Griswold to facilitate meeting between GTS professors, trustees

By Mary Frances Schjonberg
Posted Oct 14, 2014

[Episcopal News Service] Former Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold will facilitate the Oct. 16 meeting between trustees of the General Theological Seminary and eight professors whose employment is at the core of the dispute involving complaints about the conduct of the school’s dean and president.

The General trustees agreed Oct. 13 during a teleconference to have the facilitated discussion with the aim of achieving greater clarity, understanding, and reconciliation, according to trustee Chair Bishop Mark Sisk (retired of New York).

A meeting between trustees and the professors was already scheduled for Oct. 16. The addition of a facilitator is a new development, one apparently suggested by the eight professors and agreed to by the board. The board asked Griswold to fill that role.

When Sisk wrote to the eight on Oct. 1 reiterating an offer he said had been previously made to the professors, he said the meeting had to be “wholly confidential, off the record, and no one involved will make use of anything said at it.”

The conflict between the Very Rev. Kurt Dunkle, who became dean and president in July 2013, and eight of the 11-member faculty at the nearly 200-year-old seminary was made public late in September when e-mails and letters from the departing professors to students were circulated and the professors announced a work stoppage.

Professors Joshua Davis, Mitties DeChamplain, Deirdre Good, David Hurd, Andrew Irving, Andrew Kadel, Amy Lamborn and Patrick Malloy wrote to the board on Sept. 17 to outline their issues with Dunkle. They outlined what the seminary later called “alleged inappropriate and harassing statements by the Dean.” The eight also said his management of the faculty and staff and his relationship with students has created a climate of “deep despondency, anxiety, hostility, fear, and retaliation” in the GTS community.

The eight professors listed five actions they wanted trustees to take, including:

* Appoint a committee of board members, to be determined by the faculty, to meet with the eight during the October meeting of the Board of Trustees;

* Give faculty immediate oversight over the curriculum, schedule, worship, and overall program of formation for the seminary;

* Hire an outside person for pastoral support to staff, students, and faculty; and appoint a dean of students;

* “Restore and ensure” that faculty get due process in connection with appointments, worship and formation, and curriculum implementation and give the academic dean authority to “implement properly the academic program,” according to Association of Theological Schools (ATS) standards and the faculty’s Declaration of the Way of Wisdom; and

* Hire a fundraiser to begin a capital campaign.

“Simply put, we must respectfully inform you that if Dean Dunkle continues in his current position, then we will be unable to continue in ours,” the group told the trustees.

A week later, Sisk wrote to the trustees, Dunkle and the faculty to say that the board had hired the law firm of Covington and Burling “to determine the basis for the alleged inappropriate and harassing statements by the Dean.”

The next day the eight professors called that decision a refusal “to deal with the heart of the matter,” and announced that they would stop working beginning Sept. 26 and would not return to work until the board as a whole immediately scheduled a time to meet with them during the trustees’ October meeting.

And they said they had formed the General Theological Seminary Faculty Union and hired an attorney.

The executive committee of the seminary’s Board of Trustees said Sept. 30 that “after much prayer and deliberation and after consulting our legal counsel” its members had “voted with great regret to accept the resignations” of the eight faculty members.

The professors have said they never tendered their resignations.

The eight at the center of the controversy had been among a roster of 11 faculty members plus Dunkle. General now has four full-time faculty and 11 adjunct faculty, seminary spokesman Chad Rancourt has told ENS. This does not include any instructors who may be brought in to teach classes previously handled by the eight.

Eighty-six students are matriculated for the current semester, Rancourt said. General expects to be able to complete all of its classes this term. Out of 23 scheduled classes, 13 were not affected by the departure of the eight professors. General has tried to cover the remaining 10, he said, “drawing upon our remaining full-time faculty and noted scholars in the New York City metropolitan area.”

The school is currently on its fall break and reading days until Oct. 20. The trustee board is to gather Oct. 17 for its annual fall meeting.

– The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is an editor/reporter for the Episcopal News Service.


Comments (14)

  1. Janet Campbell says:

    A wise choice, indeed.

