A Georgia college president weighs in on Shorter controversy: Believers v. non believers

Oglethorpe University president Lawrence M. Schall sent me a link to his recent Huffington Post blog on the Shorter University controversy; the Baptist college is requiring its faculty to sign Personal Lifestyle statements forbidding premarital sex, adultery and homosexual sex. The pledge is reportedly causing upset faculty to leave the school.

The Personal Statement also requires that employees be active members of a local church. And the employees must agree to not drink in public places where students may see them, including restaurants, concerts and sports events. Nor can they attend a Shorter function if they consumed alcohol six hours prior to the event.

Here is an excerpt from Dr. Schall’s blog response to the pledge but try to read the full piece, which has interesting comments:

As an outsider, this is a tough one. I would never sign such a statement nor do I believe anyone should be asked to renounce homosexuality. In my book, homosexuality is no more a choice than one’s gender. Regarding the other two “sins,” it’s certainly easier to renounce them, although from the national data I’ve seen, not so easy for us to avoid those particular activities. That’s a subject for another blog, I suppose.

From what I have heard and read, the Lifestyle Statement has not gone over so well among the already very Christian staff and faculty at Shorter. It’s hard to know how many people have resigned or are planning to, but from the reports, it looks like many dozens if not more. Interestingly, no student has been asked to sign such a pledge. That peculiarity aside, whose issue is this, really?

I believe such pledges are legal at a private institution. I am assuming Shorter does not accept federal aid as that would change the entire equation, or at least ought to. But if they are just another private club (like Augusta National Golf Club, which still amazingly excludes women from membership), then who is to tell them what they can or cannot do? I would certainly hope their constituents would, and maybe that is what is happening now as faculty and staff choose to walk away from an institution they love. Time will tell what students will do come fall. I am trying to figure out why students would not have been asked to sign on as well. Is Shorter planning on banning gay faculty, but welcoming gay students? That doesn’t seem possible.

Where do I come out on this? Shorter is “a Christ-centered college.” There is no mistaking its religious mission. Assuming the Trustees at Shorter support the pledge (and we have to assume they do), then I suppose they can decide to do what they want to do and interpret Christianity in any way they choose. From the outside, it feels like the wrong approach to take, but I suspect the leadership at Shorter doesn’t care that I feel this way. I would hope, though, that they cared about what their current faculty, staff and students feel. It doesn’t appear that’s the case. My sense is that they just plan to hire folks who are willing to sign the pledge and allow the non-believers to go elsewhere. What they plan to do about students — retaining, recruiting, and disciplining — is a question we’ll have to wait to have answered. The Shorter community looks like it is being divided into believers versus “non-believers.” In the end, for me, it’s a really unfortunate story.

–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

69 comments Add your comment

Shar

May 25th, 2012
5:31 am

Dr. Schall is absolutely correct. As long as Shorter is not taking taking federal tax money, it can discriminate in any way the Trustees think is best for the college.

The market will make the decision as to whether they are right. The “Christ-centered college” identification is reflected in the curriculum, the faculty and the students, and if that definition drives out other voices it will directly affect the breadth and quality of the education there. Students and their parents will have to decide whether they want to pay for a broader education or for the more restricted one that Shorter offers, and teachers will need to choose to teach where they have more personal and curricular options or where they feel most comfortable spiritually. Those decisions will drive the value of a Shorter degree.

This is a private school, not using pubic money. They can do as they and their stakeholders please.

Long time educator

May 25th, 2012
5:45 am

The faculty is being asked to sign a pledge because they are the role models for the students. Parents who seek out a Christian college environment will appreciate that the faculty, at least, is supporting and not undermining the values they have taught their young men and women at home. Whether homosexuality is a choice or not, Christians believe celibacy is the only moral choice. They also believe it is the only choice for all unmarried Christians; sex is only blessed in a marriage, which is between a man and a woman. There are still Christians who try to live out the moral principles taught in the Bible and Shorter, apparently, has decided to be a refuge for those folks against the whirlwind of moral degeneracy becoming more and more accepted in the media and society in general. If you don’t agree with the moral principles they stand for, don’t teach or study there. If many of the faculty are leaving, it is proof that at present they do not have enough faculty members who support the moral principles upon which the college is founded. Someone else will be happy to work in such a supportive environment, if they, too, want to nurture students to live up to the best Christian values.

