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Extreme Makeover: university edition


Donald Martin

"How will you integrate biblical faith into your discipline?"

ROME – On ABC’s “Extreme Makeover” tummy tucks, liposuctions, and facelifts are commonplace. Occasionally, colleges and universities may undergo dramatic transformations, but few have had the kind of “makeover” Shorter University has experienced in the past 18 months.

The most obvious alteration happened when Shorter University President Don Dowless took charge and established personal and lifestyle statements that the staff and faculty were expected to sign. It was a very positive move for the Georgia Baptist institution of higher learning, because the statements give substance to the university’s motto: “Transforming Lives Through Christ.”

"Transforming Lives Through Christ."

For one reason or another approximately 40 (about half) of the school’s faculty were separated from the school’s employment at the end of the spring semester – some because they had other job offers, others because they were not inclined to sign the personal and lifestyle statements. In view of the significant exodus some naysayers predicted the school’s demise. Others questioned the president’s leadership and railed on him because he was driven by convictions rather than compromise.

However, since the spring semester ended the school has worked hard to replace the recently-vacated faculty slots. All faculty positions are filled and all classes are covered for the fall term. Donald “Skip” Martin, new executive vice president and provost, stated, “At the new faculty orientation prior to the semester the mood was extremely positive, especially with regard to the new direction and future of the university. Two days later at the faculty retreat [for both new and returning faculty] the prevailing attitude was one of great excitement and an enthusiasm unequaled in recent years.

Aimee Madden/Shorter

Angela Haynes, dean of the School of Nursing, leads students seeking to enter one of the nation’s fastest-growing industries.

“One of the things we ask potential faculty members in an interview is: ‘How will you integrate biblical faith into your discipline?’ We want every subject to be taught from a biblical worldview.

“From a human perspective getting qualified faculty in such a brief span of time was impossible, but God intervened in a miraculous way and as a result we have actually upgraded the scholarship of the school. The new personnel are coming with impressive academic credentials and significant experience.

“We have added faculty from some great universities including: Harvard, Emory, Boston University, University of Illinois, and Julliard School of Music. Some of them have international experience. They come from China, Kenya, Nigeria, and Jamaica. The wonderful thing is that these new faculty members are deeply committed to the cause of Christ and view the Bible as God’s inerrant Word.

“Some of the students, including the resident assistants who were on campus before school started, expressed excitement and great joy over the changes that have been made.

“What has happened here is evidence that commitment to values and truth pays big dividends. Dr. Dowless has been rock-solid in his faith and commitment. He walks closely with the Lord and has been upbeat and optimistic about the future.”

Martin is also a tremendous asset to the university. His academic credentials are impressive and include a Ph.D. in religion from Baylor University. He served the International Mission Board as a missionary in Guatemala, has planted four Hispanic churches in South Carolina, was professor of religion at Charleston Southern University in South Carolina, and came to Shorter from CSU, where he was also vice president of Academic Affairs.

Aimee Madden/Shorter

Shorter’s Livingston Library has been enlarged by 18,000 square feet.

He explained, “I have three primary goals in my role here. First, I want us to honor Christ in all we do on campus. Second, I want us to have a commitment to scholarship and spirituality. These two things are not polar opposites, but go hand in hand. We want to provide quality education, but we also want to see our students’ lives impacted for Christ.

“Third, we want to have a global impact. We want to see our young men and women participate in study abroad programs that are thoroughly imbedded with a mission component. We want to see our students learn how to share Christ in their chosen career path.”

Sabrena Parton, dean of the School of Arts and Sciences, exclaimed, “What is happening at Shorter is amazing. The transformation is long overdue. This is the best time to be at Shorter, because we are actually beginning to really live out our Christian mission.

“Every new faculty has been told that we want our students to be the best in their field of endeavor and to be able to civilly discuss and defend their Christian worldview. This is forefront, not an afterthought. We have sent a message to every new staff member – we do not intend to be Christian in name only. This is about having to stand before Jesus one day and giving an account for how we have handled our stewardship as a university.

“A lot of Christian schools have abandoned their convictions. We are choosing to be faithful to God and not go the way of the world.”

The School of Nursing experienced a significant reduction in faculty at the end of the spring semester, but Angela Haynes was elevated to dean of the school, which is now well staffed with experienced and competent teachers. Haynes has served as assistant professor of Nursing at Shorter since 2011 and as a family nurse practitioner in Georgia since 2007. Additionally, the School of Nursing recently received a five-year accreditation, which is the highest level of approval by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education.

Aimee Madden/Shorter

Anthony Luyai, who earned his Ph.D. from Emory University, is one of Shorter’s new line of faculty members. Here, Luyai instructs students in a biochemistry class.

Haynes told The Index: “There are numerous schools where students can obtain outstanding educations with no mention of Jesus. I choose not to be in one of those schools. I am humbled that I can go to the cross with my students when they want to pray for a patient, for one another, about an exam, or just the general direction about their life choices. We do not compromise excellence in education, but we are also committed to couple it with transformational opportunities in serving Christ.

“We as Christians are often called the silent majority as we let our sisters and brothers fight the battles in our stead. Shorter University made the difficult, often unpopular, decision to stand firm on the values embraced by the Georgia Baptist Convention. The stance has attracted applicants for vacancies in the university who are intentional in their desire to serve Christ, while teaching with passion in their respective disciplines.

Aimee Madden/Shorter

Norma Harper, who served as a dean at Charleston Southern University, is now Shorter's dean of the School of Education.

“Every person hired in the School of Nursing this summer expressed an intentional desire to be teaching in this place, at this time. We started our fall semester with a faculty evenly yoked in service for Him. Ultimately, the students will benefit from the shared values and commitment of the faculty. We have doubled the enrollment in the Nursing School in just three years and will have our largest class this fall.”

Norma Harper, new dean of the School of Education, explained, “I am excited and humbled that God would allow me to be part of the Shorter faculty at this time. I cannot help but think of Esther 4:14, realizing we are chosen by a sovereign God ‘for such a time as this.’

“Therefore, in this special time in the life of the university, I hope to be an excellent steward of this opportunity by working with others to (1) establish a school of education focused on bringing Him glory and honor, and (2) demonstrate to students that scholarship and the Christian faith are intimately related to each other as all truth is God’s truth.”

During this transitional time the university has also begun to experience a facilities makeover. Construction crews have completed an 18,000-square-foot addition to the library and initiated the building of a new dormitory that will house 100 students.

When ABC presented to family and friends the person who had been beautifully transformed by their “extreme makeover” they were received with cheers and applause. When Georgia Baptists begin to realize the “extreme makeover” at Shorter University the response should be marked with resplendent rejoicing.