Ethics Institutions

General Theological Seminary board to negotiate with terminated faculty

General Theological Seminary in New York.

NEW YORK (RNS) The embattled General Theological Seminary will keep its controversial dean and has offered to negotiate employment possibilities with the majority of its faculty who quit teaching classes and were subsequently fired. One trustee has resigned over the board’s decision.

Last month, eight full-time professors quit teaching classes and attending official seminary meetings or chapel services until they could sit down with the seminary board to discuss concerns about the seminary’s dean, the Very Rev. Kurt Dunkle.

General Theological Seminary in New York.

Photo courtesy of Eden, Janine and Jim via Flickr

General Theological Seminary in New York.

The seminary board accepted the resignations of the faculty, which the professors said they had never offered. The dispute left the flagship Episcopal seminary scrambling to find teachers for its classes.

The board of GTS — a venerable New York institution that has produced generations of bishops and noted theologians — said Friday (Oct. 17) that the terminated faculty would be “invited to request provisional reinstatement as professors of the seminary.”

“The Executive Committee stands ready to meet next week to hear requests of any of the eight former faculty members for reinstatement and to negotiate the terms of their provisional employment for the remainder of the academic year,” the board said in a statement.

A collective statement from faculty said they will consider the board’s offer. “For now, we need to spend some time individually and collectively in prayerful reflection on the Board’s decision so that we can determine the best way forward,” the statement said.

New York Bishop Andrew Dietsche, an ex-officio member of the GTS board, criticized the board for terminating the faculty to begin with.

“It also became clear to me that by the decision to terminate the faculty, the board had so inflamed the situation that the board itself had become a participant in the conflict, and in ways that were impeding the hope of a just and fair resolution of the crisis,” Dietsche said in a statement.

Dietsche said the momentum for reinstatement appeared to be so strong that he was confident the board would approve. He said the earlier resolution terminating the faculty “obscured the dynamic of debate and persuasion within the board itself, and hid from view the genuinely wide diversity of thought and conviction across the board.”

Board trustee Jeffrey Small said he has stepped down from the board because he supported permanent faculty reinstatement.

“All of us have contributed to the state of this crisis,” Small said. “For any resolution to happen, there needs to be healing and reconciliation between all parties.”

Earlier this month, respected Duke Divinity School theologian Stanley Hauerwas declined a series of lectures he was scheduled to give in November so he would not appear to take sides. More than 900 scholars from across the country have signed a letter of support for the eight faculty, saying they will not lecture or speak at the seminary.

The board also voted to keep Dunkle as dean and president. The eight faculty had charged that Dunkle shared a student’s academic records with people who were not authorized to see them, which would violate federal academic privacy standards.

In a Sept. 17 letter, the faculty charged Dunkle with comments that have made women and some minority groups uncomfortable, such as describing Asians as “slanty eyed,” not wanting GTS to be known as the “gay seminary,” and telling a female professor that he “loved vaginas.”

“The Board … has concluded after extensive discussion that there are not sufficient grounds for terminating the Very Reverend Kurt Dunkle as President and Dean,” the statement said. “We reaffirm our call to him as President and Dean and offer him our continuing support.”

KRE/AMB END BAILEY

About the author

Sarah Pulliam Bailey

Sarah Pulliam Bailey is a national correspondent for RNS, covering how faith intersects with politics, culture and other news. She previously served as online editor for Christianity Today where she remains an editor-at-large.

12 Comments

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  • The wisest thing the trustees could have done would have been to encourage Rev. Dunkle to tender his resignation. And, as a man of God, he should have considered doing so himself (for the sake of GTS). Perhaps he did consider it… If so, he should strongly consider it again. He may have been the wrong choice for GTS in the first place…

  • It looks like the Board has doubled down on its “The Dean is our guy and we’re sticking with him” position. They must be getting legal counsel telling them to offer this “pathway back to citizenship” for the GTS 8 faculty in order to avoid a bigger legal battle? The only outcome I can envision that results in any hope of healing and movement forward is if the Dean and the GTS 8 leave.

  • Being neither seminarian, theologian, professor, administrator, or even Episcopal, I have no dog in this fight. Living in an academic environment, however, I know that students’ records are private, and mishandling of them can threaten accreditation. Living as a follower of Christ, I know that language of a dismissive or abusive nature is not a hallmark of kingdom leadership. If the faculty did indeed bring these concerns to the Board, and if they are founded in fact, GTS is a sinking ship for having chosen to sail on with a corrupt captain.

  • It is amazing that the faculty are not jumping at this offer. It is highly likely that at the end this would result in their full reinstatement. Instead, they are acting like they are “in charge.” They should consider themselves fortunate that the paychecks are probably continuing and utilities haven’t been shut off at “their” houses.

  • I don’t know the “inside of the story” or the “truth” but perhaps some of these distinguished professors have been there for a long time are accustomed to being served and inflated.

    The seminary was/is dying and the “new kid on the block” is changing some things.

    Perhaps… good will come out of this… maybe change is needed???

    The professors are not there to be served, but to serve. PERHAPS they don’t like the changes and have made it all about themselves, and not God???

    Again, I don’t know the specifics because I’m not there.

  • Good point.

    They are acting like they are “in charge” and I suspect they are accustomed to being treated as if they are “in charge.” Hence the revolt against the new guy who has been put in place to turn this dying institution around.

    I can’t say for sure, but pride and ego seem to be in control, not God.

  • I know very little about the actual issues in this confrontation. However, as a university faculty member (now retired), I regret that faculty have generally been reduced to functionaries, while entrenched administrators hold most of the cards. Tenure is becoming rarer and perhaps less meaningful. Many actual teaching is done by people not even “on the tenure track”– ill-paid part-time by piecework with few benefits, and forced to shuttle between two or three institutions in order to make a living wage.

    In older and better times, a college or university was effectively run by its faculty. They should be able collegially to vote out an administrator in whom they have lost confidence. Could they do so at GTS? I would like to know whether the other faculty love the dean, or merely lack the courage of the eight who have gone out on a limb. What would they do or say if they dared?

    Of course, academic institutions must stay in the black financially, but does this mean that they must operate with all the philistinism of a commercial mentality? In a remarkably prescient book antedating 9/11, _The Twilight of American Culture_, Morris Berman devotes a chapter to academe and how its beacon of wisdom for society at large has gone out. It rings totally true from by perspective, and there has been no improvement since.

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