DeborahinAthens

May 25th, 2012
6:43 am

And I thought Bob Jones University was Inquisition Central. But, quite right, if they are a private institution, what’s the issue? I would hope that freedom loving people that would be looking for a well rounded education would go elsewhere. I have never known anyone from Shorter University, but everyone I have ever met that attended Bob Jones is seriously stunted. Imagine what you would know if you were trained by the Taliban…got the picture? You would NOT want your physician to be an alum of this type of backward school.

ChuckinConyers

May 25th, 2012
7:19 am

Taliban training is the equivalent to a degree at a college that teaches Christian beliefs? Who’s stunted? Just wow.

bootney farnsworth

May 25th, 2012
7:19 am

Shorter can do (pretty much) as they wish in this matter. they are exercising their right to make themselves look foolish in the public arena.

I would not sign such a pledge. what I do after hours -provided I don’t overindulge- is my
business.

what happens when Shorter decides all faulty must be baptist?

Shortermom82

May 25th, 2012
7:24 am

For more information go to http://www.saveourshorter.com The lifestyle pledge is NOT the only issue at Shorter!

bootney farnsworth

May 25th, 2012
7:25 am

@ long time

lets not confuse Christian beliefs with Baptist beliefs. currently much of the religious world in this nation is debating/discussing the issue of homosexuality.

the Methodists, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, and Jews (among others) tend to see things a bit differently.

Progressive Humanist

May 25th, 2012
7:28 am

“Christ-centered college” = faux college, not a real institution of higher learning

Russ

May 25th, 2012
7:29 am

Shorter has the ability to “filter” it’s staff. No question. However, If they keep living in the archaic teachings of the past sooner rather than later no one will habit that campus. Intolerance was not the teachings of Christ. Loving EVERYONE seems to be the paramount lesson of the Christian religion. I say, let them wallow in their intolerance. Maybe they will eventually go away. Then we can live our lives in harmony and accept our fellow man/woman for the beautiful creation they are.

bootney farnsworth

May 25th, 2012
7:37 am

Progressive Humanist

May 25th, 2012
7:39 am

Long time educator- I would venture to say that any individual with a PhD who sought to work in the “supportive environment” at Shorter that you describe likely does not have a legitimate doctorate. Shorter’s policy contradicts academic scholarship. If, for instance, either the “university” administration or the candidate for professor think that homosexuality is a choice and a sin, their education is lacking and their scholarship is not on the level necessary for a credible university. I’m sorry, but in academia subjective belief falls much lower on the totem pole than objective knowledge. Once an institution or professor begins to hold subjective belief above objective knowledge they cease to be legitimate participants in higher learning.

Cal

May 25th, 2012
7:39 am

The personal lifestyle statement and the focus on homosexuality are receiving most of the attention, but they are hardly the only concern behind the agenda of the new Shorter administration. What’s even more troubling is that they are injecting themselves into the classroom and dictating what can and cannot be covered. They have rejected pieces of music that can be performed on the basis that they allude to alcohol use. They also censor theater productions and, God forbid, dancing of any sort in a musical number is simply unacceptable. But most importantly, they’re requiring the sciences to teach creationism and intelligent design. The implication of such a requirement is devastating to all of the hard science disciplines. Students coming out of such a program will simply not have the tools to compete outside the walls of the blissful myopia being thrust on a once proud institution.

