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Ga. convention has right to elect college’s trustees, judge rules

ROME, Ga. (BP)–A Georgia judge ruled April 23 that Shorter College’s board of trustees must still be elected by the Georgia Baptist Convention.

However, the judge, Daniel M. Coursey Jr. of the DeKalb County Superior Court, also ruled that the college can proceed with plans to transfer its assets, estimated at $50 million, to a newly formed foundation.

The Georgia convention, in a statement issued after Coursey’s ruling, responded to the decision by saying:

“We are gratified that the court ruled that the Georgia Baptist Convention is a member of Shorter College and that Shorter’s May 31, 2002 bylaw amendment restricting the right of the convention to elect trustees was void.

“Shorter has been wrong in its refusal to recognize the convention’s duly elected trustees. The convention believes it would be a mistake for Shorter to continue with its dissolution in that it is not in the best interest of the college, its students or its financial viability.”

The next stop in the dispute likely will be the Georgia Supreme Court, the judge had acknowledged in an earlier hearing.

The college, with 2,100 students, is located in Rome, Ga., and has been affiliated with the Georgia convention since 1959.

The Georgia convention, in a news release last December, recounted that in 1959 — “at the college’s request” — the convention “assumed ownership of the school to help it avoid financial ruin. Since taking ownership, the GBC has invested nearly $26 million in Shorter, and the school has thrived, having recently been ranked by US News & World Report as one of the South’s top 20 comprehensive liberal arts colleges.”

Trustees, however, voted last November to sever their ties with the convention following a year-long dispute over the trustee selection process. College officials cited a March 2002 Southern Association of Colleges and Schools report claiming that “undue pressure is being placed on the Board of Trustees by an outside agency, namely the Georgia Baptist Convention” and recommended a change in how trustees are elected to the board.

The trustees also voted to pursue “all the options necessary” to recover more than $9 million in school money that had been frozen by the convention. The college subsequently filed suit for the $9 million, prompting a countersuit by the convention which was been joined by several Shorter trustees. The Georgia convention, in its news release last December, said the countersuit seeks to prevent “a scheme and conspiracy by Shorter’s president and members of its board of trustees to illegally convert, take over and steal Shorter from the GBC.”

Under the college’s plan, new trustees would be elected by the convention but only from a list of multiple suggestions approved by trustees before being submitted to the convention.

Shorter’s president, Ed Schrader, quoted by the Rome News-Tribune as saying, “We won the case,” noted that “the judge saw we had the right to reincorporate the college.”

However, attorney Richard Robbins representing several trustees opposing the college’s bid for self-selection of trustees, told the newspaper, “This thing is far from over.

“We intend for the properly constituted board to reconsider this dissolution plan,” Robbins said. He also noted, “The court curiously agreed with us three quarters of the way” about the convention’s right to elect Shorter’s trustees, and “then switched gears” by approving the transfer of assets to the college’s new foundation.

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