A gay librarian has become a reluctant symbol for opponents of Shorter University’s new “personal lifestyle statement” that must be signed by faculty and staff who want to remain at the Baptist-affiliated school in Rome, Ga.
A Save Our Shorter website lists 56 names of faculty and staff members who are departing over the statement adopted by trustees last fall and backed by Shorter’s new president.
Two thirds of faculty said in a recent poll they plan to leave either by year’s end or as soon as they find another job. Michael Wilson, off-campus librarian for professional studies since 1998, wasn’t one of them.
Wilson signed his contract but crossed out a sentence that read: “I reject as acceptable all sexual activity not in agreement with the Bible, including, but not limited to, premarital sex, adultery, and homosexuality.”
Wilson told the Rome News-Tribune that nobody asked him about his lifestyle when he was hired 14 years ago, but school officials probably knew he was gay when he was given tenure in 2006. That was just after the Georgia Baptist Convention won a long legal battle giving the convention complete control over trustee selection of the private Christian university founded in 1873.
New trustees set out to strengthen the school’s Southern Baptist identity, first by moving professors perceived as too liberal out of the religion department into non-teaching roles and then by electing Don Dowless, a vice president at North Greenville University, as Shorter’s 19th president effective June 1, 2011.
So far Wilson is still employed, but Dowless has said that staff members who do not sign the statement of faith will not be allowed to keep their jobs.
When Wilson returned his contract, he wrote a letter to Dowless explaining why he crossed out a portion of the lifestyle statement.
“I believe, for reasons that should be obvious, that the provisions therein constitute a grave violation of the principles of academic freedom and tenure, core values in academe that were formerly embraced by the university’s administration,” Wilson said in portions of his letter quoted by the Rome News-Tribune.
“I am aware of your intent to dismiss anyone, regardless of tenure status, who may express any disagreement with these provisions,” Wilson wrote. “Nevertheless, I would like to appeal to you, as a fellow academic, to reverse this significant departure from academic norms by creating an atmosphere in which faculty may teach, and students may learn, without these ideological restrictions.”
Most of the departing faculty and staff have tenures shorter than Wilson’s, and several have been at Shorter fewer than five years. The longest-tenured individual on the list is Craig Allee, a biology professor and dean of the School of Science and Mathematics, who retires after 44 years.
-- Bob Allen is managing editor of Associated Baptist Press.