Sunday, April 15, 2012

The Downward Spiral: Brewton-Parker College - A Race to the Bottom in GA

When I conceived of this series, I planned to focus on three colleges that are spiraling downward as a result of fundamentalist takeovers: Truett-McConnell College (yesterday's post), Louisiana College (tomorrow's post), and Shorter University (forthcoming Tuesday).  But in examining the deteriorating state of Baptist "higher education" in Georgia, I came across yet another tale of woe: Brewton-Parker College.

I hesitate to even tell B-P's story because it's really not OBU's peer in any meaningful way.  But it sure helps to illustrate how grateful we should be that the BGCO only has one college, rather than three (like Georgia) that are constantly working out-crazy the others.

Brewton-Parker began as a Baptist institute in an under-served, rural part of the state.  It became a junior college and eventually was able to award bachelor's degrees.  For a combination of reasons, not least of which were the proliferation of public community colleges and the strength of other Baptist colleges in Georgia, Brewton-Parker has struggled over the years.

In the 1990s, a scandal involving the misappropriation of federal student aid caused serious damage to the school's reputation and financial standing.  After a series of less-than-competent administrators, Truett-McConnell loaned Brewton-Parker one of their own, Rev. Dr. Mike Simoneaux, who had been interim president of TMC before Emir Caner arrived.  Talk about a labor of love.  B-PC has had serious financial, management, enrollment, and academic problems for many years.  In 2009, citing a bad economy, the college restructured and dramatically scaled back its academic offerings.

Not content to struggle only with financial and organizational challenges, B-PC quickly joined the fundamentalist fray and joined its sister schools Truett-McConnell and Shorter in a race to the bottom.  And, as bad as things are at TMC and Shorter, it looks like B-PC is actually going to win and be the first of the three downward-spiraling GBC-affiliated colleges to close its doors for good.

It's unclear to me whether B-PC's jabs at TMC and Shorter are supposed to convince the GBC to dump even more money down this pit or whether they actually thought they could attract quality students and faculty by being avowedly fundamentalist, but as this April 2010 press clipping shows, B-PC's posture has been pretty bizarre:

The trustees responded to the challenge by voting unanimously on a number of significant issues including four action items that clearly define Brewton-Parker as a Baptist, Christian institution of higher education.
The first action item pertained to a resolution on the college’s Mission Centered Curriculum. Shep Johnson, BPC trustee and pastor of First Baptist Church in Douglas, presented the resolution and explained that the faculty has thoughtfully and strategically looked at each course taught at the school to see how it can be taught from a Christian worldview.

Gerald Harris/Index
Tony Romans, BPC trustee and pastor of North Peachtree Baptist Church in Atlanta, delivers a devotional message to the college’s Board of Trustees.
BPC President David Smith explained that the Christian worldview is to be infused into all of the courses taught at Brewton-Parker and that the purpose of the resolution is to tie each course to that same Christian worldview.
The second action item unanimously adopted by the trustees underscored a Statement of Faith and Learning. The central confession of the statement reads: “As a Georgia Baptist institution of higher learning, Brewton-Parker College is firmly and unequivocally rooted in the Christian faith, adopting the central confession for its statement of faith and learning from the New Testament – ‘Jesus Christ is Lord’ (Rom. 10:9).
“As a consequence, to say that ‘Jesus Christ is Lord’ is to nurture a learning environment in which academic challenge, authentic spirituality, and the practice of integrity can flourish.”
The third action item heartily approved by the trustees pertained to a statement of Doctrine and Theology including the following words: “Brewton-Parker College focuses its Christian mission on the twin concepts of providing an unapologetically Christian and proudly Baptist tradition of higher education. In matters of theology and doctrine, Brewton-Parker College’s administration and trustees endorse the tenets of faith generally accepted by Southern Baptists and specifically expressed in The Baptist Faith and Message, the denomination’s doctrinal statement approved by the Southern Baptist Convention in 1963 and revised in 2000.”
The fourth action item focused on a resolution of Support for the Cooperative Program. The resolution stated: “The trustees of Brewton-Parker College affirm their historic commitment to the Cooperative Program of the Southern Baptist Convention. They endorse the continuation of the Cooperative Program as the primary funding mechanism for mission ministries within the Georgia Baptist Convention. The Brewton-Parker College Board of Trustees appreciates the tireless efforts of GBC Executive Director Dr. J. Robert White in advocating for the Cooperative Program, and stand with him in affirming the Cooperative Program’s dynamic success in Georgia Baptist ministries.”

