Legal fights can only go so far before one side runs out of options for appeals.
Shorter College's Board of Trustees has now admitted that that's where it finds itself. The Georgia Supreme Court has declined to reconsider a May decision in which it ruled 4 to 3 that Shorter’s board didn’t have the authority to sever ties to the Georgia Baptist Convention. As a result, the convention will once again pick trustees of the college -- a move that some fear could endanger Shorter's accreditation.
"We must now face the fact that we have lost the court struggle," said Gary F. Eubanks, chairman of the board, in a statement. "Complete, absolute control of Shorter College" will soon revert to the Baptist convention, he said, urging faculty members to "brace yourselves for the likelihood of difficult days ahead."
The exact timing of the change in control is still to be determined by a lower court.
Shorter has been a religious institution since it was founded in 1873, but its official link to the George Baptist Convention dates to 1959, when the college agreed to let the convention select trustees in return for financial support from the convention. Relations between the college and the convention deteriorated in 2001, when the convention abandoned a longstanding practice of picking trustees from lists submitted by the college. At the same time, Shorter received questions from its accreditor about whether the convention had too much control over the college.
So in 2002, the college’s board voted to sever ties to the convention and to shut the college down and shift control of its assets to its foundation. The foundation in turn reestablished the college with its own board. And the entire process was challenged by the Georgia Baptists.
In the Georgia Supreme Court’s ruling, it cited limits on when boards of corporations -- nonprofit and for-profit -- can dissolve entities, as Shorter’s board did with the college’s operations in 2002.
The Georgia Baptist Convention released a statement praising the Supreme Court for not reconsidering its decision. The statement promised a "smooth transition" and -- in an apparent appeal to those worried about the college's accreditation -- said "it is our sincere desire that Shorter College be a fully accredited Baptist college."
Eubanks, the trustee chair, noted that convention leaders have stated repeatedly that Shorter "really did not have an accreditation problem" and Eubanks said, "We will soon see whose position is valid."
Several faculty members reached over the weekend said that they had been instructed not to talk to reporters.
While the college has fought hard to stay independent, some administrators are hopeful about the restoration of ties with the Georgia Baptist Convention.
Robert Nash, dean of the School of Religion and International Studies, said that he found it "very encouraging" that Baptist leaders had expressed a commitment to keeping Shorter accredited. "That has caused sighs of relief among faculty members."
Nash said that Shorter has a long tradition of educating Baptists and training Baptist ministers of a variety of views. "We have our students serving in all kinds of Baptist churches, some of them conservative and some of them moderate," he said, adding that he expected that tradition to continue.
"You always have some fear of the unknown" when a college undergoes a major change, he said, "but most folks at this point are quite willing to accept the public statements of the convention and to recognize that they are going to need to come in."