Sunday, November 20, 2011

Sign or Resign at Shorter University

If you're a faculty or student at a university, what happens if your personal beliefs conflict with a school's corporate agenda? And what do you do when your employer enforces the terms of their agenda?

Shorter University in Georgia is doing precisely that - all students and staff must now sign a Personal Lifestyle Statement, whose Principles of Personal Conduct might be offensive to some (see #3):
I agree to adhere to and support the following principles (on or off the campus): 
1. I will be loyal to the mission of Shorter University as a Christ-centered institution affiliated with the Georgia Baptist Convention. 
2. I will not engage in the use, sale, possession, or production of illegal drugs. 
3. I reject as acceptable all sexual activity not in agreement with the Bible, including, but not limited to, premarital sex, adultery, and homosexuality. 
4. I will not use alcoholic beverages in the presence of students, and I will abstain from serving, from using, and from advocating the use of alcoholic beverages in public (e.g. in locations that are open to use by the general public, including as some examples restaurants, concert venues, stadiums, and sports facilities) and in settings in which students are present or are likely to be present. I will not attend any University sponsored event in which I have consumed alcohol within the last six hours. Neither will I promote or encourage the use of alcohol.    

A Times Free Press article looks at the difficult decisions facing many faculty and students at Shorter, including collaborative pianist and vocal coach Ben Harris:
To Harris, DiPillo and others, the gay portion of the statement is the headline maker, but not the crux of a culture change they fear will diminish the school that has produced two Metropolitan Opera winners and an 85 percent student acceptance rate to medical schools. 
“For me, my conduct should show my faith. Now I have to come up with a phony document to insert Baptist doctrine into opera training and singing. We’re here to educate, not to have prayer at the beginning of each class,” Harris said. 
Harris is an instructor of collaborative piano and a vocal coach in Shorter’s School of Fine and Performing Arts. He assumes that because he has spoken out, he won’t get the option of signing the statement of faith when faculty contracts are extended in the spring.  
Harris said if his contract isn’t renewed, he and his wife and two small children will move to Texas to work on his father’s ranch.

The Shorter University situation is also a fascinating example of the conflict between a university's right to manage its affairs and the need of its academic community to assert intellectual independence.


  1. Anonymous5:21 PM

    If you look closely (it can be found, particularly, in the earlier press releases from the Rome News-Tribune), you'll find that students are not being required to sign anything. That doesn't make this situation right in the least -- what the new president and the board of trustees have done is quickly tearing the school apart from the inside (not to mention giving it bad publicity), but it is important to distinguish the requirement for faculty and staff to sign these documents, as opposed to making students sign them, which isn't being done YET. (It won't surprise me if that happens within just a few years.)

    As you can see from the article you referenced, most of those that work and study at Shorter (and alumni) are deeply distressed over this hijacking of what was once a very reputable liberal arts college with stellar programs in voice, piano, organ, music education and musical theatre. I am affliated with the school and am speaking as an insider. (For more evidence of the havoc the new administration is wreaking, just google "Rome News-Tribune," go to the opinion and comment section, and browse through the many Shorter-related editorials, columns, and letters to the editor from the past three weeks or so.)

  2. Thanks for the comment, and I respect your desire to post anonymously.

    For a listing of recent Rome News-Tribune articles on the subject, go to this page and type "Shorter" in the search box: