“A good name is to be more desired than great wealth, Favor is better than silver and gold.” Proverbs 22:1
There are currently three institutions of higher learning under the control of the Georgia Baptist Mission Board: Brewton-Parker College (BPC), Shorter University (SU), and Truett McConnell University (TMU). Despite being the beneficiaries of Bible-belt funding and geography, these Baptist schools consistently garner a poorer reputation than that of their secular counterparts in the University System of Georgia. These schools feature high acceptance and tuition rates, while producing low graduation rates. The only parties who are unaware of the embarrassing status of Georgia Baptist education seem to be the pew-sitters of Georgia Baptist churches, whose dollars fund Georgia Baptist enterprises such as these schools. The boards of these underperforming colleges are stocked with Georgia Baptist pastors who tout the value of a Georgia Baptist education to their congregations while paying exorbitant salaries to the men whom they appoint to run their poorly performing schools. To make matters worse, Georgia Baptist schools are surrounded by those of the University System of Georgia, which provides some of the most affordable and well-respected schools in the country. In nearly every way, Georgia Baptist colleges are inferior to their secular peers. A review of each Georgia Baptist School reveals just how bad things are in Georgia Baptist Education.
Truett McConnell University
In 2014, Time Magazine listed TMU among the “worst dropout factories and diploma mills” in the United States. “With 14% of students graduating within six years of enrollment,” according to Time, “Truett-McConnell has one of the lowest rates in its peer group.” According to US News and World Report (USNWR), the tiny college, which is located in the rural Georgia town of Cleveland, has an enrollment of 2,017 and an acceptance rate of 91%. Since Time’s article TMU appears to have increased its graduation rate to 26%. Compared to its public peers, TMU is very expensive. The combined cost of tuition and room & board is $25,730 per year. The cost of the same at University of North Georgia (UNG) in adjacent Dahlonega for in-state students is $16,672. UNG has an acceptance rate of 64%, an enrollment of 17,289, and a graduation rate of 30%. UNG is ranked as the #4 university in Georgia according to bestcolleges.com. TMU did not make that ranking agency’s top 25.
In fact, no Georgia Baptist school made the top 25 on the bestcolleges.com listing. Mercer University, which ceased to be formally affiliated with the Georgia Baptist Mission Board in 2006, came in at #21. Mercer is a theologically liberal institution; however, the top 25 list does not appear to have any bias against conservative Christian schools. Toccoa Falls College (TFC) and Covenant College (CC), which are both operated by conservative Christian denominations, came in at #6 and # 15 respectively.
Despite the fact that TMU underperforms in terms of affordability and academic reputation when compared to other Georgia colleges and universities, its President’s compensation rivals that of more reputable schools. Emir Caner, who often fills the pulpit of Georgia Baptist churches as a guest preacher, is paid an annual salary of $201,862 to helm TMU. In addition to his salary, he receives $43,002 of “other compensation” from TMU and related organizations. To put Caner’s salary in perspective, the presidents of UNG, Kennesaw State University (KSU), and the University of Georgia (UGA) receive salaries of $284,656, $367,699, and $819,776, respectively. By comparison, Caner’s salary may appear modest. However, when the number of students, facilities, activities, and employees he manages are considered, Caner is paid handsomely.
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UNG, KSU, and KSU are all less than a day’s travel from TMU. These schools rank #4, #2, and #7, respectively, on bestcollege.com’s ranking of the top 25 Georgia schools. Each offers more affordable tuition and a better academic reputation than TMU. What they don’t offer is a conservative Christian education. Yet, compared with his closest Christian peer, Emir Caner is still paid an exorbitant sum. The Campus of TFC is less than an hour’s drive from that of TFC. TFC’s President receives an annual salary of $129,446, nearly $73,000 less than that of Emir Caner (though higher per student). TFC’s total enrollment is 937; it has a graduation rate of 35%, and an acceptance rate of 45%. Arguably, TMU is where students who can’t get into TFC end up going. “Screw it, go to Truett” has been a popular refrain among frustrated Georgia high-school seniors for quite some time. Yet Truett-McConnell University is not the most glaring example of how bad the Georgia Baptist Mission Board has become at managing higher education. The two other Georgia Baptist colleges are arguably worse.
BPC is located in the city of Mount Vernon. Its acceptance rate, graduation rate, and total enrollment are presented as “N/A” by USNWR in the publication’s comprehensive report on American colleges and universities. Almost no data is presented by USNWR on BPC except for its $16,180 tuition and fees rate. In June of 2014, after years of doubt about its financial viability, BPC was removed from membership by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS), the college’s accrediting agency. However, upon appeal, BPC managed to regain its accreditation by demonstrating that was indeed financially viable. The accreditation fiasco, among other incidents, undoubtedly damaged the school’s ability to attract students to the rural college. Verifiable statistics of BPC’s current enrollment are not readily available, however a local source which reached out to this author in January of 2015 indicated that enrollment had dwindled to 250 students. College Students in South Georgia are overwhelming choosing to attend more viable and reparable universities such as Georgia Southern and Georgia Southwestern. According to my source, “All students are forced to sit in the front of the chapel (during chapel services); back rows are roped off to make the chapel appear full in pictures.”
