Freedom of Thought

Hands Tied UpPeople object to signing “Loyalty oaths” for many good reasons. Yet some institutions limit themselves by thinking that having employees sign such an oath will benefit that institution, while for the most part, observers see distrust, dissension and discrimination from requiring these signatures.

The two latest institutions to demand that their employees sign such statements of belief are Shorter University in Rome, and Truett-McConnell College in Cleveland, both affiliated with the Georgia Baptist Convention.

This fall, Shorter, a respected small school that has traditionally placed high among Southern private schools, requires its more than 200 employees to sign a “Personal Life Statement.” Those not signing will not have their contracts renewed. Read the statement here.

Truett-McConnell on October 27 had every full-time faculty member sign the Baptist Faith and Message statement, which was approved by the Georgia Baptist Convention in 2000. It is similar to statements six Southern Baptist seminary faculties are required to sign. The statement addresses 18 areas of Christian life for adherence.

The move by these two schools are attempts to make sure that the schools come into compliance with what the Georgia Baptist Convention wants. Interestingly, the adherence to the Convention values comes at a time when students pay most of the overall expenses. The Georgia Baptist Convention, for instance, provides only 4 percent of the Shorter budget. Years ago, other prominent church-founded schools broke direct ties with their church bodies, to become more independent. Since breaking these ties, these universities have thrived. Among them: Mercer and Emory University in Georgia, Furman University in South Carolina, Duke University in North Carolina, Baylor University in Texas, and Stetson University in Florida.

Besides the Georgia Baptist Convention, efforts at Shorter in Rome were led by the current chairman of the Trustees, the Rev. Nelson Price, pastor emeritus of the Roswell Street Baptist Church in Marietta, and by incoming Trustee Chairman, former Gov. Joe Frank Harris of Cartersville. At Truett-McConnell College, the chair of the trustees is Mike Dorough of Warner Robins, a pastor of students at Second Baptist Church of Warner Robins.

To require college professors to sign required loyalty oaths is wrong. It halts academic freedom, curtails broad-based research into the unknown, and hampers an educational institution’s purpose to pursue knowledge. Indeed, such statements not only limit mankind’s quest for understanding, but it also casts a cloud of question on the entire school’s reputation. In effect, it says “Adhere or begone!” What a negative image to portray! We suspect it also limits enrollment.

Colleges spend years seeking to improve and upgrade themselves. They cultivate the community, striving to do their mission in the best possible way.

Then some rigid-thinking doctrinarian comes along with what some see as a reasonable suggestion, and whatever the reason, members of the Trustees cave in, abrogating their responsibilities, and follow unreasonable courses. They fail to see the big picture, and eventually the institution they have pledged to uphold, suffers from their lack of foresight and leadership.

Interestingly, oversight institutions police such matters. These are independent standard accrediting agencies, that lament curtailment of freedom of speech and research, and can withdraw their accreditation. This may happen in the case of Shorter and Truett-McConnell.

Those wanting more churchly control of religious colleges now have their Christian accrediting agencies. This lower-level accreditation may serve these secondary colleges. But they are not generally-recognized to attain the high levels of competence of the major accreditation agencies.

Shorter and Truett-McConnell are on the road to lower standards of excellence. We deplore the route these two institutions of higher learning are taking.

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Elliott Brack's stories also appear at GwinnettForum.com. Photo: licensed by LikeTheDew.com from iStock.com © Juanmonino.
Elliott Brack

Elliott Brack

Elliott Brack is a native Georgian and veteran newspaperman. He published the weekly Wayne County Press for 12 years; was for 13 years the vice president and general manager of Gwinnett Daily News, and for 13 years was associate publisher of the Gwinnett section of The Atlanta Journal and Constitution. He now publishes, in retirement, Web sites on Gwinnett County, http://www.gwinnettforum.com, and Georgia news, http://www.georgiaclips.com.