And for the troll calling themself “Long time educator”, most of the people leaving actually practice everything contained in the personal lifestyle statement. They’re just not going to condemn other people for their lifestyle choices. If you know a gay person, are you willing to turn them away and/or judge them? What if it’s your child? If you know someone who drinks wine with dinner, will you judge them and push them out of your life? These people are actually acting on higher moral principles than the indoctrinating scum now running the place. And the argument about if you don’t agree, don’t teach there is brilliant. Some people have spent over 40 years there while it was a loving Christian environment. Now that the Baptist Taliban has taken over, they’re supposed to just “not teach there”. You’re simply brilliant with that assessment (sarcasm intended).

bootney farnsworth

May 25th, 2012
7:40 am

Proverbs 17:17

A friend loves at all times, And a brother is born for adversity.

bootney farnsworth

May 25th, 2012
7:43 am

is there any college in Ga with its head on straight anymore?

teacher&mom

May 25th, 2012
7:54 am

Shorter does have the right to screen faculty.

However….

The actions of the SBC and colleges like Shorter is one reason my family is in the process of seeking a church that does not belong to the convention.

I use to believe the convention had left behind their past roots that promoted segregation and legalism.

I’ve come to realize I was naive. My tithe will no longer make its way to SBC.

I applaud the faculty at Shorter that are taking a stand and moving on.

Fred ™

May 25th, 2012
7:55 am

I can see the future……….. I can see that you Maureen will write something about the possible closing of Fernbank. Since I won’t be here today I’ll comment early.

What a damn shame. I wonder how many useless drones they would have to release in ADMIN school system wide to make up the the money they need to keep Fernbank open?

Progressive Humanist

May 25th, 2012
7:57 am

If Shorter is actually forcing faculty to teach creationism and intelligent design in science classes, as Cal suggests, then it is a seminary and not a college. Once myths become part of the curriculum (outside of comparative literature or religious studies), then the institution is a place of indoctrination, not education. If they’re purporting to train students for anything other than the ministry, then they are misrepresenting their mission and their ability to provide a legitimate education to students. Creationism and intelligent design infringe upon students’ ability to learn all sciences, not just the hard sciences, and I would argue it limits their ability to develop critical thinking skills. As a number of recent studies have shown, religious belief is antithetical to analytic thought processes.

teacher&mom

May 25th, 2012
8:03 am

@Bootney…now don’t go bringing up those “pesky” bible verses that point us in the right direction.

You know the ones that tell us to love and show mercy…or the ones that charge us with caring for the poor, the fatherless, or the foreigner. ;)

It so much easier to just ignore those verses as we trample over them on our way to church to listen to the latest sermon on how the “One Nation Under God Church of America Religion” is being attacked.

Buzz144

May 25th, 2012
8:04 am

It is nice to see there are still institutions resisting the political correctness which is religion at the AJC.

GwinnettParentz

May 25th, 2012
8:04 am

A world long since numbed by often bizarre political correctness can probably come to accept Shorter’s different values. Pointedly, non-believers are free to go elsewhere for their education.

And unlike with political correctness—taxpayers aren’t coerced into funding it. What a concept, eh?

Frankie

May 25th, 2012
8:04 am

I personally do not think they are going downt th right path. If you asked me upon my accepting employement there to submit a letter from my church basically saying I am a active member in good standing, no problem there.
But do not ask me to change my life outside of your school my life is just that MINE….as long as I do not involve any of the Shorter students what i do on my time is my business…

But if you have already hired me and then some time later you come back and say that i have to sign some pledge or agreement well, as soon as i sign it iwill be looking for another job at a school that respects me as a person….

Road Scholar

May 25th, 2012
8:17 am

I wonder if Shorter has a basketball team or other intercollegiate sports? Under these contracts, who would play or be allowed to play them?