The impetus behind that particular source reaching out to me was the disastrous presidency of Ergun Caner, the brother of TMU President Emir Caner. Ergun Caner was hired to helm BPC in December 2013. By January 2015, he had resigned in a hailstorm of controversy. For those who had followed Caner’s career, this was no surprise. Ergun Caner was already surrounded by controversy when he arrived. He had been dismissed as the Dean of the Liberty University Seminary in 2010 as a result of an investigation into the claims of his past. Ergun Caner rose to evangelical fame and a very high position at the world’s largest Christian university claiming that he had been trained as a Muslim terrorist before becoming a Baptist pastor. When Liberty University found out that Ergun Caner had fabricated that part of his back-story, he was dismissed from his high-profile position as Dean of Liberty’s seminary. He thus became the subject of much criticism. It was, according to BPC leadership, because of this criticism (or “attacks” as it called them), not in spite of it, that Ergun Caner was hired to lead the school. In Mount Vernon, Ergun Caner was considered something of a “warrior” for having withstood the onslaught of “attacks” that followed the discovery of his charlatanry and his dismissal from Liberty University. Caner, the proven charlatan, was immersed in a lawsuit with two Christian men when he was hired at BPC. Caner would later lose this lawsuit, which related to the release of recordings of him telling fabricated tales of his Muslim extremist background to US Marines, and be ordered to pay damages to the men whom he had sued. One of the men Ergun Caner sued was a former student of Liberty University. Having communicated with this former student, Jonathan Autry, I can tell you that Caner put him and his family through an intense amount of distress.
Caner, who came with the commendation of former Southern Baptist Convention President and influential Baptist pastor Johnny Hunt, would come to cause distress to the students of BPC as well. Shortly before his resignation, 1/3 of the BPC student body walked out on Ergun Caner during the school’s chapel service. They walked out as a reaction to their discovery of racially insensitive comments made by Ergun Caner which included his use of the term “ni**er fu**ed” in conversation with a subordinate and the disparagement of an administrator he deemed as acting “half-black”. According to eye-witnesses the statements about the administrator were made during a telecom conversation with a man they believe to be his brother, TMU President Emir Caner. Yet, Ergun Caner was only forced to resign after allegations of sexual misconduct arose. Sadly, these are not the only reported incidents of vulgar remarks or actions by Ergun Caner during his tenure at BPC. The leadership of Brewton-Parker University hired a man surrounded by controversy to oversee its struggling college. Predictably, controversy followed and further damaged the school’s reputation.
It is a reputation that has long been sullied. In 1998 the college had an enrollment of 1,600 students and a legal liability of $4 million. A former administrator named Martha Faw sued the college under the federal False Claims Act. She was joined in her lawsuit by the federal government. Faw lost her job at BPC after alleging that the school was diverting financial aid funds from rightful recipients to athletes on the baseball, soccer and basketball teams. The federal government agreed with Faw and joined her lawsuit after its own investigation corroborated her accusations of fraud. According to a story published in the Chicago Tribune, “(Faw) lost her job, and other employers in the community refused to hire her after finding out why she had been fired from Brewton-Parker. Many of her friends, especially friends at church, abandoned her for filing suit against the Baptist college.” Despite these hardships, Faw and the federal government prevailed when BPC settled the lawsuit. Faw’s portion of the judgment amounted to approximately $150,000, just about the same amount BPC’s leadership paid the charlatan Ergun Caner to be the school’s President nearly twenty years later.
That a Georgia Baptist institution knowingly and purposely hired a notorious charlatan to a six-figure school Presidency is one thing. That it obfuscated the reason for his resignation is another. SBC Voices Editor Dave Miller, who covered the story of Caner’s resignation, wrote the following shortly after Caner resigned:
“Just 10 days ago, on January 20, we published the news, based on the BPC press release, that Ergun Caner had stepped down as president of Brewton-Parker College in Georgia so that he could heal as a result of the tragedy that had befallen his family. In that article, we asked people to pray for the Caner family during this time as the healing process went forward.
It is now clear, from published reports and information gleaned from trustees and students, that the official story was designed to cover up the facts of the story and the real reasons that Dr. Caner was forced to step aside at BPC. Southeast Georgia Today, a small online journal from Vidalia, broke the story publicly yesterday, and it has gotten wide circulation since.
While I have been aware of the information in that report since the day of Caner’s resignation, it was not my intent to write on this topic. However, since the story has gone into the public domain now, since my good friend C.B. Scott has been unjustly fired as a result of his principled stand, and since I have been told that many other revelations are likely to come out very soon, I decided to write a post on the topic.”
