Striking GTS faculty launch website concerning their actions

The eight General Seminary professors have launched a website, Facebook group and Twitter account @SafeSeminary to respond to questions about their actions.

One of the most important elements on the website is the letter that they sent to the Board on September 17th. Several board members have said on social media that it is on the basis of this letter that the board decided that the eight had effectively resigned, an interpretation the eight dispute.

The letter alleges that on numerous occasions the dean used language offensive to women, racial minorities and sexual minorities. The faculty also allege that the dean twice compromised the confidentiality of a student’s academic record in violation of privacy laws also known as the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). The faculty members write that when these matters were brought to the dean’s attention he was unwilling to apologize or acknowledge wrongdoing.

Elsewhere online, the faculty took to social media to respond to an essay the the Rev.

Ellen Tillotson, a member of the board of trustees posted on Facebook last night and reported by The Lead. The faculty response to the Ellen Tillotson letter can be found in the comments of that item.

Board Member Tillotson claims that we the faculty have been sitting on the information that led to the work stoppage in order to apply maximum pressure on their decision-making process. Her claim could not be further from the truth. We are able to document that, beginning as early as October 2013, we attempted to communicate serious breakdowns in our working relationship with Dean and President Kurt Dunkle. Senior and tenured faculty members spoke with key members of the Board, including having multiple and extensive conversations with at least one member of the Executive Committee. In these conversations, we were clear about the conflictual nature of our work with the Dean. However, in every case the faculty’s concerns were rebuffed and characterized as resistance to necessary change, systemic entropy, or ignored altogether. In other words, we were either dismissed or blamed.

Despite these failed attempts, we continued to try to address our concerns with Dean Dunkle directly. We spoke to him individually. We spoke to him in small groups. We tried to engage him in our faculty meetings. In every conversation, we endeavored to convey our desire to work with him, our openness and desire for change and innovation, and our desperate need to tend to our working relationship. Sometimes we were encouraged when it seemed like Dean Dunkle heard our concerns and wanted to work collaboratively. But it was soon clear that his short-burst efforts at collegiality and respect gave way without warning to unwarranted hostility and disrespect. It was clear that we were not to be partners in mission, but rather Dean Dunkle came to insist on his absolute power and control of all the areas over which faculty gives direction — in direct contradiction to the published standards of the Association of Theological Schools, our accrediting body (ATS Institutional Standards, 7.2.1-3,, and 5.1.4).

In February 2014, at a time that Dean Dunkle set aside as a time for the faculty to evaluate his job performance, we again endeavored to highlight aspects of his vision that we support, such as The Way of Wisdom/Wisdom Year, but we again listed key areas of concern affecting our working relationship with him. While at the beginning of the Academic Year, he stressed he was soliciting evaluation from us, by early February he informed us that we were merely giving him feedback and it was not our job to evaluate him. Since it is standard and best practice for all constituencies to participate in the evaluation of a seminary president, we were surprised that the guidelines had suddenly shifted. When the Academic Dean met with Dean Dunkle to present our feedback, he dismissed it saying it was all the same things he had heard before. Though we had attempted to communicate with him multiple times, it was clear that he recognized our concerns but was unwilling to address them or to take responsibility for the ongoing breakdown of our working relationship. By the end of the Easter Term 2014, we had reached a state of crisis. (more in Comments at The Lead.

Other stories on the situation:

From Religion News Service

In 2013-2014, GTS enrolled 70 students and had $10.6 million in expenditures and $27 million in investments, according to ATS. GTS had faced about $40 million of debt that it was attempting to pay down through property sales and redevelopment. Dunkle has been trying to address the school’s long-standing financial problems by tightening up operations. Dunkle, who was previously a lawyer, graduated from GTS in 2004 and worked as a diocesan administrator and as a parish priest.

GTS focused its energies redesigning several buildings on its Chelsea campus into the Desmond Tutu Conference Center in 2007, an effort that was supposed to bring hotel and conference revenue to the seminary. The anticipated revenue never materialized, and in 2012, the facility was sold to a developer.

The turmoil reflects a broader debate over the future direction of seminaries. Some seminaries are shifting away from the traditional three-year “residential” model to distance learning to save costs. Across denominations, many aspiring clergy will go to a local seminary for the bulk of their coursework before completing a degree at a denominational seminary.

After several days of silence Episcopal News Service reported on the Board’s statement.

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.”

From Huffington Post:

During his short time at the helm, Dunkle has instituted a number of new initiatives. One of the biggest changes is “The Wisdom Year,” a program that sends third-year seminarians out into the real world to work as part-time ministers.

The faculty members on strike didn’t name a specific policy that they disagree with, instead referencing 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 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,” the letter stated.

Jennifer Reddall attended the meeting yesterday with Bishop Mark Sisk and reports on her blog

Seersucker San Franciscan writes

A letter was just released from the faculty of General Seminary to the Board of Trustees from almost two weeks ago. The board interpreted it as letters of resignation (that is to say corporately decided that instead of talking to the faculty it would be easier to fire them) while making no mention of what how they were handling the very serious allegations against the current Dean and President.

If you read the letter (available here) you’ll note that there are charges of sexism, racism, and homophobia not only from the dean to the faculty, but also in the interactions of the dean with students. I take personal stock in some of the comments the faculty say the dean made, notably that I’m a gay man who went to General which he is scared of being seen as the gay seminary (even with 1/3 of my class being gay men — that’s still not a majority by any means) and emphasizing “normal people.”

And the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate

Baby, I’m just gonna shake, shake, shake, shake, shake

I shake it off, I shake it off

I’m not sure who he invasions the normal people to be, but based on his general tone and lack of awareness about cultural sensitivity to anything but being a straight white man, it would appear that’s the kind of normal people he wants. More straight white men even as the patriarchy loses just a tiny bit every day…and as non-religious friends on rare occasion will think about coming to church with me — because the people inside aren’t quite as homogenous as they’d imagined, and because the leadership definitely isn’t — and that’s with a major awareness of just how many faithful old white people are in our congregations.

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