Category Archives: Personal Lifestyle Statement

WHERE ARE WE GOING WITH SOS?

You must not be called Teacher, because you are all equal and have only one Teacher.9 And you must not call anyone here on earth Father, because you have only the one Father in heaven.10 Nor should you be called  Leader, because your one and only leader is the Messiah. Matthew 23: 8-10

For the past seven months, a raging battle has ensued over the documents issued by the current Shorter administration. Chief among them has been the Personal Lifestyle Statement found elsewhere on this site. It is not the intention of Save Our Shorter to wage a theological battle on these pages. We believe, as did Martin Luther and our Protestant forefathers before us, in the priesthood of the believer – that is, that every believing Christian has the God-given right to a direct relationship with God, without interference from the edicts of man.

We wish simply to point out that from 1926, with the first Baptist Faith and Message until a 1998 amendment to the 1963 version, the issues of lifestyle, as regards the family and the definition of marriage were not, historically, a part of Baptist doctrine.  Not until the 2002 Fundamentalist revision of the Baptist Faith and Message was there a mention of homosexuality, the denial of women as pastors, the loosening of restraints from worldly amusements and secular employment on Sunday, pornography and the right of the unborn. Nowhere in the Baptist Faith and Message is there any edict as to the refraining of the use of alcohol in public. That edict belongs solely to the Personal Lifestyle Statement.

The media has made much over the Personal Lifestyle Statement and has zeroed in on the issue of homosexuality. We believe that this is true, in part, because of the current controversy in America regarding the issues of “gay marriage”. While we welcome the media’s attention over the controversies surrounding Shorter, this sole issue is far from the heart of the conflict. Of equal and perhaps greater importance is the issue of control of the university and the threat to academic freedom through the interpretation and demands of the Biblical Principles on the Integration of Faith and Learning statement.

We believe in academic freedom. It is from this perspective that much of our disagreement with the Shorter administration and Board of Trustees arises.

Academic freedom has been defined by the Association of American Colleges and Universities and the American Association of University Professors as follows:

“Academic freedom to explore significant and controversial questions is an essential precondition to fulfill the academy’s mission of educating students and advancing knowledge. Academic responsibility requires professors to submit their knowledge and claims to rigorous and public review by peers who are experts in the subject matter under consideration; to ground their arguments in the best available evidence; and to work together to foster the education of students.”

Consider for a moment, the comparison of the three branches of government – executive, legislative and judicial – with the proper structure in an academic environment.

The administration and board of trustees (executive) holds primary responsibility for fundraising for the university, the proper administration of funds, the maintenance of the buildings and grounds and the provision of adequate resources for the faculty and students as they seek to explore the body of knowledge available in each discipline in higher education.

The faculty, with the Provost as head academician, holds primary responsibility for determining the credentials of its professors, deciding the curriculum, determining the degrees that are to be conferred and advancing knowledge through responsible instruction of its students.

The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS), through its Commission on Colleges, acts as the judicial branch, reviewing the actions, funding and policies of their member institutions and awarding accreditation to those institutions who meet its standards of excellence.

Each of these bodies have a distinct and clear purpose. The board and administration has no authority over the faculty with the exception of ensuring that faculty guidelines and policies are adhered to and to give their approval and support to such items as tenure, policy change submitted by the faculty and addition or change in degree programs. The board and administration are there, in fact, to support the work of the faculty, not to dictate and demand their own version of higher education. With Shorter, we have a case, if you will, of the tail wagging the dog.

As we will make clear in the coming days and weeks, the SACS accrediting body has expressed clear concern regarding the interference of the Georgia Baptist Convention with the Shorter Board of Trustees and their influence over the duties and responsibilities directly accorded to the faculty. Those concerns are legitimate and are far deeper than the policies contained in the Personal Lifestyle Statement.

We ask those of you who are Georgia Baptists to hold your judgement until we have set forth our case. We ask all readers to respond, to question, to inquire through the true nature of critical thinking.

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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.

SHORTER LIBRARIAN PREPARES TO LEAVE, WOULD LOVE TO STAY

UPDATE: Michael Wilson’s plight has drawn national attention. Inside Higher Ed is the most widely read academic journal on the web.

The following article appeared in last Sunday’s edition of the Rome News-Tribune, and is reproduced here with permission.

