, so believe me when I say that NOTHING good happens when a college loses accreditation, and, from what I am hearing, Shorter seems to be on that path.

Recently I started working on a memoir of my life in educational and community theatre, and I was looking forward to dealing with the Shorter years.  Now that effort will be hedged about with great sadness.

Claudia and I wish you good fortune in your attempt to turn back the tide.

Dr. Charles J. Pecor

Professor of Humanities emeritus

Macon State College (retired)

ANOTHER ROMAN SPEAKS OUT

In her letter to the editor, printed recently in the Rome News-Tribune, Betty Zane Morris called for the citizens of Rome to speak out on the issues that are engulfing Shorter. Her call was a wise one, as it was a collection of Roman citizens, Alfred Shorter chief among them,who stepped forward and provided the funding to support the Cherokee Baptist Female Seminary at a time when the Baptist Convention of Georgia refused to do so.

Save Our Shorter is gratified to find that those citizens are now willing to speak to the issues at hand. It is the historical memory of these individuals, as well as the historical memories of those who served on the Hill, whether faculty, staff, administration or trustee, that will help to illuminate the true heart of the issues that plague the institution.

One such reply follows. We encourage others to come forth and help us to shine Light and reveal Truth on Save Our Shorter. We may be reached through our email: saveourshorter@gmail.com.

My father,  Dr. Forrest Lanier,  was Assistant to the President and Executive Vice-President of Shorter from 1975 to 1985.    Earlier,  he had been a trustee from 1952 to 1974,   so our families roots with Shorter go back many years.     I stand with each of the members of Save our Shorter,   because I know that if my father were still alive his heart would have been broken due the developments of recent months,  as would that of Dr. Minor.     As a former Southern Baptist,   I predicted many years ago that this “trickle down” of fundamentalism would eventually reach the pews of the churches,   and the situation at Shorter is endemic of that.    The takeover of the Convention was apparently planned at the “Cafe DuMonde” in New Orleans in 1967 with Paige Patterson and Paul Pressler discussing strategy over beignets and coffee,   and now it has reached this.     But the problem,  in my opinion,  is that all of this is too late.    The trend in recent years is for denominations (especially evangelical ones) that increasingly shed or dis-associate themselves from the institutions of higher learning that their traditions helped to create, and this continues today.   “Christian” institutions of “higher” learning as Shorter represents itself to the community and the world,  is in fact already a dying breed.  A newer,  younger and less “religious” generation is arising which is more tolerant of homosexuality,  premarital sex,  and the moderate use of alcohol.    The speaker of the North Carolina legislature said it well in response to the recent vote to ban gay marriage in his state:  “This is a generational issue.   This measure will be repealed in less than twenty years.”     President Obama recently endorsed gay marriage,  the first sitting President to do so.    Attitudes and “traditions” itself are changing in American society in response to the more secular,   more educated and more socially mobile individuals who are coming of age.

As for Don Dowless?   I would not be surprised at one thing [he does].    If there are no teachers to teach,  where will the students come from?    And if there are no students,   then where will the money come from?     And if the money dries up,   where will Shorter be at this point?

The “Taliban” of the Georgia Baptist Convention might not just hold him to the fire,   he might himself be on it…

“For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp.” (Heb. 13:11)

John L. Lanier

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.

SHORTER’S BROKE, ROME MUST HELP FIX IT

The following guest column appeared in last Sunday’s edition of the Rome News-Tribune, and is republished here by permission.

GUEST COLUMN: Shorter’s broke, Rome must help fix it
by BETTY ZANE MORRIS, Guest Columnist

BEFORE MY CHURCH had even begun last Sunday, I’d had half a dozen people ask me if I’d seen the Rome News-Tribune’s editorial, “Mostly sad for Rome,” and comment on how good it was. One said, “They came out with guns blazing!” When I was able to get home to read it for myself, I found it to be as forthright as they said, and even chilling, as we think about the devastating impact on our beloved institution, the churches, businesses, education, and all the others affected by the impending doom.

While I loudly applaud last Sunday’s editorial I would suggest that the author reexamine the statement that next fall’s enrollment figures “are likely to be roughly the same.” While it is true that we won’t really know until fall, we must consider that entire departments are practically decimated because of the requirements being forced upon faculty and staff by the current GBC administration.

