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Could controversy affect Shorter University's accreditation? | News

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Could controversy affect Shorter University's accreditation?
Could controversy affect Shorter University's accreditation?

ROME, GA - There have been other protests outside the entrance to Rome's Shorter University over the past six months, but Wednesday morning's was different.

This time some of the two dozen or so protestors were faculty members speaking out against having to sign a "lifestyle statement" adopted by the Southern Baptist school's Board of Trustees last fall.

Among other things, it requires them not to promote homosexuality, adultery or public drinking.

One faculty protestor told 11Alive News she was speaking out on behalf of colleagues who're too afraid to go public.

"I'm standing up here to stand up for them," said Assistant Chemistry Professor Jennell Talley.

When asked if she were taking a risk she answered, "Of course, of course I am, yeah."

Another protestor was the wife of a professor who's resigning and moving his family out of state for another job.

"We weren't willing to teach our children that this was okay, so we're taking a stand and going somewhere else," said Theresa Hoch.

A recent unofficial survey taken by opponents of the lifestyle statement claims less than half the faculty are willing to sign it.

It also claims 89% are opposed to it.

Now some claim as many as 30 to 40 faculty are quitting, about one third.

Shorter University calls it normal turnover, but could fallout from the controversy affect its academic credentials?

Wednesday's protestors were well aware that a team from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools has been visiting the campus this week to review its accreditation.

It's a routine scheduled visit, but it prompted Shorter University President Don Dowless to issue a written statement.

Dowless insists the lifestyle policy has "no bearing on academic accreditation."

He also quotes SACS President Belle Wheelan saying, "They can do that. They're a private college and it's part of their mission."

SACS Vice-President and Chief of Staff Tom Benberg told 11Alive the team's visit is a routine review conducted at Shorter every ten years.

But he added that it is "possible" the controversy, especially the faculty resignations, could have an impact on SACS' findings.

Either way, we won't know until at least December when the academic review team makes its recommendation to SACS' Board of Trustees.