Category Archives: Stories

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)

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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

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

Professor Nobody

The following letter was submitted to us anonymously. We suspect that the sentiments expressed here are common on The Hill.

IN all of my years in academia, this school year at Shorter has been the most emotionally difficult, mentally challenging and physically exhausting. I say this not because I have frustrating students, a hectic schedule or mounds of paperwork – but because my colleagues, my students and the staff that supports us has been in “survival mode” since the upheaval caused by the adoption and impending threats of the Personal Lifestyle Statements.

There seem to be four titles to describe both my colleagues and students:  “Hoping for Change,” “Staying Regardless,” “Pursuing the Back-Up Plan” and “Seizing the Better Opportunity.” While these four titles are common to every faculty and student towards the end of the semester, the numbers at Shorter are staggering. Every day, someone posts the name of another faculty or staff member who has announced their resignation and new appointment. Every day, another student comes to me and tells me about their roommate or sorority sister who has just committed to another school. The numbers seem to have increased throughout the last several weeks. There is an air of detachment that is hindering productive class time, lunchtime banter and even the students’ effort and attention to grades. Emotional tensions are extremely high as faculty are secretly meeting and students’ parents are calling for recommendation letters, extremely upset about the toll this semester has taken on their sons and daughters.  Knowing that colleagues and students have written emails and personally met with members of the administration only to be left with more doubt, more anger and more confusion is frustrating.

As ridiculous is the fact that every week in my Inbox there is a Wellness announcement for faculty and staff. I wonder if they know WHY my blood pressure is sky high, WHY I am experiencing IBS, WHY my doctor has upped my antacid prescription and most importantly – WHY my doctor is suggesting anti-anxiety medications.  The reason is the university I that I have learned to love – which I am so proud to be a part of – is experiencing changes that affect me emotionally, mentally and physically.  No one from the administration has reached out to me to ask “What can we do to support you during this time of transition?” No one has reached out to me to ask “May I come and give your students some reassurance that they are going to be okay?” No one has reached out to me to say “Your job is not at stake. If you agree to sign these documents we will make sure that your program thrives.” No one has reached out to me to say “Your diligent research, work and talent make you so valuable to our University. We hope you will sign these documents and stay on board.”

I do not find it necessary here to announce which title I have chosen. Just let me say when I was assured that I was doing well in my job, even knowing that Shorter contracts were one-year commitments, I, like many of my colleagues, bought a home in Floyd County. I established my family in this community. We have a church family we love and have close friends in dance programs, sports and local civic organizations. The thought of moving is completely overwhelming: pulling our children from their educational environment and neighborhood to another city or state, asking my spouse to seek another job in this economy, considering trying to sell our house – the home that my spouse and I prayed over, toiled for and have worked to make a haven for our family. To say I am devastated is an understatement. One thing is certain – this entire situation and these documents have made me question trust in authority, my need for religion, my faith in Christianity and my place in higher education. All of these questions are contrary to every assurance I had when I walked into the Chapel on October 24, 2011.