The SHORTER COLLEGE Story | A Historical Sketch
Founded by the African Methodist Episcopal Church in 1886, Shorter College was a logical and pragmatic response to the need of recently freed slaves to overcome the many disadvantages and deprivations of slavery and racial discrimination. This was a time, little more than twenty years after the end of the Civil War and the abolition of slavery, when black people had no access to institutions of higher learning. In fact, the prevailing attitude was that Blacks had no capacity for learning and the vast majority lacked basic education and skills. The church seized the opportunity to provide instruction leading to a general education, but also aimed at developing competent leadership among Black people.
In November 1886, under the leadership of Bishop T.M.D. Ward, the Arkansas Annual Conference of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, less than twenty years after it was organized, formulated a plan for establishing an institution of higher learning. No doubt this was influenced by the years Nathan Warren, one of the founders of the African Methodist Episcopal Church in Arkansas, spent in Xenia, Ohio, at the time Bishop Daniel Payne was President of Wilberforce University. When it opened on September 15, 1886, the school was housed in the basement of Bethel A. M. E. Church on Ninth and Broadway in Little Rock, Arkansas and was named Bethel University. Its first session opened with an enrollment of 109 students.
In 1888, Bethel University was moved to Arkadelphia, Arkansas, where it opened its fifth academic year on September 23, 1891. In December 1892 the Annual Conference renamed the school to Shorter University in honor of Bishop James Alexander Shorter, organizer of the African Methodist Episcopal Church in Arkansas. On May 18, 1894, Shorter University was chartered under its new name. A year later, under the leadership of Principal F. T. Vinegar and Bishop W. B. Derrick, Shorter acquired land and buildings in North Little Rock, Arkansas. From September 22, 1895, to January 1898, the college maintained operations both in North Little Rock and, in Arkadelphia. At the end of a twenty-eight month transition, the college established itself at 604 Locust Street in North Little Rock in 1898 and terminated operations in Arkadelphia. At present the campus sits on three and one-half blocks of valuable property in the city of North Little Rock.
On August 14, 1903, the charter was amended to change the name of the institution to Shorter College, in that same year, the first building was erected and named Tyree Hall. This initiation of physical-plant expansion, which is attributed to Bishop Evans Tyree and President T. H. Jackson, is significant because it represents an unmistakable commitment to a permanent location. As funds became available, buildings were erected and the scope of its offerings broadened, at one time providing theological, vocational and liberal arts programs as a four-year college.
Shorter College’s open enrollment policy was of great benefit to the African American population across the state of Arkansas and later in Oklahoma. Several of the clergy and lay leaders in the Twelfth Episcopal District graduated from Shorter College and later, Jackson Seminary located on the campus. Other institutions of higher learning in the state of Arkansas were closed to African Americans; therefore Shorter’s presence served a great educational void.
In 1955, a decision was made to operate the college as a 2-year institution under the leadership of President Theophilus D. Alexander and Bishop William R. Wilkes. The prevailing institutional goal was to develop and maintain programs and services characteristic of a first rate Junior College. Its two priorities were development of a physical plant designed to support its instructional program and goals, and an administration capable of ensuring institutional effectiveness and adherence to the institution’s goals.
In 1958, A.O. Wilson was appointed President and served a two-year term. He was succeeded by Dr. H. Solomon Hill in June 1960. Dr. Hill’s eight-year tenure brought many improvements to the college and the community as well. Among his accomplishments were the construction and furnishing of the Sherman-Tyree Hall in May 1961(under Bishop O. L. Sherman’s leadership), as well as the completion of the new library in 1968.
In May 1970, The Board of Trustees, under the leadership of Bishop D. Ward Nichols, elected Rev. Lonnie Johnson of Lawton, Oklahoma, as president of The College. After serving fourteen months, Rev. Johnson resigned and returned to Oklahoma.
In May 1972, Mr. Oley L. Griffin by unanimous consensus of the Board of Trustees was appointed by Bishop Nichols to oversee the operations as president. While President Griffin was in office, ground was broken for the S.S. Morris Student Center in November 1974. The building was completed in the fall of 1975. In the winter of 1977, when President R.J. Hampton was in office, ground was broken for the F.C. James Human Resources Center, named in honor of Bishop Frederick C. James. The James Center was completed in 1979.
In September 1980, the Board named the Reverend John L. Phillips, Sr., the thirty-seventh president of the college. A man of proven administrative ability, President Phillips received unanimous support from the other administrative officers and the faculty members for his plan to reorganize the administration, which he explained soon after taking office. The plan consisted of three phases: An analysis of the existing administrative organization; evaluation of existing administration functions by the criterion of relevance to the mission; and revision of the administrative system and job descriptions to establish a management-by-objectives administrative style conducive to planning, management, and evaluation that would ensure the relevance of the various functions of the college to its mission. The first phase of the plan was completed in January 1981; the second was included in a perpetual planning cycle essential to management by objectives; and the third was executed as, one by one, the various offices were adapted to management by objectives. Under President Phillips administration, the college was led to full unconditional accreditation by the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, the Arkansas Council of Independent Colleges and Universities, the National Association of Junior Colleges, and the Arkansas Department of Higher Education. This accreditation enabled Shorter College to compete for students who could then transfer easily to four-year institutions. In the years following, many attempts were made at improving the administrative effectiveness of the institution and shaping its programs to meet the needs of students.
In 1984, Bishop H. Hartford Brookins was assigned to the Twelfth (12th) Episcopal District of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. He served as the Chairman of the Board of Trustees responsible for the welfare and upkeeping of Shorter College. Bishop Brookins’ tenure of office ended in July 1988, with the subsequent assignment of Bishop Henry A. Belin, Jr. who became the Chairman of the Board of Trustees of Shorter College.
