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Shorter College severs ties with GBC over trustee dispute

ROME, Ga. (BP)–After more than 40 years of partnering, Shorter College, a Baptist-affiliated school in Rome, Ga., is severing its ties with the Georgia Baptist Convention following a year-long dispute about the college’s trustee selection process.

Shorter’s Board of Trustees also voted Nov. 22 to pursue, “all the options necessary” to recover more than $9 million in school money frozen by the convention, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution Nov. 23.

The school’s executive committee had recommended a corporate reorganization of the college that would include taking control of the appointment process of the board of trustees. The proposal passed during the board’s meeting in Marietta, Ga., Nov. 23.

The convention hoped to maintain the process that has given its committee on nominations the sole prerogative to nominate all trustees who are then elected by the convention. The college wanted to be included in that process to the extent that all new trustees would be nominated from a list of multiple suggestions approved by trustees before being submitted to the committee on nominations. Shorter College had changed its bylaws accordingly, but the convention stated that those new bylaws were in conflict with the school’s charter.

While the various Georgia Baptist institutions and entities are able to suggest names for their boards of trustees, the committee on nominations is free to consider or even decline those suggestions. The one exception to that rule is in relation to Mercer University, which according to its charter has the right to recommend its own trustees. The GBC’s nominating committee is free to reject suggestions from Mercer, but they must go back and seek additional suggestions from the university rather than choosing anyone they wish. Basically, Shorter trustees want a system similar to what Mercer now has, according to a previous Baptist Press article.

Leaders of Shorter insist that control over electing their trustees is necessary to preserve the college’s accreditation and academic prestige. The college has been ranked by U.S. News & World Report as one of the South’s top liberal arts colleges, according to the Journal-Constitution.

Georgia Baptist Convention leaders maintain that only committed Baptists should serve as Baptist college trustees in an effort to rein in professors who attack fundamental Baptist doctrines such as biblical infallibility.

“Instead of our Baptist kids coming home from college stronger in their faith, they come home with their faith totally destroyed,” Frank Cox, pastor of North Metro Baptist Church in Lawrenceville, Ga., said in the Journal-Constitution about young adults attending schools with secular boards of trustees.

Shorter College, with about 2,100 students, may take legal action to recover the $9.6 million endowment in dispute between the school and the GBC, according to the Rome News-Tribune Nov. 23. Losing interest from the endowment could cost the school an estimated $500,000 per year.

“We are very saddened by the decision made by the board of trustees of Shorter College today,” J. Robert White, executive director of the GBC, said in a released statement Nov. 22. “The Georgia Baptist Convention has contributed more than $26 million to Shorter College over the last 43 years. It is the continuing desire of the convention to share the relationship that the Georgia Baptist Convention and Shorter College have enjoyed.”

At the state convention in Marietta, Ga., Nov. 11-12, messengers had referred a resolution of the dispute to the convention’s executive committee, which had scheduled a meeting Dec. 10 at the Baptist Center in Atlanta to discuss the issue.

The resolution passed by the Georgia Baptist Convention Nov. 12 states:

“With the ongoing disagreement between Shorter College and the Georgia Baptist Convention regarding the process for election of trustees for Shorter College and the difficulties created by Shorter’s unilateral action in amending its bylaws in an attempt to change this long-standing process, and with the understanding that the Convention has worked with Shorter College in a fair and impartial manner to elect well-qualified and committed Georgia Baptists to serve as trustees of Shorter College, the Administration Committee recommends to the Executive Committee that it encourage Shorter College and the Georgia Baptist Convention and its Committee on Nominations to continue to work together as has been done over the past 44 years. Further, that the Executive Committee encourages each to comply with both Shorter’s Charter and the Convention’s Constitution in the process of electing and seating trustees. All Georgia Baptists are called upon to pray God’s blessings upon Shorter and that God would bring about a resolution of the issues.”

In approving the 2003 Cooperative Program budget, messengers agreed to stipulations that those monies designated for Shorter College would be held in escrow through the Georgia Baptist Foundation until the conflict is resolved.

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