Gerald Harris/Index
Associate Professor of Religion and Philosophy Jerry Ray, left, presents the framed documents of the resolutions that define Brewton-Parker as a Baptist, Christian institution of higher education to board chairman Cliff Morris, pastor of First Baptist Dublin. Morris accepted the presentation on behalf of J. Robert White, Georgia Baptist Convention executive director.
When President Smith addressed the trustees later he stated, “Since 1998, the GBC has provided Brewton-Parker, through scholarships, grants, direct monthly stipends, and other subsidies a total of $18 million.”
The trustees enthusiastically adopted all four action items to boldly herald the college as being “unapologetically Christian and proudly Baptist.”
Smith stated, “Some years ago the vocalist of a country and western hit sang, ‘I was country before country was cool.’ Well, Brewton-Parker College was thoroughly Baptist before being Baptist was cool in GBC higher education.
“When our sister institution’s president in Macon was writing books proclaiming a Universalist theology, BPC was purging its Bible department of CBF influence.
“When our sister institution in Rome was building strategies to disassociate with the GBC, BPC stood steadfastly in the camp of Georgia Baptists.
“When our sister institution in Cleveland was unsure of its denominational affections in the early days of this century and experienced difficult financial times,” Smith continued, “BPC offered to bring some of its programs to Cleveland to assist that institution by allowing students to remain on that campus, paying room and board and remaining there until they could accredit similar programs to serve their students.”
Smith also stated, “Our two sister colleges in Rome and Cleveland have made great strides recently to become what the Georgia Baptist Convention expects them to be. I am grateful that they are now moving toward a place where Brewton-Parker College has traditionally posted itself.”
Smith concluded his remarks by declaring, “Our faculty has unanimously affirmed a statement of faith and learning that:

Gerald Harris/Index
Left to right, First Baptist Centerville pastor Allen Hughes, BPC provost Ron Melton, Macon architect Jimmy Michael, and board chairman Cliff Morris have a moment for fellowship during a break at the BPC trustee meeting.
Stands on an inerrant, infallible, and inspired Bible, knows God as triune and omnipotent;
Understands humankind as fallen sinners, but created in the likeness and image of God;
Accepts Christ as virgin born, with divine Sonship, who accepted crucifixion for sinners, rose from the grave for the salvation of sinners, and will return to accept into eternity redeemed sinners;
Understands salvation comes only through Jesus Christ, and that through faith, provided by His grace, resulting in good works;
Recognizes that there is no other way to God or eternal life except through Jesus Christ;
And realizes that all humans are eternal in ultimate form, either residing with Christ in heaven or apart from Him in hell, forever.
We believe these statements, synthesized and framed as reminders of our commitment to God’s Kingdom and our denomination, go far beyond a one-time assignation of allegiance. We offer them as a way of life, a philosophy of teaching and as evidence of a college so thoroughly integrated into the twin realities of educational enlightenment and Christian edification that we are indeed, unapologetically Christian and proudly Baptist.”

The GBC gives about $4 million to its colleges annually (160% of what the BGCO gives OBU).  Shorter gets about half, while the others get about $1M apiece.  While poor little B-PC was trying to keep up with its larger, stronger sister schools in the race to be the most outrageously fundamentalist (TMC requires all faculty to sign the Baptist Faith and Message and Shorter is requiring all staff to sign a "lifestyle statement,") it turns out that Brewton-Parker ran afoul of its accrediting body, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.  Uh-oh.

I don't want to confuse correlation with causality here, but Brewton-Parker is in perilous danger of becoming an unaccredited degree mill.  Far from bailing it out further, at that point the Georgia Baptist Convention will probably just walk away.

What a disaster.

Praise the Lord, there are no meaningful parallels between OBU and BP-C.  That's why I initially planned to limit the Downward Spiral series to relevant peer institutions.  But even though OBU will likely never suffer the fate of Brewton-Parker College, this should be a clear warning to fledgling schools that mistakenly believe that the race to the bottom is a journey they want to undertake.  If you want to be thoroughly fundamentalist, it makes no sense to masquerade as a legitimate academic institution.  There are no winners in a race to Crazy Town.


  1. Re: Shorter:

    Here's what the President of Atlanta's Oglethorpe University wrote today about Shorter's current situation:

  2. I still hope for these universities to fix these issues since students are depending on them. Thanks for sharing!

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