C.B. Scott is the very administrator to whom Caner referred as acting “half black”. C.B. Scott was later fired by Caner’s immediate replacement, BPC Chairman of the Board, Gary Campbell for an “infraction of a very important business policy of how grievance information is distributed through the chain of command.” This was after Scott refused Caner’s request to “help him restore his credibility.” According to Dave Miller:
“…the administration tried to buy CB’s silence with a generous severance package. When he refused to sign away his integrity, they terminated him with nothing. He worked countless hours to dig BPC out of the SACS mess they were in. He represented students and was an effective liaison for the college in the community. They fired him because he would not play ball, because…he refused to help Caner restore his credibility after the incidents that took place and because he refused to agree to a non-disclosure agreement while facing termination.
Like Martha Faw, C.B. Scott was fired from his job for telling the truth and standing on principle while employed at BPC. Scott, whose wife is confined to a wheel-chair and who is the father of adopted children, refused to sign away his integrity in exchange for an attractive severance package which included the continuation of his health insurance. The Caner-Scott affair proved that after two decades of struggles and a federal lawsuit, BPC was still playing dirty. After the public outcry generated from publications such as SBC Voices and Pulpit & Pen, C.B. Scott was reinstated to his position at BPC by interim school President Charlie Bass. For poor Martha Faw, Baptist blogs were not yet widely available during her time of trouble.
Caner was eventually replaced as BPC President by Steve Echols, who served as the President of Tennessee Temple University during the period in which that school ceased operations. Time will tell if BPC is able to continue as an institution of higher education. Time has told that BPC, a Georgia Baptist School, has suffered from moral failings and incompetent leadership for at least twenty years. C.B. Scott described to this author the status of BPC upon his arrival as a place of “whores and whoremongers.” Unfortunately a climate of gross immorality is not unique only one Georgia Baptist college.
In December 2011, prominent Georgia Baptist pastor and Shorter University Trustee Chairman Nelson Price described SU as a “hotbed of homosexual activity“. According to Price, the school, which is located in Rome, Georgia, had suffered from such a reputation “since the late 1970s”. At the time that Price made that comment, he and other Georgia Baptist leaders were involved in an effort to purge the school of the influence of the many liberal professors in its employ who neither believed in nor practiced a Biblical lifestyle. SU instituted a requirement that all instructors sign a “personal lifestyle statement” in which they agreed to refrain public alcohol consumption, drug use, and sexual activity outside of marriage. The liberals despised the lifestyle statement and may refused to sign. Thus, the effort to purge the immoral liberal was successful; however, success came at a price. According to Libby A. Nelson of Inside Higher Ed:
The next nine months would bring an exodus. Eighty-three of Shorter’s faculty, staff and administration would resign, including 35 of its 94 full-time faculty members on the undergraduate campus. The college would lose four of its deans and a vice president. Science and performing arts departments, once the pride of Shorter, were hit hard.
With so many faculty exits, the college came under the scrutiny of SACS. SU was placed on warning with SACS in 2013. The warning was removed in 2014, as the college demonstrated that it was able to replace to lost instructors. USNWR does not list Shorter’s current enrollment but it was 2,636 as of the Fall of 2013. It does not present the diploma mill image of its sister schools, with an acceptance rate of 69%. A SU education is one of the most expensive in the area, with a tuition rate of $20,846 (which is significantly lower than that of Berry College, another private college in Rome).
Drilling for Fear
SU and BPC both faced the loss of their accreditation as the result of their failure to maintain proper moral order. Georgia Baptist insiders labeled them a “hotbed of homosexuality” and “full of whores and whore mongers”, respectively. TMU is helmed by a preacher, Emir Caner, whom I have personally heard make off-color, racially insensitive jokes from the pulpit. Emir has also arguably covered up for his vulgar, charlatan brother Ergun for years. Although Georgia Baptist Colleges have continually been centers of immorality and poor performance, Georgia Baptist pastors (many of whom are alumni of these schools) consistently encourage young congregants to go there. All the while, they reward themselves at their friends with the big salaries that these schools pay to top leadership. Secular colleges are presented as centers of liberalism in which God-hating professors tear apart the biblical world views of young people. Rather than go to state college and be beacons of Christ’s light, Georgia Baptist teenagers are encouraged to cloister themselves, and their parents’ money, at sub-standard Georgia Baptist colleges. If students lose their faith at state universities, the blame should perhaps lie at the feet of Georgia Baptist youth pastors and preachers whose years of influence dry up and the first argument of a liberal college professor. Georgia Baptists would do well to demand that the Georgia Baptist Mission Board either get out of the education business or consolidate their schools into one, less expensive, more manageable institution. As the situation stands, Georgia Baptist higher education is an abysmal embarrassment to the church which is kept in business by federal student aid, some of the state’s higest tution, and the giving dollars of pew-sitting Georgia Baptists.
*Please note that the preceding is my personal opinion. It is not necessarily the opinion of any entity by which I am employed, any church of which I am a member, any church which I attend, or the educational institution at which I am enrolled. Any copyrighted material displayed or referenced is done under the doctrine of fair use.