SACS revokes accreditation of Baptist school

An accrediting agency handed down decisions involving Baptist-affiliated Brewton-Parker College, Shorter University and Louisiana College, all in a single day.

By Bob Allen

One Baptist college had its accreditation revoked, another’s was reaffirmed and a third got probation on a busy day June 19 for the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

Brewton-Parker College officials announced plans to appeal Thursday’s vote at the SACS commission’s board of trustees meeting in San Antonio, Texas, to remove the Georgia Baptist Convention-affiliated school from membership.

Ergun CanerErgun Caner, elected last December as president of the school with a main campus in Mount Vernon, Ga., said Brewton-Parker has 10 days to file an appeal and will remain accredited but on probation during the process.

“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,” Caner said in a press release.

SACS placed Brewton-Parker on probation in 2012 after finding deficiencies in the number and qualifications of faculty, financial stability and oversight of business functions including compliance with rules for federal student aid.

Caner’s selection as president sparked additional controversy because of questions that have dogged him in recent years about the veracity of details claimed in a dramatic “ex-Muslim” testimony that made him a hit on the Southern Baptist preaching circuit following the 9/11 terror attacks.

Caner said he remains confident that the appeal will be successful and the college will retain accreditation, but he also instructed attorneys to file an appeal challenging the committee’s findings in court.

“The board of trustees have instructed me to take all necessary steps to protect the institution and our status as a member of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools,” Caner said.

“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,” Caner said. “I have promised our board, faculty, employees and students, we shall not waver in our pursuit of a favorable ruling, and we anticipate a favorable ruling.”

Another Georgia Baptist Convention school, Shorter University in Rome, Ga., announced the same day the SACS commission voted to affirm its accreditation, after placing the school on warning last year for questions about student-teacher ratio and qualifications of faculty members.

donald dowless“Today’s vote confirms our belief that strong scholarship and Christian commitment can go hand in hand,” Shorter President Donald Dowless said in a press release. “We continue to be firmly dedicated to providing our students with access to professors and academic programs of the highest quality while adhering to biblical standards.”

Dozens of faculty members departed Shorter in 2012 after imposition of a new “lifestyle statement” affirming biblical inerrancy and requiring faculty and staff to sign a pledge rejecting homosexuality. While not requiring they be teetotalers, the policy also forbade faculty and staff from drinking alcohol in public.

Louisiana College, a Louisiana Baptist Convention-affiliated school in Pineville, La., beset by controversy, lawsuits and a leadership change, returned to SACS probation for “administrative issues,” just six months after having its accreditation reaffirmed after two years on probation.

argile smith“Although the decision is disappointing, it represents an opportunity for Louisiana College to address the issues in preparation for the arrival of a new president.” Argile Smith, president pro tempore, said in a press release. “Fortunately, the issues don’t bring into question in any way the excellent classroom work being done by our professors and students. The issues have to do with administrative areas.” 

Smith was selected in April to lead the school while trustees search for a permanent replacement for Joe Aguillard, designated president emeritus after months of controversy over issues including Calvinism, alleged misuse of funds and claims of wrongful termination of administrators in violation of the school’s whistleblower policy.

SACS placed three other schools along with Louisiana College on probation. They are Newberry College, an Evangelical Lutheran Church in America school in South Carolina; Paine College, a historically black college in Augusta, Ga., founded by the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church; and South Carolina State University.