Maureen Downey

May 25th, 2012
8:25 am

@Fred, You, indeed, foresaw the future.
Maureen

Buckhead Boss

May 25th, 2012
8:36 am

In my position, Ione of my responsibilities as a manager of people, is to screen resumes of candidates for jobs in our business. I always try to look at the totality of the candidate’s experiences as well as the way he/she presents them on paper. I must say that, going forward, I’ll be a lot more skeptical when I see a Shorter education on a kid’s resume. Critical thinking is a key element in all our jobs. I fear that might well be missing in such a candidate’s skill set.

In addition, our staff is very diverse and includes quite a few gay folks. I don’t want anybody on our team who is pre-programmed to have difficulty accepting them.

redweather

May 25th, 2012
8:41 am

I taught at Shorter College once upon a time but stopped doing that when it instituted the first version of this pledge which only dealt with belief in Christ as savior. (Can’t remember the exact wording of the pledge.)

Maybe public colleges need to get into the pledge act and require faculty to pledge to be open minded.

Lee

May 25th, 2012
8:43 am

It warms my heart to hear all you folks say that Shorter is a PRIVATE institution and as a result, has the RIGHT to set policy as they see fit. This is absolutely true.

I just have to wonder how long your newfound freedom loving ways would linger if Shorter’s policy state they would only hire “white christians”? I’m guessing ya’ll would climb back on board the politically correct bandwagon faster than race pimp Al Sharpton can cry racism.

As to whether this is a good business decision for Shorter, only time will tell. The free market is much like fire – it can be of great benefit and can also destroy.

Veteran Observer

May 25th, 2012
9:03 am

Road Scholar, there are many schools that have different religious views than secular schools! They don’t seem to have any problem scheduling games! I am not a Baptist, we are Jews,but I strongly support their right to worship and teach their views! It is in the Constitution for God’s sake! By the way, there is no mention of alcoholism, adultery, or homosexual relationships in the same document unless you refer to the line in the Preamble about the pursuit of happiness. No one is forced to go to school or teach there. In fact, my son ruled them out just the other day because it is too religious for him despite their interest in him in football and basketball.

Pluto

May 25th, 2012
9:08 am

It warms the heart to see the writings of those of the tolerant liberal progressive persuasion demonstrate their unabashed judgement on those with beliefs different from their own. All the while hiding behind such altruistic human charactristics as open mindedness and then grab a quote from scripture usually out of context to emphasize their point. If you don’t believe the Gospel then go on down the road. Why is it that the name of Jesus evokes such raw emotion all over the human spectrum?

Appalled Roman

May 25th, 2012
9:08 am

It now appears Shorter’s provost is stepping down precipitously (next week?):
http://www.hometownheadlines.com/

I wonder what that’s about. Don’t provosts normally announce their retirements months in advance?

Sparky

May 25th, 2012
9:26 am

Pluto,

Fortunately the words in a Bronze Age text mean less and less to people. There’s very little “emotion” involved in people questioning the actions of a 3rd rate college. We just feel bad for the students.

Jack

May 25th, 2012
9:33 am

Shorter sure sounds like a seminary to me. And if a faculty member signs the pledge, they need a job worse than I do.

AlreadySheared

May 25th, 2012
9:34 am

@Progressive Humanist:

“Once an institution or professor begins to hold subjective belief above objective knowledge they cease to be legitimate participants in higher learning.”

What a wonderful rationalization of politically correct intolerance. So ANY professor of physics or math or economics who disagreed with you on, say, the morality of homosexuality would be disqualified from teaching in their area of expertise. Brilliant.

“I know that there are people out there who do not love and tolerate their fellow man, and personally I HATE people like that.”

Tom Lehrer was making a joke when he said that. You, on the other hand….

Pluto

May 25th, 2012
9:37 am

@ Sparky … “Fortunately the words in a Bronze Age text mean less and less to people.” How is that working for you/us? Perhaps if people adopted just one of the messages from the old and obviously outdated text, we would be in a better state in our society. Take finances for instance; what does scripture say about that? However, it is quite magnanimous of you to empathize with the students. I didn’t know they were in such agony.