For example, the School of Nursing has lost all but two of its faculty, leaving two relatively inexperienced faculty to continue the program. How will they be able to find the qualified people to restaff this program, who are also willing to sign the required Personal Lifestyle Statements? If they can’t be found, what will happen to the more than 150 the students who are enrolled in it?

The Sciences, at the foundation of the strong premed and nursing programs, will lose 7 out of 12 faculty, who are leaving after this spring. With more than 200 majors, and more faculty losses expected, how will this department be staffed fully enough to teach students in those programs and others?

How do faculty and student losses in Nursing and the Sciences affect Rome’s medical community?

ANOTHER EXAMPLE, of course, is in the School of the Arts programs. This week, a source in the Music Department revealed that last fall’s enrollment of vocal students was 83 and, of that number, only 10 plan to return next year. Of the music and theatre faculty, 12 out of 20 will be leaving. Lost will be the glorious sounds of the Shorter Chorale under Dr. Martha Shaw’s direction. Lost will be the numbers of music faculty and students who directed and enhanced the music programs of our churches. Lost will be the delight of theatrical productions that have amazed and challenged us.

How do losses in the Fine Arts affect Rome’s cultural, church and arts community?

Another example of loss is in the School of Professional Programs which, in fact, did contribute greatly to enrollment increase over the past 15 years, but now is itself suffering a significant decline (down over 300 students) in enrollment due, in part, to the inability of businesses to pay for their students to enroll in it and, now, the forced signing of “the papers”, as they’ve come to be known. The School of Business on the hill is expecting a loss of 20% or more of faculty and students for next year.

How do losses of faculty and students in these areas affect Rome’s business community? How does the loss of these numbers of individuals affect the economy of Rome and Floyd County?

IT IS ALSO IMPORTANT to note that four of the seven Deans are not returning. They are from the School of Nursing, the School of Education, the School of the Sciences, and the School of Professional Programs, leaving those programs void of the valuable leadership they have provided.

These aren’t the only losses of faculty and students — just some of the more visible ones.

What will happen when 88 percent of the highly qualified faculty who responded in the faculty survey early this spring, leave, as they reported they would do as soon as jobs became available. If recognized, quality, qualified faculty aren’t there, why would students enroll?

What a gift Dr. Donald Dowless, Dr. Nelson Price and the GBC administrators have given to the schools and universities that are inheriting the excellent faculty and students from Shorter!

Another statement that caught my attention was “Supporters of ‘Shorter as it used to be’ can probably rely on Greater Romans to help them try to catch the school if the GBC some day abandons it.”

We need to ask “Why is the community waiting until abandonment by GBC to do anything?” Why do most of the people comment on how sad the situation is, sigh resignedly, and do nothing? Do we, as a people, give up so easily?

I CONTEND that, if the current situation is any indication of Greater Romans support, it isn’t so likely that we can rely on them. I’ve been astonished that more people in Rome and surrounding communities, who have no direct connection to Shorter, haven’t spoken out. Do they not realize that there is hardly a business or institution in Rome that doesn’t have Shorter graduates in responsible positions in their employment pool? There appears to be a blind eye among most regarding the gravity of the situation for Rome’s economy, not to mention all the other facets of a community, should the institution decrease significantly in size or, God forbid, fail. There have been many letters to the editor, articles and editorials but, I believe if a count were done, a majority of these have come from alumni, current students and former faculty, not from concerned, informed citizens of Rome.

As you may know, there are some groups under the radar who are fighting vigorously for Shorter to return to the shining example of higher education that has been built since its humble, Christian beginnings at First Baptist Church in Rome in 1873. Check outwww.saveourshorter.com to see how you might join in this battle. I hope and pray that these staunch defenders of the Shorter we knew and loved will be successful.

THERE’S an old saying, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Shorter was Christian, thriving and unbroken until the GBC took over. Soon cracks began to appear, which have now become a huge chasm. Now it is “broke.” Let’s fix it!

Betty Zane Morris of Rome taught at Shorter College for 46 years, serving on the faculty and as department chair of Communication.

Read more: RN-T.com – GUEST COLUMN Shorter s broke Rome must help fix it