Education remains priority amid General Seminary faculty departures

By ENS Staff
Posted Sep 30, 2014

[Episcopal News Service] The board of trustees’ executive committee for General Theological Seminary in New York has “voted with great regret to accept the resignations” of eight full-time professors who say “the working environment that the Dean and President has created has become unsustainable.”

The board said its decision came “after much prayer and deliberation and after consulting our legal council.” The trustees also said that the primary concern of the seminary “continues to be the education and formation of our students.”

A conflict between the dean and some members of faculty at the nearly 200-year-old seminary was made public late last week when e-mails from the departing professors to students were circulated.

Nowhere in those e-mails did the eight say they were resigning and at least one of the professors, Andrew Irving, said in a subsequent e-mail that “we wish to underline that we have not resigned. Our letters did not say that we would resign. We requested meetings with the board.”

The 37-member board, many of whom met via conference call on Sept. 29 to discuss the conflict, said in a statement released the next day that they had reached their decision “with heavy hearts,” but agreed that “following months of internal divisions around the future direction of General Seminary” it was the “best path forward in educating our students and shaping them into leaders of the church.”

The board said that the seminary is willing to meet with any former faculty member about the possibility of reconsidering his or her position.

The eight faculty members said they would not teach, attend meetings, or participate in common worship in the Chapel of the Good Shepherd until “pressing issues” at the seminary were addressed.

The eight faculty members said they would not teach, attend meetings, or participate in common worship in the Chapel of the Good Shepherd until “pressing issues” at the seminary were addressed.

After the trustees made their decision, the Very Rev. Kurt Dunkle, who became dean and president in July 2013, said in a Sept. 29 e-mail to students: “Prayer is the most powerful response any of us can make at this point. Please pray.”

Dunkle and the remaining faculty, the board said, “are working on the best ways to continue teaching and advising and to assure all that we will continue to provide quality education and formation with the least amount of interruption possible.”

The board’s statement notes that the school’s New York location “affords us access to a wide range of resources, and we shall be drawing upon those resources to address any needs created by these resignations.”

Professors Joshua Davis, Mitties DeChamplain, Deirdre Good, David Hurd, Andrew Irving, Andrew Kadel, Amy Lamborn and Patrick Malloy said in their Sept. 26 e-mail to students that they were not going to teach, attend meetings, or participate in common worship until “pressing issues” at the seminary were addressed. They said that “despite many attempts at dialogue in the past year – including conversations facilitated by a professional external facilitator – the situation has deteriorated to such an extent that we have reached an impasse.”

The professors said that they had communicated what they called “dire circumstances” to the board of trustees and said that their “work stoppage” could be ended immediately if the board would commit to meeting with them.

But the board said in its statement that some of those demands for action were “not possible under the governing structure of the Seminary.”

Dunkle, a former lawyer and a 2004 graduate of GTS, e-mailed the seminary community on the morning of Sept. 29 saying that the principal concern is the welfare of the students and acknowledging that worship is central to GTS.

In a further email on Sept. 30, as the board’s statement was pending, Dunkle confirmed that about half of the classes would continue uninterrupted. “As we go through this together, remember that all our hope on God is founded,” he added. “It’s not just a hymn, but a guiding reminder of our fundamental truth. Prayer, either alone or together, is the most effective way to access God. Please remember to continue to pray for all those here and not here.”

The departing professors expressed their view that Dunkle “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.”

They mentioned that there had been “a number of very serious incidents and patterns of behavior which have over time caused faculty, students, and staff to feel intimidated, profoundly disrespected, excluded, devalued, and helpless … Our concerns about these behaviors and their consequences have been dismissed by the Dean. We find that the Dean’s unwillingness to take responsibility for the damage that these ways of acting and speaking have caused is deeply problematic.”

The board of trustees said in its Sept. 30 statement that it is conducting an internal investigation into the allegations of statements made by Dunkle.

