In small towns like Rome, colleges and universities are economic drivers. Rome is blessed to have two such institutions – Berry College and Shorter University. The town and gown dynamic here is two-fold. Rome’s businesses depend on the institutions to bring new residents to the area in the form of faculty and administration. These residents in turn help to enrich the life of the community. They pay local taxes, they serve on advisory councils and boards, they offer educational opportunities for students who either do not want the residential experience or cannot afford it. They shop in your stores, they become your neighbors and friends.
Shorter, especially is also responsible for a large part of your cultural offerings. Many of you attend theatrical performances at the school or listen to divine concerts from the Shorter Chorale. Old Romans are proud of the fact that Shorter is known as the Conservatory of the South. That reputation has been earned through the hard work of faculty and students alike. Shorter’s students win national awards for their musical and theatrical talent. A large number have gone on to professional careers in the arts. And yes, many of them direct your church choirs, act as soloists or are your pianists and organists.
As of this writing, over 40 faculty and staff will be leaving Shorter this year. That means 40 families whose contributions to your economy will no longer be available. The Music and Theatre departments have been decimated. The majority of faculty are leaving and students have auditioned at other colleges and universities and will transfer in the fall.
Yes, students, too, are leaving the Hill. The economic impact of their loss will be felt throughout the county. Small businesses who relied on the business of Shorter students will find themselves in jeopardy. Perhaps the worst consequence of these departures is that all will leave with a bad taste about Shorter and Rome lingering in their mouths.
You will hear that nothing will change with the Fundamentalist take over of Shorter. You will have to decide whether or not that is true. Bessie Tift College in Forsyth came under GBC control and in 1987, was forced to close its doors. Brewton Parker College in Mt. Vernon, Georgia also is feeling the effect of the Fundamentalists. In 2011, in an effort to retain students, Brewton Parker cut its tuition by 22%. Enrollment had dropped from over 1,200 students to 778, all within a period of a few years. It is currently under warning (the final step before losing their accreditation) from SACS for a variety of violations of SACS principles of accreditation. Truett McConnell, in Cleveland, GA is a third Baptist school. It, too is a tier 2 school with only a $7,000,000 endowment to sustain it. We fear that the Fundamentalist grip of the GBC which now encompasses Shorter will lead the institution, like it did with Tift, Brewton Parker and Truett McConnell to academic irrelevancy.
We believe it would be wise for Shorter to follow the course of Mercer University and sever ties with the GBC. Mercer is thriving, its programming is growing and it is STILL INTENTIONALLY BAPTIST.
We thank you for visiting SaveOurShorter and we hope you take time to read the information on our pages. We ask for your help and your advocacy in protecting a school that we dearly love.
Shorter, the Georgia Baptists and the City of Rome,
In the South, formal education for women was slow in coming. It was not until 1836, when the Georgia Female College was established, that Southern women had the opportunity to advance beyond a rudimentary education. Colleges for women of the 19th century were primarily begun by religious groups, and in the South, most were begun by Protestants. Baptist education of females did not officially begin until 1830; however individual Baptists and churches ran most of the institutions. Such was the case with Shorter.
Begun as the Cherokee Baptist Female Seminary, the college was established by Rome Baptist Church (now First Baptist). Reports of the school’s progress were made to the Education Board of the Georgia Baptist Convention. Though the Baptists were known for starting schools, the Georgia Baptist Convention was known for not financially supporting those schools. Such was the case in Gainesville with Dr. W. C. Wilkes’ Georgia Female Seminary (soon to become Brenau College under the guidance of Dr. Azor W. Van Hoose), and with Dr. Luther Rice Gwaltney’s Cherokee Baptist Seminary. By 1877, the school was sold to Alfred Shorter and other townspeople. In his lifetime, Shorter donated close to $200,000 to the school.
In 1902, when the school was deemed successful, the GBC chose to re-affiliate itself with Shorter. A commission was set up by the GBC to interact with any Baptist school in Georgia and was “clothed with authority to negotiate for the ownership or control of said schools: provided, that in no wise shall they involve this Convention in any financial obligation.” The schools were managed under what was called the Mercer System.
In 1903 in view of Monroe College’s (later Bessie Tift) continued and urgent needs, Shorter waived her rights and claims to the field. Unfortunately for Shorter, efforts “to get into the field to raise money for enlargement [was] each time… hindered or preceded by the campaigns and claims of Mercer, Bessie Tift (Monroe) and the secondary schools.”
In 1910, Azor W. Van Hoose became president of Shorter. He realized that while the GBC vaunted Shorter as one of its Baptist colleges, they had never supported the college in any substantial way. From the Educational Report from the GBC Education Board of 1911: “This college [Shorter] was one of the first of our institutions to come under the control of the Convention and feels that it has never had proper consideration at our [the Convention’s] hands.”
The school was in dire need of expansion and Van Hoose talked with J. B. Bass who pledged $40,000 supported by the Manufacturers and Merchants Association, donated his home, Maplehurst and an adjoining 20 acres on which to build. Roman citizens raised $300,000 to buy another 125 acres. Mr. and Mrs. J. P. Cooper personally donated over $166,000 for additional buildings. The money was raised at a time when the total population of Rome was 20,000 citizens.
Tired of the GBC lack of commitment to the school, Van Hoose and the board of trustees disaffiliated Shorter from the GBC in 1914. While Shorter had been affiliated with the GBC, Van Hoose and the Board of Trustees were not allowed to raise money for the institution without the Convention’s approval. With the building drive, Van Hoose realized that there were men in Rome who could raise the money necessary to support the school. These men were able to raise substantial funding for Shorter, once the bond with the GBC had been broken. In short order, a well-funded endowment was established.
Shorter remained independent of the GBC until 1958. Shorter, up until this time, had remained a female college, as had Monroe College in Forsyth. The patriarchal Baptists however, considered women’s colleges as little more than finishing schools. When, in 1905, the president of Monroe approached the GBC for funding, it was Mrs. Henry Harding Tift who provided, with her husband’s approval, the $37,000 to save the school. The school was later renamed Bessie Tift College. Again, a single individual, not the GBC, saved a women’s college. Primary financial support by the GBC went to colleges where men could be trained for the ministry. Even though Tift had remained under the control of the GBC, neither college was receiving enough support to remain viable. Due to the financial distress of the institution, Dr. Randall Minor and the Board of Trustees decided to re-affiliate with the GBC and admit males as students. For that decision, Shorter received a total pledge of $950,000 from the GBC given in increments of approximately $70,000 for capital improvements.
In 1962, Shorter bought High Acres (house and 8 acres) for between $75-90,000. Again, Romans stepped up to help the school and the property was purchased with matching funds from the GBC. By 1967, Shorter again found the need for work to be done on the school. A fund drive was launched to raise $600,000 locally to be matched by the GBC for capital improvements. If the amounts here do not show the heritage the city of Rome has in Shorter, consider the contributions to the endowment fund, support for the fine arts and other areas of the school and support by the Roman alumni of Shorter. Bessie Tift College for Women, GBC owned and GBC controlled, closed its doors in 1987, a victim of under-funding and patriarchal rule. The GBC’s vaunted $26 million “investment” over 53 years amounts to something over $490,000 per year.
We would ask the citizens of Rome and its environs to join with us to preserve the integrity of a school which you founded and to which you have given much. It is because of your investment that Shorter has survived and she belongs as much to you as to the Georgia Baptist Convention. Won’t you join us?