NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Any move by Shorter College trustees to select their own successors is in violation of the Georgia Baptist Convention’s constitution, the convention’s executive director, J. Robert White, said after a June 18 meeting of the GBC administration committee.
“No one may be elected to serve as a member of a board of trustees of a Georgia Baptist institution without being elected by the Georgia Baptist Convention in its annual meeting,” White said in a convention news release issued June 19 addressing action taken by Shorter trustees May 31 to remove the GBC from electing its trustees.
The news release also noted that the election of trustees by the convention “is also in compliance with Shorter’s charter which states all ‘Trustees of Shorter College shall be elected by the Baptist Convention of the State of Georgia.'”
Efforts by Shorter’s trustees to become self-perpetuating were quietly launched last November when they placed the college’s assets and control under a new legal entity, the Shorter College Foundation. News of the Nov. 2 Shorter action did not become public until the week of Jan. 6.
The GBC administration committee responded in a Jan. 8 meeting by placing in escrow $1.3 million in Georgia Baptists’ Cooperative Program funds allocated for Shorter and more than $8 million from the convention’s Capital Improvements and Endowment Program.
Shorter’s trustees rescinded their action in a Jan. 16 meeting, but the funds have remained in escrow.
The GBC news release took note of the May 31 trustee meeting in Rome, Ga., by stating: “Shorter trustees passed a resolution reaffirming [the college’s] relationship with the Georgia Baptist Convention but later in another resolution set up actions that threaten the relationship with Georgia Baptists.”
Shorter College described its latest step, via a bylaw change, as requiring that new trustees be selected from “a final list” of recommended trustees named by the college’s Committee on Trustees.
As stated in a Shorter news release: “The Bylaws establish the qualifications of Shorter College Trustees and vest in the Shorter College Committee on Trustees authority to submit a final list, developed by a collaborative process with the GBC, of Trustee candidates to the GBC for final election. In order to be qualified and eligible to sit on the Board, Trustees must be elected from this list.”
“One motivating factor” stated by the college for the change in trustee election is a stipulation by its accrediting agency that the college develop “legal documentation to ensure the independence” of its board of trustees.
As stated in the Shorter news release, the stipulation “was contained in a report issued on March 24, 2002 by the Reaffirmation Committee of the College’s accrediting agency, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. The report required that Shorter develop legal documentation to ensure the independence of its Board of Trustees. The College must respond positively to the SACS report by July 21, 2002. These Bylaw changes provide the legal documentation necessary to effectively respond to the SACS accreditation criteria, thereby maintaining Shorter’s good standing as an accredited institution of higher education.”
The Georgia convention, in its news release, responded: “SACS criteria for accreditation does not address the issue regarding the selection of trustees. SACS is concerned that elected trustees be able to serve without undue pressure from an outside source. The Administration Committee believes that [the] Georgia Baptist Convention is in absolute compliance with this point from the SACS Book of Criteria.”
White stated, “The Georgia Baptist Convention has never acted in a way that would threaten any of our colleges’ ability to carry out its mission, infringe upon its academic integrity, or threaten its academic freedom. The convention has endeavored to select and elect excellent trustees, with input from the college, and then allow them to perform their responsibilities unhindered. We have repeatedly met with representatives from the Shorter trustees in order to come to a resolution of this issue.”
The current trustee selection process involves Shorter College and Georgia Baptists submitting names for nomination to the convention’s Committee on Nominations, the GBC news release recounted. The committee agrees on a final slate of names before they are presented at the GBC annual meeting each November.
“The committees and boards elected by the Convention have always operated as independent bodies,” the GBC news release stated. Shorter College’s trustees have been elected by the convention since 1959.
The convention, in its news release, stated, “We have had meetings with all parties involved, explaining the Convention’s Constitution. [Shorter President] Dr. [Ed] Schrader and the Board of Trustees at Shorter are not willing to work within the current framework. The Convention process does not interfere with the integrity of the college and is not in contradiction with SACS requirements.
“Nothing in the Shorter Trustee resolutions of May 31 spoke of separation from the Georgia Baptist Convention, however the trustees’ actions to operate outside of the long-standing procedures of the Convention and its Constitution indicate otherwise.”
Wayne Robertson, president of the Georgia Baptist Convention and a pastor in Valdosta, said in the news release, “The action taken by Shorter trustees saddens us because Shorter officials have shown by their actions an unwillingness to continue the process that has worked since 1959 in order to preserve their relationship with the Convention.
“We hope that we can come to some kind of understanding before the actions taken by Shorter officials make it impossible for us to maintain our longstanding relationship. It appears there is nothing we can do that will satisfy the current [Shorter] leadership. We cannot operate outside of our Convention’s Constitution.”
Schrader, in Shorter’s May 31 news release, stated that the trustees’ bylaw action, while it “assures that our good standing with SACS is maintained and that Shorter will continue to provide the best higher education experience within a Christian context by protecting [its] academic integrity, … also resolutely proclaims our desire to be a Georgia Baptist college. Nothing in this resolution speaks of separation from the Georgia Baptist Convention. This college has been Baptist since its founding in 1873 and will remain so, true to its strong heritage and unlimited potential.”