The General Theological Seminary was founded in 1817 in the Chelsea neighborhood of New York City as the first theological seminary of the Episcopal Church.

As with many theological institutions, GTS has faced economic pressures following the global financial crisis leading to the sale of some of its property in order to eliminate debt and balance its budget. There was no indication from the various statements and correspondence that the seminary’s financial issues had in any way contributed to the present conflict.

The 10 Episcopal seminaries in the U.S. have very few official ties to the Episcopal Church, beyond General Convention’s authority to elect six of the GTS trustees.

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori will visit the school on the morning of Oct. 1. She will visit an 8:30 a.m. class, attend chapel and then “be present on the Close until 11:30 a.m. for your own contact with her,” Dunkle said in his first Sept. 30 e-mail to students.

“The Church is counting on us,” the board concluded in its statement. “This week Dean Dunkle and the remaining faculty are working on the best ways to continue teaching and advising and to assure all that we will continue to provide quality education and formation with the least amount of interruption possible.

“While we may sometimes disagree, the commitment to our current students is a responsibility that the Board takes seriously. It is for their well-being alone that we came to this resolution, and pray that our decision was the right one.”


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Comments (65)

  1. Is it true that the Dean has discontinued daily chapel services? If so, the Board should accept his resignation.

    1. Paul Van Brunt says:

      He had switched to an alternating Eucharist, Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer rotation.

    2. Father Anthony C. Dinoto says:

      Father Webber,
      I concur. This slow deterioration of the worship/prayer life at General came to a head under the misguided leadership of this ‘posterboy’ of careerism in the Episcopal Church is simply unacceptable.
      Go with God.
      Father Anthony C. Dinoto, GTS ’99

    3. Chris et al.,
      While I may or may not agree with your statement(s), I do not think pronouncements on matters of great import and nuance serves the Church or the Seminary’s best interest. Allowing those “on the ground” at GTS continue to sort out the way(s) forward and holding them in our prayers may be the better part of valor (and wisdom) for those of us in diaspora.
      JBC (STM, 1985)

  2. Rev. Terri Brice says:

    Profoundly saddened by all of this. These were some of the very best teachers I could have ever hoped for – I learned so much from them. Class ’04

  3. I am very disheartened at the disingenuous response of the board stating that the faculty had resigned which they MOST CLEARLY had not. Heavy hearts? Seriously? The one big gigantic almost impossibly reachable request made by the faculty was to meet with the board. Why couldn’t they meet with the faculty? It seems that there is darkness surrounding this whole event and the fact that EIGHT respected faculty could be cast aside so easily raises serious doubts about the seminary leadership of both the Dean and the Board. And if the seminary is successful in continuing to function without the faculty by hiring from the great pool of talent available in New York those “scab” professors would be “crossing the picket line” and the seminary would continue to bury the real problems that brought it to this disgraceful situation.

    1. Rev Stephen Holton says:

      Exactly. Well put

    2. Sally Rowan says:

      “after much prayer and deliberation and after consulting our legal council.”

      Who’s on first?

  4. Livingston Prescott Humboldt IV says:

    Sad, but not surprising, when things come to a point like this. I have no knowledge of the situation and therefore no insights or even opinions to add.

  5. Michael Craig Patterson says:

    I regret that the author of this article elected to include no specifics with respect to issues and positions in conflict. That leaves the reader with only the knowledge that this important seminary is in crisis. I do not ask the author to take a position, but I expect journalistic standards that give depth to reporting and value to the reader.

    Michael Patterson
    Reno, Nevada

    1. MEL CLARK says:

      Mr. Patterson voices my very words………

      MCC

      1. Charles Hawes says:

        And mine.

        1. Elizabeth Grainger says:

          I am mystified as to the source and details of this conflict, and the article does nothing to alleviate my confusion. Could someone who understands what is happening at GTS provide a link to a reputable source, or possibly to another article that contains better information? It would be greatly appreciated, as this sounds like a matter that should be better understood by our community. I would like to have at least some idea what in the world is going on.

