Another Seminary Hits the Skids, Firing Eight Professors

Another Seminary Hits the Skids, Firing Eight Professors September 30, 2014
The crest of General Theological Seminary in New York City.

I’ve been beating the drum that seminaries across the land are in a time of crisis. Here are some examples:

Now at General Theological Seminary in New York City, the flagship school of the Episcopal Church, a situation is happening that some describe as war. Eight professors, in conflict with the dean, walked out of GTS, refusing to teach, attend meetings, or participate in common worship, then they were fired. The professors wrote:

Simply put, the working environment that the Dean and President has created has become unsustainable. Moreover, the good faith with which we have communicated these dire circumstances to the Board of Trustees has not, thus far, met with an equally serious response. For example our work stoppage could be ended immediately if the Board of Trustees would commit to meeting with us for a frank discussion of these serious matters, as previously requested.

These are times of great reform in centers of theological education, including the seminaries of The Episcopal Church and The General Theological Seminary. In such times, it is all the more important that we treat one another with civility and respect, and that we work flexibly and collaboratively. For the integrity of our mission, it is also important that the leaders of our seminaries not act or speak in ways that would alienate or exclude any of our partners in ministry or indeed any of God’s children.

Unfortunately the opposite has been our experience of the leadership of our Dean and President. It is our view that that the President has repeatedly shown that he is unable to articulate sensitively and theologically the issues that are essential to the thriving of the Body of Christ in its great diversity. Moreover his failure to collaborate, or to respond to our concerns when articulated has resulted in a climate that many of us find to be fraught with conflict, fear, and anxiety. Unfortunately, it is the most vulnerable members of our community who most keenly suffer the distress caused by this environment.

You can read their full statement here.

In response, it seems that all eight professors were then terminated (or resigned, depending on whom you ask).

A member of the Board of Trustees has written that the board felt no choice but to terminate the professors. She writes,

What has become clear to us is that the timing of this letter and action–the day after Matriculation–was in the works for some time. The eight had been preparing this letter, it seems, since the summer. They timed their ‘walkout’ to cause as much distress to the most vulnerable members of the GTS community, the current students, as they possibly could. It didn’t happen during the summer, when we might have addressed their concerns with a meeting. It didn’t happen at the start of the school year so that we could have made some other preparations. When the seminary’s treasurer, a trustee, met with the entire faculty a few days before the 17th, not a word was said. They believe, I think, that they have tried and tried to communicate their difficulties. Yet they didn’t go through any of the channels provided in the faculty handbook nor speak to anyone on the Executive Committee of their “collective decision”. A couple faculty members–one of the eight and one who continues to teach–spoke to the Chair of the Board who encouraged them to work with the Dean. Nothing was said about the impossibility of such work–they merely stopped and began to plan. What kind of example is that? What kind of ‘formation’ of future leaders of the church who will, again and again, be asked to rise to servant leadership, sacrificial love?

It’s ugly, for sure. It’s also tragic. And it’s frightening for those of us who make all or part of our living teaching at institutions such as these.

I hope they can sort it out.

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You can find all of Tony’s books HERE, and you can sign up to be the first to know about his next book, Did God Kill Jesus? HERE.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Scott Paeth

    In part, the crisis in the seminaries is a species of the larger crisis within academia, and from what I gather, at least some of the issue at GTS has to do with the authoritarian style of the dean clashing with the collaborative expectations of the faculty, which is a common problem across academic institutions, coupled with stagnating faculty salaries, rising tuition costs, and bloated administrative budgets. Couple that with a declining constituency and lower levels of funding and financial aid from the churches, and you’ve got a pretty evil smelling brew.

  • FrBen

    There’s more insider detail and commentary 31 minutes into this podcast: http://priestpulse.libsyn.com/episode-1

  • David Barickman

    The Faculty have started their own website, twitter, facebook to explain their position

    http://www.episcopalcafe.com/lead/seminaries/gts_faculty_respond_with_websi.html

  • davend

    The departed faculty have accused the president/dean of various illegals acts here: http://www.safeseminary.org/how-we-got-here.html

    True or untrue, I think these developments will ultimately be fatal to the seminary. If proved true, the board of trustees who have clearly placed all of their eggs in the president’s basket will end up looking like shills for a total creep and will loose all credibility. If the allegations are declared untrue (by the board-appointed law firm investigating the allegations), a significant group of an already tiny student body will feel the Michaelmas 8 were railroaded out of their jobs and leave, casting an even thicker pall over an already troubled situation.

    Also, who is honestly going to pick up the classes for these “missing” faculty members? If one believes the M-8 are properly organized as a collective bargaining unit, anyone who picks up their classes will be declared scabs by a good number of the student body. That’s just not going to work.

    There’s really no way out of this, short of the President’s and Board Chair’s immediate resignations as well as those Board members who have lambasted the M-8 on social media. And there’s no way that’s going to happen and it might even be too late for that.

    • ve6

      The Michaelmas 8, that is so rich, ROFL

  • Sanity Please

    From a distance, having graduated from another seminary, this situation at GTS looks much like a parish blowing up. Usually the toxic issues are long simmering, and probably both sides in this mess at GTS are partially right, and partially wrong. What I find amazing is how quickly both sides have shut down any avenues at reconciliation that would result in either the Dean or the eight faculty members remaining at the seminary–all will have to be sacrificed if there’s any chance at moving forward.

  • DcnScott

    One thing’s for sure: this ain’t Seminex.

  • OverheadPolynomial

    8 apostates ousted. You’ve done a commendable job, Dean. Keep up the good work.

  • davend

    I have never been more wrong:

    “Also, who is honestly going to pick up the classes for these ‘missing’
    faculty members? If one believes the M-8 are properly organized as a
    collective bargaining unit, anyone who picks up their classes will be
    declared scabs by a good number of the student body. That’s just not
    going to work.”

    Replacement workers were easily found and the students caved readily. I guess the Board figures they know what they’re doing.