Published April 21, 2011
After the March 15 GBC Executive Committee meeting The Christian Index interviewed new Shorter University President Don Dowless. The South Carolina resident is coming to the Rome campus after serving five years as vice president for academic affairs at North Greenville University. Dowless, who was elected as the nineteenth president of Shorter in February, will assume his new duties on June 1. He will succeed Harold Newman, who announced his retirement in June 2010.
Index: I believe Georgia Baptists want our college presidents to have a strong commitment to the Bible. Please share with us your theological position on the Word of God.
Dowless: My view is that Scripture is accurate; it’s inerrant. I believe in the verbal plenary inspiration of the Bible, which is that God inspires each word and every word.
Index: What do you believe about the first chapters of Genesis regarding the biblical view of creation?
Dowless: Well, usually chapters 1-11 are the ones people talk about when they refer to creation. I believe those chapters provide an accurate record of historical events. God made Adam as a special creation and then he actually made Eve from Adam. The first children were Cain and Abel. The events recorded in Genesis really happened; everybody on this planet descends from Adam.
Index: You have indicated that you believe God literally created the world in six days. Is that correct?
Dowless: Oh yes. I was a biology major in college and have never seen anything that would contradict that belief. There are theories that have been proposed, but I have never seen anything that would contradict what Scripture says.
Index: What do you think is the greatest challenge of Christian higher education in a post-modern society?
Dowless: I think for any Christ-centered institution the goal is to keep Christ at the center of campus life academically and otherwise. Schools are pulled and pushed to move away from their mission by a variety of pressures, but you have to make sure that Jesus Christ is the center. If all truth is God’s truth – and it is – then all our discoveries will confirm that and give glory to God and reveal His message to us. Whether it is the discovery of new medicines or whether it is the discovery of new technologies, these things came as a gift from God and are to be used that way.
Index: You are credited with employing a “first year experience” for students called “Becoming a Difference Maker.” Is that something you would want to do at Shorter and if so, how does that work?
Dowless: Yes, this is something I want us to do at Shorter. The goal is to have a first-year experience course called College 101. It is discipline-specific and serves to demonstrate in each class how you integrate faith into every discipline. So a student who is going to be a biology major will hear from Christian biologists what it means to explore God’s truth by way of biology. What we will begin to do is capture the imagination of those students and let them begin to build a Christian worldview, based on their chosen profession. In other words, if someone says, “I will be a biology major,” we will put biology in that first year experience course.
The motto for North Greenville is “Where Christ Makes the Difference” and so a college committee came up with the idea of “Becoming a Difference Maker.” If Christ is the difference in our lives then how do we make a difference based on what he has given us, including salvation and a really stellar education? How do we become difference-makers in society through our chosen discipline? I don’t know the specifics of Shorter’s Quality Education Plan at this point, but the integration of faith and learning is part of keeping Jesus Christ in the center of the institution.
Index: I want to be careful how I pose this next question, but you may encounter faculty at Shorter who are tenured but not evangelical Christians. I would think that what you just described is something that is absolutely dependent on having a faculty that has bought in to your biblical worldview. Is that correct?
Dowless: I think it is important that the faculty and staff buy into the mission of the institution. Shorter is a Christ-centered institution and so it is a privilege and a joy to be involved in that. It is also a responsibility and one that we have taken very seriously. I do not know how many people are tenured there, so that is something I will have to look at when I get there.
Index: Were you responsible for securing faculty at North Greenville?
Dowless: Yes, at first the departments look through potential candidates and chooses whomever they think will best meet our requirements and embrace our philosophy of Christian higher education.
Everybody at North Greenville is interviewed the same way. Their credentials are reviewed and if their credentials are satisfactory and if they have the terminal degree in the area then they are interviewed on the basis of that. There will be questions about their experience and background, but they are also asked about their salvation experience and about what they are currently doing for the Lord. That’s asked at the department level.
If that is satisfactory then the person will advance to the dean, who will ask those same questions. If it is satisfactory with the dean, then the dean will bring the candidate to me and I ask them the same questions. If their responses are satisfactory I take them to the president and he asks those same questions.
There may be many more questions asked, but we had rather hear their story four or five times than not at all. It is very important that all candidates give an account of how they came to know Jesus Christ, because the summary of the school’s mission statement is “A Commitment To A Quality Education in a Biblically Sound, Christ-Centered Environment.” The folks who work there are the environment and that includes the faculty and staff. The staff goes through the same interview process. They go through the same interview process about the specifics of their job and their salvation experience.