          1. Elizabeth Grainger says:

            After posting my query I read the article at the NY Times, which was somewhat illuminating:
            “Seeking Dean’s Firing, Professors End Up Jobless,” by Sharon Otterman, Oct 1, 2014
            http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/02/nyregion/labor-dispute-leaves-professors-jobless.html

            I wanted to share the information in case it is helpful to others.

    2. Brad Howard says:

      Agreed. What specifically are the facts and issues involved here?

  6. The Very Rev. Ronald H. Clingenpeel says:

    I wonder — can a board of trustees, in the State of New York, vote on a decision by telephone conference call? I know that is illegal in many states, and am aware that Standing Committees are not suppose to act that way in the consent to bishop’s elections. It is a curious choice. The letter from the Board indicated that it was the Executive Committee that took this action regarding the faculty. We are starting to get too many conflicting reports.

  7. Arthur House says:

    This article is so typical of many that appear on ENS regarding controversial issues. Lots of smoke and mirrors about “prayerful consideration” and so on, without once addressing the WHAT, WHEN, WHERE, and HOW of the grave matters at hand. Members of the church deserve a full and public dialogue about the specific causes of dissension that have created such a drastic and horrendous outcome. So, ENS, what is going on the precipitated this? What are the specific charges or allegations? Nothing short of full candor and specifics will suffice. I’m glad that people are engaged in prayer over this issue, but what is it that people are praying for and about?

  8. Andrew Irving says:

    Wait: I’m one of the 8 faculty members – we have not departed!
    We have not resigned; we did not offer resignation.

    1. MEL CLARK says:

      What are your issues?

    2. Lou Divis says:

      I know several of the professors, they are top notch!! I pray this is not a gay issue…
      I pray that the Seminary will continue, and that the faculty will be treated with respect, and that the dean and board will realize what a severe blow and mistake this is.

  9. Will Berry says:

    I’m a young adult candidate for the priesthood, looking at potential seminaries and although I was never considering General, I have to admit I certainly won’t be now and wonder if my Bishop would even allow it, given the current circumstances. I’ve been following this situation for several days and the particularities have been quite unsettling. I think this is an example of bad hierarchy in the modern education and Church system. I certainly acknowledge that not all hierarchy is inherently bad, but when folks in leadership positions and positions of power refuse to include valued and respected members of their community/staff in their decision process, deny meetings with them, and then fire them by way of “accepting resignations” that never actually existed– there is a serious abuse of power. My prayer is that those administrators and those on the board would prayerfully re-consider their decision and would remember that Jesus saw His power with/as God as something not to be exploited but humbled and emptied himself, even to death on the cross.

    1. Thomas Rightmyer says:

      Will is fortunate in having a choice. Almost 50 years ago I went where my bishop told me to go. All best wishes.

      1. TEC is fortunate to have seminarians!

  10. Kevin M O'Connor says:

    This is clearly a lockout as a response to cover up a hostile work environment.

  11. Mary Roehrich says:

    The great pool of talent available in New York – how many of them will be foolish enough to jump into this morass. How desperate would you have to be in order to accept a job with such a capricious
    administration? It beggars the imagination.

  12. Charles Hawes says:

    I don’t know what is more lamentable, the issue (whatever it is), or the news source (not) reporting it.

    1. Ann Scott says:

      I agree. In my view as a longtime editor and columnist, this story should have been held until both sides could be represented or the details gleaned in some other fashion. Ofherwise, just state that noone will talk. It’s too easy for rumors to start sounding like facts.

  13. You know, I am bloody well sick and tired of people putting good guy/bad guy hats on various factions and taking sides and using students – or students presenting themselves – as helpless victims. Truth is, we do not have enough information at this point to make any judgment.