AlreadySheared

May 25th, 2012
9:53 am

That goes double for you, “Buckhead Boss” – blackball those SOBs – that’ll teach’em to attend an institution you dislike.

Apparently, “diversity” is only meaningful with respect to some characteristics.

John

May 25th, 2012
9:58 am

What is happening at Shorter is indceed sad. Virtually the entire music faculty at its highly acclaimed music program–its graduates frequently have gone on to graduate degrees and performances at top opera programs–has resigned and most of the music majors have transferred. The science program has been decimated by resignations–and this is a college that has had one of the highest acceptance rates in medical schools of any college in Georgia. First Baptist Church of Rome, the church that started Shorter College, is no longer allowed by Shorter University to have any of its members serve on the Shorter Board of Trustees because First Baptist Church has ordained women as dwacons and ministers and has left the Georgia Baptist Convention and Southern Baptist Convention. There are very good faculty members left but most of those are there because they are at so close to retirement that they have no other alternative. And, to answer a question raised, Shorter University has one of the largest athletic programs of any university in the state with 23 different mens and womens sports, including football, basketball, baseball, and national championship women’s softball and women’s and men’s track programs. Valdosta State and West Georgia are among the colleges who will be in the same conference with Shorter starting in the fall.

Progressive Humanist

May 25th, 2012
9:58 am

Already Sheared- I don’t think you understand scholarship and academia. I hope you are not involved in education.

AlreadySheared

May 25th, 2012
10:31 am

@ “Progressive”

1) I understand all too well.

2) Right back atcha.

I love teaching. I hate what it is becoming...

May 25th, 2012
10:38 am

@Long Time Educator “Whether homosexuality is a choice or not, Christians believe celibacy is the only moral choice. ”

As others have pointed out, not all Christians believe this. Oh, I know, they aren’t “real” Christians so they don’t count. I will leave that decision up to God when we meet.

[...] Get Schooled. [...]

Prof

May 25th, 2012
10:44 am

I hope that folks read the link provided by Shortermom82 at 7:24 am, for it’s a resignation letter from Richard Pirkle, an Assistant Professor of Biology at Shorter, making the point that this so-called “purity pledge” is only a cover for an issue of more general interest. He also notes that he himself is a Pentecostal Christian who had hoped to teach at Shorter for all of his career. He writes:

“I am disappointed with being forced to teach Creationism or Intelligent Design (both of which are philosophical and religious beliefs) in addition to being forced to teach evolution as “just a theory” (which ignores the scientific definition of “theory” as a widely accepted and highly supported way of looking at multiple fields and levels of scientific evidence).”

I respect this professor’s stand for academic freedom to teach his subject as his discipline provides.

Archie

May 25th, 2012
10:49 am

At the risk of sounding like the prophet of doom, this pledge is probably only the beginning. Future editions of the faculty pledge may include the following: (1.) Complain that Billy Graham is too liberal; (2.) Rip the underwear section out of your J.C. Penney’s catalog so your kids will not be exposed to hard-core pornography; (3.) Consider a wedding between a Methodist and a Presbyterian a “mixed marriage; (4.) Pray for peace, after which you pray that we bomb Iran into the Stone Age; (5.) Insist that the King James Version of the Bible was handed down on Mount Sinai in English; Okay Bumper Sticker: “Hit me, I’m going to Heaven anyway!”

AlreadySheared

May 25th, 2012
11:06 am

@Prof

“I respect this professor’s stand for academic freedom to teach his subject as his discipline provides.”

Me too – to do otherwise would be a disservice to his students.

Prof

May 25th, 2012
11:23 am

I should add that Richard Pirkle also states that Shorter University has been taken over by fundamentalists, which could account for the faculty from other fields such as music leaving. Again, this is from a self-professed Pentecostal Christian whose faith, I believe, already prohibits its members from any of the actions forbidden by the President.

catlady

May 25th, 2012
11:45 am

Archie, I would guess Shorter holds that a marriage between a Methodist and a Presbyterian is a marriage of infidels. LOL

Don’t students from Shorter get federal financial aid?