Index: Shorter has become a member of the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities. Will you continue that and what is the value of that membership?
Dowless: Oh yes. As a member of CCCU you get a chance for faculty to get stronger by seeing other Christian faculty in their disciplines, because they have discipline-specific meetings and I have been to those meetings. I go to the meetings of the chief academic officers and get to learn and meet new folks and have good camaraderie with them.
Index: The Georgia Baptist Convention adopted the Baptist Faith and Message in November 2000, shortly after messengers approved it in the SBC annual meeting that June. Since he came to Truett-McConnell College, President Emir Caner has led his faculty and staff to sign the document. How do you feel about making that a requirement for your faculty and staff?
Dowless: I am not sure we would do that at this point. I know that the Baptist Faith and Message is a wonderful document, and we will extract from the document those portions that are most directly related to academic institutions and expand on them. Additionally, we will include other Scripture affirmations not in the BF&M.
When I was at Charleston Southern, we pulled out of the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 certain biblical core values and asked new faculty to review it and embrace it, but we didn’t require them to sign it. It may be that as a first step we will adapt from the Baptist Faith and Message some of those same types of things that we would revise for a university setting. At CSU we pulled out biblical core values, affirmed them and talked about the historical Adam and Eve, the necessity of salvation, and the things that we hold very near and dear.
Index: What do you think would be your primary objectives as president of Shorter?
Dowless: Well, the primary objective, of course, is to make the mission of the institution front and center and to get the word out about who we are. Regardless of how strong a university may be, it still needs to constantly get the word out about being a Christ-centered institution and different than the state schools. That is a good message for us, because if we weren’t different there would be no need for us to exist.
We must promote the school’s mission in order to get people excited about the institution, because as a Christian university everybody has a wonderful and unique opportunity to influence young adults for Jesus Christ and at the same time provide a very high quality education.
I went to a great state school, but Christian education is my passion with everybody on the campus. I want everybody to share Jesus Christ at every opportunity they can. I will interview everyone who comes to work on the campus and ask them about their salvation experience.
Index: Will you begin by interviewing the staff that is already there … not necessarily to retain employment, but just to find out what their worldview is?
Dowless: I will meet them and talk to them but I am not sure about our timetable. I work through my vice presidents to accomplish that, but we have got to hit the ground running pretty hard.
Index: You have mentioned that you enjoy preaching and you would like to be in as many churches to preach and get acquainted with the people as possible. Are you ready to begin accepting invitations?
Dowless: I was a pastor for a number of years. My area of expertise is theology and I continue to preach and teach and conduct as many Bible studies as I can. My own pastor understands that when I have an opportunity to preach I won’t be in church, because that is what I have been called to do. It is a good ministry for us. We have been able to meet a lot people, make a lot of new friends, but also share the Gospel.
We heard in today’s Executive Committee meeting that by 2020 Georgia will have nine million residents. I want to be a part of sharing Jesus Christ to that population. We are going to share the Gospel on campus, but we want to get out and preach in churches, because it lets people know about us, who we are, what our passion is, and the focus of the institution. It also encourages people to pray for us. I look forward to getting to know the people of Georgia.
Index: What can Georgia Baptist do to enhance your new role?
Dowless: Firstly, it is absolutely essential that Georgia Baptists pray for us. Pray that we will do what Jesus Christ wants, because Shorter belongs to Jesus Christ, it doesn’t belong to me. I have the privilege of working there, serving there, but it belongs to Jesus Christ. So pray that we keep Jesus Christ front and center in everything that we do. We won’t be perfect by a long shot, but we will strive to do the best we can.
Secondly, send us students. Also, when we have faculty openings, if people know of someone who is qualified and loves Jesus Christ, recommend them to us. I also want Georgia Baptists to help us get out the word of who we are and what we are trying to do. I think Georgia Baptists know Shorter has been here a long time and we want to honor their hopes and dreams for the school by keeping Jesus Christ the center of our focus so that we can be a city set on a hill with a light that shines brightly and far.
Index: Is there anything else that you would like Georgia Baptist to know about you?
Dowless: Well, we see ourselves as servants, because that is what we are, who we are and we are privileged to serve alongside Georgia Baptist in this good ministry. We want to see young people come to know Jesus Christ. We want to see people receive an education. We won’t back up on quality. All of us at Shorter are going to have to work and work hard, because God requires us to give our best.
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