    It’s like trying to diagnose why a patient is coughing and you haven’t gotten lab tests or vital signs or listened to lung sounds or gotten an X-ray or scan. It could be a cold or allergies or asthma or pneumonia or COPD or lung cancer, or some combination of causes. But, you won’t know until all the information and data is in and can be analyzed.

    From where I sit, no one’s hands are clean. After EDS and now GTS, it feels a bit like Israel and Palestine. After a while, it almost makes no difference who is right and who is wrong.

    Just stop it. Not one more pound of flesh or one more pint of blood. Just behave like grown up – indeed, ones who profess to be Christian – and get on with the work of teaching and doing and modeling the Gospel, please.

    1. Jim Donovan says:

      Well said, as usual, Elizabeth!

    2. Mother Elizabeth,

      Agreed.

      Helene Swanson

  14. Andrew Katsanis says:

    It’s not April ist. Is it?

  15. Reggie Harris says:

    I’m with Elizabeth. No more taking sides! Much better for us to be all about the notoriously non-side-taking Gospel.

    1. Lou Divis says:

      AMEN!

    2. Margaret Trezevant says:

      Since when does the gospel not take sides? God loves all equally, yes, but Jesus definitely took sides when it came to how we treat one another. He did, after all, overturn a few tables in the temple. Yes, details are still sketchy, but in time I feel sure there will be a side to take. From what we know now, things aren’t looking good.

  16. Grace Cangialosi says:

    I am not a GTS alum, and I don’t know anything more than what I’ve read in the various articles and letters. I am incredibly saddened, however, by the whole situation. A couple of weeks ago we heard Jesus telling his followers how they were to handle conflict: face to face and in conversation with one another, first one on one and then including others as necessary. From here it would appear that faculty members asked for just this kind of meeting and were refused.
    Regardless of the issues involved, I can think of no way this position could be defended in a Christian community.
    Again, last week we were reminded by St. Paul to put on the mind of Christ, who took on the form of a servant. And Jesus himself said at one point, “I am among you as one who serves.” Surely if there were ever a place where this kind of servant leadership is appropriate–and important–it is in a church and in a seminary whose purpose is to train students for this kind of leadership. And not just to teach it, but to model it.
    I wonder who it is that’s being served here: God? The Gospel? The Church? The students? Egos? Turf? I suspect it’s more than a bit of the last two.
    Someone commented that they can’t know what to pray for if they don’t know the issues. We don’t need to know the issues to pray for the Holy Spirit to soften and open the hearts of all those involved. We can pray that a way can be found through this darkness and that all parties will humble themselves so they can listen to one another and hold their own opinions lightly, remembering that they are probably right on some matters and wrong on others, as is true of everyone.
    Lord, have mercy.

  17. Anthony Christiansen says:

    Very troubling and from everything I read here and at the Episcopal Cafe, it certainly appears that Dunkle is acting primarily as a stereotype New York City lawyer rather than as a priest primarily assigned to the care of souls. As someone currently in the discernment process, I can say with certainty that GTS is no longer on my list of possibilities for future ministerial education. Very sad.

    1. Seth Kasten says:

      Sir, your reference to a “stereotype New York lawyer” is both unnecessary and offensive. Didn’t it occur to you that you could have expressed your position without bringing up an unproven stereotype?

  18. Erna Lund says:

    Messrs. Patterson, Clark and Hawes voice/reflect my thoughts, words, concerns … but Rev.Dr.Elizabeth Kaelon’s remarks are rather convoluted and even tossing in the Israel-Palestine issue compounded by the assertion that “… it almost makes no difference as to who is right and who is wrong” even before knowing the specifics and the full story! It would seem that it should make a big difference all the way around–morally and spiritually.

  19. Why does this article refer to “departing” professors? They have not resigned. The board has authorized a lock-out, and when they realize the implcations of what they have done, they will eventually have to back down. In my 30-year association with General, I can recall three major showdowns over contract violations, discrimination, and unfair labor practices. The board eventually backed down in all three cases.

