The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Committee on Colleges (SACS COC) handed down a split decision on June 19 on the academic standing of two of Georgia Baptists’ three educational institutions.
The ruling affirmed the academic standing of Shorter University while removing Brewton-Parker College from its membership.
The Rome university’s accreditation was approved by the accrediting agency in December 2012 but required Shorter to demonstrate that its faculty is large enough and properly credentialed. The renewal of its status as a regionally accredited institution is valid for 10 years.
Brewton-Parker College logo
The question about its staffing arose when the university entered a tumultuous period following its transition to a new president – Donald Dowless – following his appointment in Nov. 2011. Under the direction of its Board of Trustees, Shorter implemented a set of faculty and staff guidelines that drew it closer to a biblical worldview.
The move toward a more conservative stance was not embraced by many staff who resigned in protest. While the school’s accreditation was approved the following December, SACS sought additional information on staffing and credentialing as the university rebuilt its instructional foundation.
Shorter has repeatedly been ranked as one of the best colleges in the Southeast according to nationally known education services company, The Princeton Review.
It enrolled 1,628 students for its fall semester on its main campus, which is its second highest ever for the Rome site.
Brewton-Parker College, however, had its accreditation removed by the governing agency after meeting criteria for nearly 50 years.
The Mount Vernon college has struggled with financial concerns which has pushed it near bankruptcy on several occasions. The appointment of acting president Mike Simoneaux in 2011, and his being named president six months later, is credited with easing much of the college’s financial crisis.
Simoneaux retired from Brewton-Parker in 2013 and the reigns were passed to educator and author Ergun Caner, brother of sister college president Emir Caner at Truett-McConnell.
Caner has worked to restore the South Georgia college’s enrollment, academic, and financial standing but SACS, in its ruling, continued to express concerns about Brewton-Park’s economic viability.
Caner said he and four administrators answered questions from the Committee on Colleges days prior to the decision and said he was very disappointed with the outcome. He said the college will appeal the decision within the 10-day window, which will give it time to operate under probationary status.
Caner said all four SACS recommendations for improvement dealt with financial concerns and he felt the issues had been properly addressed.
“We are operationally in the black, our present budget is balanced, we project finishing this fiscal year in the black, and our Board of Trustees approved a balanced budget for 2014-2015,” he told faculty and staff in announcing the ruling.
In addition to debt being down, and giving to Brewton-Parker being up, Caner noted that “enrollment, both in headcount and full-time equivalency, is up for the third straight year.
“Because we believe we have a strong case for reaffirmation, these necessary legal steps protect our standing as an accredited college until we have a chance to present our case in court.
“SACS leaders will take all of these changes into account and reconsider their ruling in our appeal this August.” He said he remains confident that the appeals process will reverse the ruling “and all parties shall be satisfied with the conclusion.
Caner told the trustees, faculty and staff how important it was for Georgia Baptists and the general public at large to realize that Brewton-Parker College remains accredited albeit on probation during the entire appeal process.
SACS placed four other colleges on probation – all for financial problems – including three private nonprofit institutions. Among those were Louisiana College, an institution of the Louisiana Baptist Convention, and Georgia institution Paine College in Augusta.
The other nonprofit was Newberry College in South Carolina; the public institution was South Carolina State University.
SACS COC policy states “An institution must be removed from membership if it has not demonstrated compliance with all the Principles of Accreditation within the two-year monitoring period and has not demonstrated Good Cause as to why it should not be dropped from membership.”
While congratulating Shorter University for its positive report, Georgia Baptist Convention Executive Director J. Robert White affirmed Brewton-Parker on its appeal process.
“Brewton-Parker has the love, respect and prayers of Georgia Baptists during these challenging days,” he said. “I would ask that you pray specifically for Dr. Ergun Caner and those who serve with him on the administrative staff and faculty. I would also ask that you pray for Dr. Bucky Kennedy who serves as the chairman of the board of trustees. They need and deserve our prayers and support during these days and I know they will appreciate your prayers on their behalf.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Joe Westbury is managing editor of The Christian Index, newsjournal of the Georgia Baptist Convention.)