The visit was to reaffirm the school’s accreditation.
Joe Baskin was a religion professor at the school for 22 years before retiring in 1989, and he said he’s not pleased with the recent direction of the university.
“In my opinion, what’s happened at Shorter is neither in the best interest of education or the Kingdom of God,” said Baskin. “I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I think we need to bear witness to the truth as we see it, and that’s why I’m here.”
Nicholas Dipillo, a sophomore who was protesting with his mother, Teena, planned to graduate from Shorter but will transfer to the University of Tennessee next year. “I’ve been coming to Shorter to take piano since I was about 10,” he said. “It’s really, really sad.”
Anne Marie Kelly, a Shorter University junior, said it was her “Plan A” to transfer.
“It’s really frustrating and difficult,” Kelly said. “I’m a music major, a voice performance major, and a lot of the music department is going to Reinhardt University. I’m still scared because my teacher doesn’t have a job, and if my teacher doesn’t get a job somewhere else my choices are stay here with the teacher that I know or start from scratch with another teacher.”
Theresa Hoch said she and her husband decided it was time to move on after Shorter released its “lifestyle statement,” which requires, among other things, employees to find premarital sex and homosexuality “unacceptable.”
After six years of teaching music at Shorter and starting a family here, Hoch’s husband took another job, and the family has already closed on their new home.
“It’s been hard, especially for the kids,” she said. “We have a 5-year-old and a 3-year-old in addition to the baby, and they have to leave their school and their friends and their church and the people here who we consider our family. This is all they know as home.”
In a prepared statement Shorter University President Donald Dowless acknowledged the protest about the statement of faith but said, “However, such administrative policies have no bearing on academic accreditation. Referring to the policies in question, SACS President Belle Wheelan said, ‘They can do that. They’re a private college, and
it’s part of their mission. Other colleges are doing the same thing. Liberty (University in Virginia) has been doing that for a long time.’”
Charles and Lee Hight, both graduates of Shorter, are angered by the fact that they feel their concerns and problems with the faith-based statement are not being heard by the upper echelon of the university’s administration, including Dowless.
The two were former co-presidents of the alumni association and said meetings with Dowless and board chairman Joe Frank Harris Jr. did not go the way they’d expected.
“We had a three hour session with Dr. Dowless when he first got here, and we (himself and his wife, Lee) walked out of the office after the meeting and said, ‘Shorter’s in trouble,’” Charles Hight said. “We helped raise $4.5 million for the new library. And my first question to Joe Frank Harris was, ‘A lot of people have called us and said the only statement that they can make is that they’re not going to honor their pledge to the library because they don’t believe in what Dr. Dowless is doing.’”
Lee Hight was worried that the campus she loves so much is being turned into something she can no longer recognize.
“It saddens us greatly,” she said. “It’s unbelievable that for a school that’s been here for 138 years or more that it’s disappearing before our eyes. There are a lot of us that are alumni that have supported the school for a long time, and there are a lot of us who are no longer supporting it as it’s existing now in this environment.”
But the protesters say they are not going to give up.
“There’s going to be some change that comes in the future so long as we stand strong and have our voice be heard,” said Alan Davitte, an alumnus. “If we say oh well and give up and go away, they’ll just have their way. But as long as we keep our voice out there, there will be change at some point.”