    1. Cynthia Katsarelis says:

      Excuse me. I don’t have a dog in this fight. But in the name of journalistic excellence, I would like to point out that the faculty members claim that they did not resign. ENS seems to be projecting the side of the Trustees.

      I will be very interested in hearing more, as those striking faculty have concerns that this Dean has made remarks that are racist, sexist, and homophobic. As an Episcopalian, that would concern me greatly.

      I hope to hear balanced and honest reporting. And I hope that none of my pledge money has funded this debacle.

  20. Elizabeth Sheppard says:

    I am an Australian Anglican from Sydney, not associated with the General Seminary. As such I am very familiar with the destructive effects of Church wrangling. I am saddened and horrified by the additional negative image of Anglicanism and Christianity your USA seminary standoff situation presents to the world. Your debate may appear local and petty to you, but it has global effects on us, so please consider this. Through the internet, your situation delights anti-Christian terrorist groups in Australia. It provides them with strong evidence to lure Christians away from Churches. Please find a way to address and resolve your differences. Why can’t the irreconcilable parties form two parallel subseminaries within the seminary? Then they could be required to debate their disagreements rigorously and properly, with parallel peer review from both sides, in academic journals, and students would be free to choose their alliance, or move between both points of view as they discern. This would expose personal rivalries and shine a light on the truth. Holding a mirror up to human reality often leads to Christ.
    With prayers for your success in finding a resolution through Christ,
    Elizabeth Sheppard BA BTh BPhil STB ACertCM
    Sydney, Australia

  21. Serving 28 years as Adjunct Professor of History and Political Science for a small, RCC University, and having grown up in an academic family (Father = Professor), I have witnessed crises in small institutions, where resources are not up to the needs. My own university has gone through some in 28 years. Generally, Boards of Trustees are moot (too many lawyers), hired staff are moot (told not to talk by Chair of the BOT), leaving us the mere baptized to wonder what tempests in this teapot are really about. Seminary education in TEC is in crisis, will get worse for a time; 50% of those in ordination process now will not have a traditional 3-year seminary experience.

  22. Patricia Nakamura says:

    The Rev. Dr. Elizabeth Kaeton said precisely and completely all that can be said at this moment: We do not have enough information.

    And I am heartily glad I am merely an onlooker.

  23. Lucia Lloyd says:

    It’s not ENS’s fault. The point is, there’s not some external issue this is about, like pay or hours. According to the faculty, the issue here is the Dean’s inability to cooperate with anybody on anything. Their statements are that he won’t listen, orders people around, and if anyone ever disagrees with him, he reacts with intimidation and hostility. And the faculty say that even after they’ve had a mediator come in, he’s been just as hostile or more so. There’s more extensive coverage over on Episcopal Cafe, with statements from both sides. The faculty have also put up a site called http://www.safeseminary.org

  24. Parrot Pastor says:

    Truth takes many forms on all sudes of this situation. GTS has become a “we vs them” situation. Broken trust and communication, forced terminations/resignations, emotional decision makers…… Perhaps God will redeem this struggle by strengthening the future clergy at GTS who will confront these situations in their own ministries more often than we would like to admit. Perhaps this situation will teach us that we should all look at the statistics of what clergy and their vestries/boards do with and to each other in this same painful way. And then the hard work of owning our roles in it, asking for and receiving forgiveness and working towards how God’s kingdom wants differently from us needs to commence. The statistics of these types of conflict in the local, and all parts of, church are rising. What GTS is experiencing is very similar. Read the recent posts from the Episcopal Womens Caucus! God forgive us all.

  25. J. W. McRee says:

    Did anyone else notice the typographical error in the Board’s statement?

    1. J. Suhar says:

      Typo is in ENS report, not in the letter from the Board of Trustees which says “counsel” not “council”.

      1. J. W. McRee says:

        It was spelled incorrectly on the GTS document I read, as “council” instead of “counsel”. It was probably corrected later.

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