Dr. H. Benjamin Williams joined Shorter College as the Vice President for Academic Affairs in the Fall of 1984 under Dr. John L. Phillips. He was appointed the interim President in July 1987 and was confirmed the 38th President of the college in the March 1988. Dr. Williams resigned his leadership in June 1988. Dr. Williams succeeded in accomplishing the following: reinstating the men’s basketball team, establishing a new federally funded program (Title III) designed to strengthen academic programs at the college; setting up a dormitory for the male students on campus (Honors Hall), and making some improvements in the administrative components of the college.
Dr. Williams was succeeded by Dr. W. Dean Goldsby who was appointed by the board to the seat of Interim President in June 1988 thereby vacating his previous position as Director for Student Services. Dr. Goldsby embarked on a number of improvement projects including: increasing the student enrollment for the 1988/89 session; overhauling and restructuring the internal financial management; and completing the physical improvement projects on campus (i.e. the renovation of Sherman Tyree Hall). During the administration of Dr. W. Dean Goldsby (1988-89), ground was broken for the Henry A. Belin-Health-Plex, which houses the Gymnasium.
Dr. Katherine P. Mitchell, elected on September 21, 1989, by the Board of Trustees, took office on November 1, 1989 becoming the first woman to be elected President of the college. Under Dr. Mitchell’s leadership, the college made significant progress to include the completion of the Henry A. Belin Health-Plex and the Alexander-Turner Child Development Center.
In 1998, Dr. Irma Hunter Brown was elected President of Shorter College. Following Dr. Brown’s tenure, the Board of Trustees named Dr. Cora D. McHenry acting president of Shorter College in April 2001. In May 2002, the Board of Trustees elected Dr. McHenry as President. The Board of Trustees and the administrative staff set out on a two-phase program of revitalization and implementation of the newly adopted strategic plan. Following the administration of Dr. Cora McHenry, the Board of Trustees elected Lillie Alexis as its 43rd President.
In June 2008, Bishop Samuel L. Green, Sr. was elected and consecrated as the 125th Bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. He was assigned to the 12th Episcopal District and with this Episcopal service, his responsibility included Chairman of the Board of Trustees for Shorter College.
Shorter College had lost its accreditation in 1998, but with a watchful board and a few dedicated staff, the doors of the college were kept open. Within the first few months, Bishop Green assembled the Board of Trustees to assess the situation of Shorter College and to critically evaluate its future.
After reviewing the institution’s mission, goals, and objectives, the Board of Trustees determined that Shorter College should move forward in continuing its rich heritage. They elected to bring back one of its former presidents, Dr. Katherine P. Mitchell, to lead the effort to gain candidacy status with the Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools (TRACS). An intensive eighteen month process with an introspective critical look at Shorter College resulted in Shorter Colleges’ self-study report which was presented to TRACS. The self-study team, then, made its initial visit to the College.
On April 13, 2011, Shorter College received notification of its completion of this accomplishment: candidacy status was granted. Dr. Katherine P. Mitchell had completed her task. The next step was to work toward full accreditation.
In July 2012, the Board of Trustees elected O. Jerome Green, Esq., as the 45th President of Shorter College. The Board charged Dr. Green and staff to move Shorter College to full accreditation. The team commenced its task. Full-time faculty were hired to instruct students; student learning was facilitated; infrastructures were enhanced, and student services were strengthened. Sound fiscal affairs were maintained and curriculum was enhanced. Consequently, with intensive work, strong leadership, and a committed board, the self-study for full accreditation was developed and submitted to TRACS.
During this process, Shorter welcomed fifty (50) enrolled students in the 2012 fall semester and two hundred thirty six (236) enrolled students in the 2013 spring semester. The first summer school session held in more than ten years had 83 students enrolled for summer session I, and 90 students enrolled for summer session II.
TRACS sent another site team to Shorter College on August 19-22, 2013. By this time, enrollment for fall 2013 had reached 331 new and returning students. TRACS evaluated the data and relevant information in the accreditation report and made its preliminary determination. On October 29, 2013, the Chairman and representatives of the Board of Trustees and administration of Shorter College traveled to San Diego, California to stand before the Commissioners of the Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools (TRACS) to answer questions relative to Shorter College’s adherence to TRACS’ accreditation standards. At the end of the interview, Shorter College was awarded full accreditation status as a Category I institution for a period of five years — 2013-2018.
With full accreditation, the focus for Shorter College was on excellence in all arenas. The committed staff focused on developing first-rate information technology, student services, assessment, strategic planning, curriculum development, faculty development, and other strategic areas. Great strides were made and are continuing to be improved in these areas. In the spring semester of 2014, Shorter College had a student enrollment of 437 students; library holdings were increased; cooperative library usage agreements were implemented; curricular improvements were made, and the renovation of the S. S. Morris Student Center was completed in July 2014.
In April 2015, two new Associate of Arts Degree Programs were added to the curriculum: Associate of Arts in Entrepreneurial Studies and the Associate of Arts in Criminal Justice. In August 2016, two new Associate of Arts Degree Programs were added to the curriculum: Associate of Arts in Christian Leadership and the Associate of Arts Early Childhood Development.
Future plans include the introduction of new degree programs, the building of an ultra-modern dormitory/with student apartments, and an administrative building with classroom and offices. An intensive fund raising strategy has a goal of one million dollars for 2017-2018. By 2020, Shorter College plans to have raised a total of $5 million in unrestrictive private gifts and have an increase in the Shorter College Endowment Fund. The rebirth of Shorter College as a viable option for higher education is evident, and “You Fit Here.”
In July 2016, Bishop Michael Mitchell was elected and consecrated as the 134th Bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. He was assigned to the 12th Episcopal District and with this Episcopal service, his responsibility includes serving as Chairman of the Board of Trustees for Shorter College.