Shorter librarian prepares to leave, would love to stay
by Kim Sloan, staff writer

For 14 years Michael Wilson has worked at a job he loves as the off-campus librarian for professional studies at Shorter University.

That job is threatened by a new policy the university is enacting requiring all staff and faculty to sign a Faith and Personal Lifestyle statement in which they agree, among other things, to “reject as acceptable all sexual activity not in agreement with the Bible, including, but not limited to, premarital sex, adultery and homosexuality.”

Wilson is gay. School officials never asked him about his lifestyle when he was hired on April 20, 1998, which is also his father’s birthday, he said. But he thinks they probably knew when he was tenured in 2006.

Wilson signed his contract, but he marked out portions of the statement and sent it to the provost. He also sent a letter to Shorter University President Donald Dowless.

“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,” Wilson said in his letter. “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 may teach, and students may learn, without these ideological restrictions.”

If a staff member doesn’t sign the statement of faith, their employment will not continue, according to Dawn Tolbert, Shorter University spokeswoman.

That leaves Wilson with the real possibility that he will be without a job in the next few weeks. But he plans to fight for the job he has loved so much, he said.

It’s a small department, he said, and it has given him a chance to do “a lot of everything,” he said.

“I’ve been everything from janitor to head librarian,” Wilson said. “I’ve learned so much and I made this job my own.”

Shorter University’s handbook states that, “tenure is the reasonable expectation of continued employment on an annual instructional term basis as long as, and only as long as: 1) The tenured faculty member does not breach his/her current contract or any subsequent annual instructional term contract; 2) Shorter is financially able to continue to employ the tenured faculty member; and 3) There is sufficient demand at Shorter to justify the need for performance by the tenured faculty member in his/her particular field.”

While as of today Wilson still works for Shorter, his name is on a list provided by the website SaveOurShorter.com of 53 staff and faculty members who have left or are expected to leave the university this year, mainly because of the faith statement passed by the Board of Trustees last October.

When asked if the number was accurate, Tolbert said in an email, “We don’t have a final number on who is leaving yet; faculty contracts are still out. We are interviewing for positions that are open and will announce new hires as they are finalized.”

Wilson hopes there is a way he could stay.

“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,” he said in his letter to Dowless.

Read more: RN-T.com – Shorter librarian prepares to leave would love to stay

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

AAUP Expresses Concerns

The following letter was sent from the American Association of University Professors to President Dowless and Chair-Elect Harris on December 12, 2011.

Dear President Dowless and Chair-Elect Harris:

Members of the faculty at Shorter University have consulted with the American Association of University Professors as a result of a series of four statements approved by the board of trustees at its meeting on October 21, without prior discussion with the faculty, including a “Personal Lifestyle Statement,” a “Statement of Faith,” a “Philosophy for Christian Education,”  and a document entitled “Biblical Principles on the Integration of Faith and Learning.” They have expressed concern that the four documents are inconsistent with principles of academic freedom, with longstanding institutional practice, and with the terms and conditions of their appointments.

The interest of the Association in this situation stems from our longstanding commitment to academic freedom and tenure, the basic tenets of which are set forth in the enclosed 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure. That document, a joint formulation of the AAUP and the Association of American Colleges and Universities, has received the endorsement of more than 210 scholarly and educational associations. We note that the 2011 edition of the Shorter University Faculty Handbook, updated this past May, includes a section on “Academic Freedom” (2.8.1) that is based essentially on the corresponding provisions of the 1940 Statement.

Among the requirements of the above-mentioned documents, we understand, is that faculty members develop an annual written plan of how they are going to “integrate the Christian faith” into their teaching. The faith statement requires that faculty believe that the Bible is inerrant and infallible and that all non-Christians are condemned to “everlasting torment.” All members of the faculty (and the staff), we note, are being required to sign these documents as a condition of continuing service at the university. Indeed, failure to adhere to the lifestyle statement “may result in disciplinary action … up to and including immediate termination.”

We wish to convey our concerns over the ramifications of these requirements for the exercise of academic freedom at Shorter University. Additional allegations we have received about adverse actions that the administration has already taken against faculty members viewed as out of conformity with the newly promulgated standards add to our concerns.

The information in our possession regarding the situation at Shorter University has come to us from faculty sources and media accounts, and we realize that you may have additional information that would contribute to our understanding of what has occurred. We would therefore welcome hearing from you.

Sincerely,
B. Robert Kreiser
Associate Secretary