    1. Susan Zimmerman says:

      …let’s hear Dunkle speak…I’ve wondered if the faculty is into cronyism…8 versus 1 to obvious…they sound like they want to lead…hasn’t the Episcopal church always cherished the individual over community…and the larger the community hopefully more qualified individuals that make it up…cut the obvious cronyiism…walk like an Episcopalian, with a brain in your own head…has the faculty heard of anything besides political theology?

      1. Joseph D Herring says:

        No, the Episcopal Church does not cherish the individual over the community. We try to see persons in community and community in persons. Individual persons don’t even become persons in the absence of nurturing community. Our Church is much more naturally both/ and rather than either/ or.

  2. The Rev. Fred Fenton says:

    Frank Griswold is the best possible mediator: intelligent, caring, spiritually alive, experienced, and fair.

  3. Given the current atmosphere, calling on a mediator is a hopeful step in the right direction. May grace prevail!

  4. Zachary Brooks says:

    How embarrassing for G.T.S. and the entire Episcopal Church. Shame on the faculty and the dean for making this such a public spectacle.

  5. Robert Windom says:

    Sad news about such a grand institution!

  6. Tina Mitchell says:

    The faculty at GTS received poor legal advice, and their initial letter, a list of demands, started this whole debacle. Employees in any business know better than to make the statement that if the boss continues in his position, they can’t continue in theirs. They didn’t leave the board room to maneuver, insisting that any meeting with the board include only people who the professors agreed to. What did they think would happen? Did they expect the board to crumble and accede to their demands? Fire the dean in the face of their threats?

    The foolishness of the faculty behavior distracts from their grievances. Their refusal to worship with their opponents was a particularly venomous act. I have no sympathy,

  7. Luke Brown says:

    It doesn’t really matter who said what to whom. The departure of the Dean – fair or not – is the key to moving forward.

    Presidents and deans are supposed to prevent this kind of mess from ever getting to this point. This is a dispute between the faculty and the administration. It happens on campuses all over the country every week… and they get handled. This one has been needlessly turned into a national story that could bring down the institution itself. Don’t think for a minute that every bishop with a seminarian at GTS is not ready to pull them right now if today’s pow-wow does not produce a convincing plan for going forward.

    BTW worshiping on campus every day is part of the faculty contracts. If you are going to go on strike, you have to withdraw from every activity that you have been contracted to do. It isn’t about anything more than that.

  8. DWLindeman says:

    It’s hazardous to compare academic institutions to corporations, I think. True, the content of the letter of the faculty to the board of GTS was certainly ill-advised. Had they written an entirely different letter, a message with nuance but not outright demands, we’d probably not be talking about this sad tragedy now. What’s left out of a critique of the faculty by many who are observing all of this from the outside, is that their treatment by the seminary’s administration may have been as bad as they have said. If the board was fully aware of how contentious the situation had become at GTS, and had done little or nothing to address it, then the board shares some of the blame as well.

    I think many of us would like to see a “happy ending” to this dispute, an ending that would somehow reinstate the faculty. It’s hard to know how this may happen, but it’s not an impossible outcome.

  9. John McCann says:

    In light of the deaths today of two of the Episcopal Church’s great leaders, The Rev. John Andrew of St. Thomas Church in New York, and Bishop Tom Shaw of Mass. and SSJE Brother, this has dragged on far too long, and in the end, diminshes our Church. I pray for a speedy and just resolve.

  10. Stephen Hart says:

    By now the meeting has happened, and I hope it was fruitful. Both sides have behaved badly, the dissident faculty by making extreme demands in the tone of an ultimatum and the trustees by claiming that the faculty had resigned and thereby firing them en masse. Hopefully the trustees and dissident faculty can find a way toward reconciliation, partly by repenting of these hasty, probably emotionally-driven deeds. It is hard, however, to see how the Dean’s ministry can be effective after all that has happened, regardless of the rights and wrongs of the situation.

  11. Mary K Freel says:

    Why was the story titled “GTS8 issue statement, clarify their efforts to return to seminary” pulled? It is listed on the email site but goes to a page not found page. Can’t we read both sides positions?

  12. Mary K Freel says:

    For those following this story who want to read the position of the GTS8 I recommend

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