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.