The following was written by Dr. Robert Wallace, former professor of religion at Shorter University. His departure marked the beginning of a systematic replacement of the majority of professors in the Department of Religion.
A lot of people have asked me what happened. I will do my best to relay the story as I know it for the people who care about it.
On October 19, 2009, I was summoned to the Provost’s office. Dr. Shull told me that Dr. Newman had come to him October 16 and informed him that I would need to be out of the Religion department as of the fall semester for being too “liberal.”
Nothing I had said or done was mentioned. In fact, as of this writing, no one can point to anything I had said or done which was too “liberal.” No one has come to me to investigate my beliefs on any matter. No one has said the Statement of Faith, which I submitted to the administration had a problem.
There was speculation that a number of ultra-conservative pastors in Rome were making noise before the board meeting (scheduled for the following Friday).
On October 26, 2009, I had a meeting with the President of Shorter. The focus of the meeting was for him to express his sorrow that he felt he had to do this. He emphasized that he felt moving me to an administrative role was protecting me from a worse fate and that administration is a great place to work.
He tried to make teaching seem like a lesser choice. I made it clear that might be the way he is wired, but my calling is the classroom. I also stated that this was a loss for me. I lost something. To take away the classroom was to take away the only remaining nurturing part of my job. It left me only administrative responsibilities supporting a college that has said it doesn’t want me teaching students.
Dr. Newman emphasized that the pressure was coming from outside the institution. He said that this had been mentioned several months ago, and then more recently. He also said that it has been reported to him as “student driven.”
To date, no student issues have been brought to me. As one student put it, if I had been accused of sexual harassment of students or embezzlement of funds, the college would have investigated the charges and I would have had a chance to answer them. But if you accuse someone of being a “liberal,” that is enough to get them out without an investigation.
What is the truth? Well, politics and Baptist life aren’t new to anyone who has spent much time in church. If my story follows the typical pattern, this has all been orchestrated by someone wanting to boost their “Crusader for Old Time Baptist Values” credibility. My degree from Baylor University (inexplicably a “liberal” school for Georgia Baptists) make me low hanging fruit for people of that political bent.
I know it’s not fair. I know it’s not Christian. And I know it’s not New Testament Christianity unless we are counting the faith of the Pharisees. But I also know that fallen humanity is a reality, and I know people will hurt others for personal gain in this world. So, in the end, I am certainly not surprised.
It is true that I was allowed to stay in administration this year. However, the president’s contract is up in the summer of 2012. The provost is also nearing retirement, and a new president would have no obligation to honor the agreements of the past. College administrators are not given contracts and are basically “at-will” employees. In other words, I had no guarantee of a job in the future. Assurances of continued employment rank up there with Neville Chamberlain assuring “peace in our time.”
But if not Shorter, where? Getting a teaching job in biblical studies, even with a PhD, is extremely difficult. A study done by the Chronicle of Higher Education a few years ago showed that there were 90-100 qualified applications for every open position, and there aren’t that many open positions (as I write this, there are 2 in the entire country—and one in Germany). If you can’t handle rejection, you need to be in another business. My file of ding letters has gotten pretty large over the years. You don’t get a job in this calling unless the hand of God moves. Thankfully, the hand of God does move and has moved for me.
As of February 8, I have officially accepted a position at Judson University in Elgin, Illinois to be their Assistant Professor of Old Testament. Judson U is an evangelical Christian college and a member of CCCU in the American Baptist tradition.
Cindy and I worried about the future. We worried I might need to consider going back into the pastorate? Maybe I should get certified to teach high school Math? But, as is so often the case, God has provided more than we could have dreamed. This job isn’t as close to Cindy’s family as we would have liked, but it is closer to my family than I have been in 20 years.
One of the things that makes me most pleased is that in the Judson area, Cindy will be able to live out her calling without others looking at her with suspicion or disdain. I am proud of the ministry she does, and she will be able to breathe in her calling to hospital chaplaincy.
At the end of the day, I must confess it gives me a little pride to be in the same group of people who lost teaching jobs for teaching such liberal ideas as “free interpretation of Scripture” and the “autonomy of the local church.”
My thanks to those of you who have said such kind things and whose love is manifest in the anger you have felt over this incident.
Thank you for your letter! Shorter and the whole community of Rome suffer as a result of your leaving. Your family has been an inspiration to us.
Thank you for writing your letter!
As a parent of a vocal performance student who will transfer
to another school this Fall, I want to wish you and your family well. It’s a shame what is happening at Shorter. I will pray for an easy and fulfilling move for you and your family!
As word of update (I wrote this two years ago), my new place is truly a blessing. My prayer for years was “God, send me some place I belong.” God answered that prayer in abundance.
As one correction, let me not take credit for being the beginning of the transition in the Religion department at Shorter. That began in 2005 when Robert Shippey was moved to development, Steve Sheeley was made Registrar, and Rob Nash was set to become Dean of International Studies. David Fillingim was moved to Psychology & Sociology (strange place for an ethicist). God was gracious to all of us, as we have all found good places.
In truth, I was the end of an era, not the beginning.
My two years at the college…2006-2008 were busy. I took your class in the summer and I thought you were one of the finest faculty at Shorter. I thought–you just like many–could see that the conservative change was on the way. I was going to teach last fall online and for professional studies…at the last minute I changed my mind….because I felt the black cloud would have made the experience heartbreaking. After hearing all of the stories–I am ashamed that I have a degree from Shorter—but then I think…the faculty I had were LIBERAL and I received a quality education and then I know that my degree meant something. Thank you for inspiring me in the summer of 2007– and I wish you well for your career. Selena Parrish 2008