ATLANTA (BP)–The Administration Committee of the Georgia Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee has reacted with “surprise” and concern to action by Shorter College trustees that places the Georgia Baptist college’s assets and control under a new legal entity, the Shorter College Foundation. The Nov. 2, 2001 action [which came to light the week of Jan. 6] effectively eliminates any power vested in the Board of Trustees and turns that over to the new Foundation. Current trustees are being asked to serve as the core of the new self-perpetuating Board of Directors of the Foundation.
Convention officials raise concerns the college is trying to free itself from Convention ownership, control, and influence. College officials downplay the action as simply a legal response to accreditation concerns that in no way distances the college from Georgia Baptists. The primary issue is the election of trustees or directors, a process now controlled exclusively by the Convention and one in which the Board of Trustees wants more say.
Meeting Jan. 8 in Atlanta, the Administration Committee took immediate action to withdraw Cooperative Program funds going to Shorter College, including the Capital Improvements and Endowment Program. This amounts to a total of $1.3 million in the current 2002 Cooperative Program budget and over $8 million being held for Shorter in the CIEP.
Ed Schrader, president of Shorter College, met with the GBC Administration Committee in November to discuss the college’s concerns about an upcoming accreditation review about to get underway with SACS (Southern Association of Colleges and Schools). All accredited SACS schools must submit to a review every ten years.
Schrader indicated concerns had been raised in the past by SACS officials relative to the independence of the Board of Trustees and their ability to shield the college from undue external pressures. Schrader suggested that some compromises be adopted concerning the election of trustees that would give the Shorter College Board more input into the process. According to J. Robert White, executive director of the Georgia Baptist Convention, the Administration Committee was hearing those concerns for the first time and they were given the impression that there was plenty of time to deal with the issue after the first of the year.
Meanwhile, legal action taken by the Shorter trustees on Nov. 2 was not reported to the Administration Committee until its January meeting. The Administration Committee withdrew funds in order “to act in its fiduciary capacity to protect the Convention’s resources” until “the Convention can understand and clarify what this transaction means to the relationship between Shorter College and the Convention.”
“I am deeply saddened by the actions of the college,” said White, “When Shorter College trustees voted for this change, it raised legal and institutional issues relating to the relationship between Shorter and the GBC. The funds for Shorter College have been withdrawn because the Convention has an obligation to be certain that Capital Improvements and Endowment Program funds and Cooperative Program funds are used in keeping with the legal requirements of these programs.” Emphasizing that these events came as a complete surprise to him, White referred to this as a “period of discovery and disclosure.” “We have asked the College to make a full disclosure of exactly what has been done. We do not have that at this time.”
The accreditation issue raised by Shorter has been challenged by some GBC leaders in light of the fact that other Georgia Baptist schools with similar trustee relationships have passed their accreditation reviews. “I serve on the board of trustees of another Georgia Baptist school,” says Allen Hughes, a vice president of the Georgia Baptist Convention, “and last fall I met with the SACS committee completing our 10-year review. In that meeting I explained in detail the relationship between the GBC and the college, how the trustees are elected, and the manner in which trustees serve on behalf of the Convention for our schools. The system the GBC has used for all these years to elect trustees was never a point of difficulty for our review.”
Schrader states that “SACS visits are subjective” and particular visitors appointed to the various schools “emphasize different things.” He stated the issue was brought up by SACS reviewers ten years ago, and that Shorter officials anticipate the issue will be raised again. If so, the college will be forced to address it. “Several Baptist schools in other states have had to deal with this issue and we cannot afford any blemishes on our accreditation records.”
“Shorter College has no interest or intention of distancing ourselves from Georgia Baptists,” says Schrader. “We have a shared mission and love for each other. There is no animosity involved in this legal decision and divorce from the Convention is the furthest thing from our minds. Money is not the issue here. If the Georgia Baptist Convention ends up keeping the money, we still will keep the relationship.”
The Administration Committee has stated that the action “seemingly puts Shorter College in conflict with the constitution of the Georgia Baptist Convention which defines a Convention institution as one whose governing board is elected by the Convention.” That statement goes on to say, “We do believe that Georgia Baptists have been loyal friends to Shorter College and have always had its best interests at heart.”
It was reported to the Index shortly before press time that substantive meetings are taking place this week over this issue. President Schrader has stated that he is optimistic that the two parties will be able to resolve their differences. For the latest developments in this ongoing story, please check the Index website at christianindex.org