I remember when I took my job here in the mountains and the superintendent made it clear that, along with the loyalty oath, I need to know that AT ALL TIMES I was a representative of the school system and had best better not go to the grocery in shorts or hair curlers! It was 1973 and he was wearing a bow tie and crew cut. However, I governed my conduct accordingly.

Refugee from the "Sahara of the Bozart" (Thank God and H.L. Mencken We Escaped)

May 25th, 2012
12:18 pm

Religion is pretty much the opposite of education. Faith vs. Knowledge.
What Shorter should do to ascertain the “purity” of their staff is to utilize a device testing “deviates” (this is being done in other places) by having the staff view gay images and measuring their biological responses to such images. I want very much to see the test results for Shorter Pres. Dowless AND the instigator of this new Inquisition, Chairman of the Trustees at that time the Rev. Nelson (”Miss Nellie”)Price.

H.L. Mencken would really love this religious freak show.

Progressive Humanist

May 25th, 2012
12:43 pm

Already Sheared- You should have stated that you THINK you understand scholarship and academia all too well. But your metacognition in the area seems to be a little lacking. Just because you think you understand it doesn’t mean you do.

You seem to think that all beliefs (opinions) are of equal value. They’re not. Some opinions are discriminatory and some are just plain incorrect. The idea that homosexuality is a sinful choice is both.

As far as my political correctness and tolerance, I never suggested I adhere to political correctness, although you conservatives sure like to throw that word around a lot. And I’ve never pretended to be tolerant of ignorance. I’m not. If I was politically correct and tolerant of ignorance I’d say that people’s adherence to the Christian and Islamic faiths was a reflection of a noble and moral belief system. It’s not; it’s a reflection of ignorance and archaic thought processes built upon repugnant and immoral myths. I’m not a cultural relativist and I don’t pretend to be tolerant of such idiocy.

As for being involved in education, I’m involved at a higher level than you’ll likely ever be. And one reason you’ll never get there is your inability to discern subjective beliefs built on fiction from objective knowledge built on scholarship. Shorter apparently has the same shortcoming, which is why they are no longer involved in education.

Progressive Humanist

May 25th, 2012
12:44 pm

Refugee- Agreed.

Ronin

May 25th, 2012
12:47 pm

Say what??? is this 1612 or 2012? For the faculty an staff that do sign the document, but are caught violating the terms of the written code, they’ll probably be burned as witches….

Progressive Humanist

May 25th, 2012
12:51 pm

@10:44- Pirkle had it right here:

“I am disappointed with being forced to teach Creationism or Intelligent Design (both of which are philosophical and religious beliefs) in addition to being forced to teach evolution as “just a theory” (which ignores the scientific definition of “theory” as a widely accepted and highly supported way of looking at multiple fields and levels of scientific evidence).”

This illustrates the central misconception that Americans have about science and the origins of life. Shorter is losing its last shred of credibility when it loses the professors who can offer students a glimpse of objective academic thought outside the bubble of indoctrination they are enveloped in.

Progressive Humanist

May 25th, 2012
1:02 pm

Already Sheared @ 9:53-

Accepting “diversity” does not encompass embracing people’s desire to discriminate against others. Conservatives are all for religious freedom, except that religious freedom in their minds means being free to project their moral views upon others, whether they be women, gays, or people of other or no religious faiths. If the government prevents these conservatives from inflicting their religious beliefs and biases on others, then somehow they think their freedom of religion is being restricted.

Shorter, as a private “university”, is within its rights to dictate their own hiring criteria, but so is Buckhead Boss, and if his or her criteria entails hiring someone who went to a credible institution and who is more likely to function well in a team environment because they weren’t “educated” in a glorified seminary, then that’s just fine too.