Griswold to facilitate meeting between GTS professors, trustees

October 13, 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.