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A review of GTS’ report to General Convention

A review of GTS’ report to General Convention

Lionel Deimel comments on General Seminary’s short report to General Convention that paints an optimistic picture of the seminary’s future with next to no attention to the ongoing crisis at the institution.

The two-page report paints an encouraging picture of a seminary emerging from financial difficulties and implementing an innovative program that will better prepare men and women for ordained roles in The Episcopal Church, while at the same time easing the financial burden of a first-class seminary education. General Convention deputies should be pleased and move along to more pressing matters of business, right?

The reality, of course, is that the General Theological Seminary of The Episcopal Church has been in chaos since the beginning of the academic year and, in the opinion of many, its continued existence after nearly two centuries is in doubt. (For readers for whom this is news, this story will give you some idea of what has been going on at the church’s oldest seminary. See Google for other stories and perspectives.)

The main body of the GTS Board of Trustees’ report is under one thousand words long, about a page and a half. About 13% of the report recounts the history of the seminary. A bit more than 19% concerns “A Plan to Choose Life,” which is mostly about the improved financial health of the seminary. Somewhat short of half the report (about 44%) concerns a new program, The Way of Wisdom and The Wisdom Year. This is described as a growing success. One paragraph concerns the hiring of  the Very Rev. Kurt H. Dunkle as Dean and President, which contributes about 10% of the report. A final paragraph addresses the upcoming 200th anniversary of the seminary and its readiness for the next 200 years (another 6%). The final 6% of the report, arguably, alludes to the troubles besetting GTS in the current academic year:

Under Dean Dunkle’s leadership, General Seminary is addressing, head-on, the changing world and the changing Church. This rapid reshaping has not been without some disruption—change is always painful, but it is essential to ensure the viability of General. We know that others in the seminary system are struggling with many of the same issues.

Additionally, in the final paragraph, there is also a reference to “working through disruptions that result from rapid change.”.

In fact, most of the faculty went on strike, intending to form a union, because the new Dean and President was viewed as an insensitive autocrat who acts more like a shift manager at McDonald’s than an academic administrator. No mention is made of faculty members being fired for their efforts and rehired, less tenure, for the remainder of the academic year. Nothing is said about the faculty members who are leaving or might leave. The report is silent about the fact that, despite pleas from students, alumni, and interested Episcopalians, the Board of Trustees continues to assert its complete confidence in Dean Dunkle.

 

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William F. Hammond
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William F. Hammond

Another recent release from the GTS Dean, http://news.gts.edu/2015/04/a-message-to-the-gts-community-regarding-the-ats/, is a comment on its situation with the Association of Theological Schools (ATS), the accrediting organization.

The Dean's comment appears to be saying that all is well, and that GTS's accreditation is solid through July 2017. I am not reassured, because the Dean says nothing about the conflict between ATS standards regarding the The Faculty
and the irregularly revised bylaws of GTS.

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Michael Hartney
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Michael Hartney

Actually the prose in the last paragraph is even more dissembling. To wit:
Having weathered the financial restructuring, and in working through disruptions that result
from rapid changes...

Really? Could it be said in any way that buries the recent 'disruptions' more succinctly?

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Milton McC. Gatch
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Milton McC. Gatch

I have no formal connections with the General Theological Seminary, yet I have followed the troubles at the seminary in the present academic year with amazement and alarm. I am not without experience as a faculty member and academic administrator in higher education and theological education, and I can no longer refrain from public comment on the situation.

The immediate occasion of my comment is Dean Dunkle’s comment, “Change is never easy. It’s really that simple” (http://news.gts.edu/2015/03/updating-our-portrait/). Dunkle’s comment comports with a statement in the report of the trustees of the seminary to the forthcoming General Convention, which states,
Under Dean Dunkle’s leadership, General Seminary is addressing, head-on, the changing world and the changing Church. This rapid reshaping has not been without some disruption — change is always painful, but it is essential to ensure the viability of General. We know that others in the seminary system are struggling with many of the same issues. ) https://extranet.generalconvention.org/staff/files/download/13025.pdf)

These are callous and misleading dismissals of what has taken place this year.

The report implies that objection to the curricular scheme called The Way of Wisdom was (with financial restructuring) the underlying cause of the disruption at the seminary. In fact, the document that spells out this curricular plan was drafted (in light of discussions and consensus at a faculty retreat) by members of the faculty who did not return after the strike (or, as the board would have it “resignation”) or have since announced their resignation.

The issue, in fact, was the inability of the faculty to work collegially under the current leadership of the seminary. It is unfortunate that allegations of offensive behavior were allowed to overshadow the basic issue: that canons of academic procedure and collegiality were overturned. Nevertheless, the response of the board to the pain and professional anguish felt by the faculty was defensive and aggressive and was actually contemptuous of the deep concern of the members of the faculty for the welfare of academic community.

The faculty members were brought back under the most demeaning circumstances. A very promising young scholar took severance, at great risk to his academic future. Others, including accomplished senior scholar-teacheers, were stripped of academic tenure. Quite intentionally, it appears, the board had abolished the system of academic tenure and traditions of academic self-governance and had made it quite impossible for returning members of the faculty to remain at General beyond the present academic year.

General now has only a remnant faculty and little or no claim to the academic stature it once claimed in theological education. One would suppose that its accreditation is in jeopardy. Yet its governing board declares to the church it serves that all is well: we have just experienced a little bump caused by reactionaries who have no vision for the future.

Theological education in the Episcopal Church is in disarray, and this poses a grave threat to the future of our denomination—and, indeed, of Christianity in America. We Episcopalians have prided ourselves on a body of clergy with the intellectual skills and integrity to interpret the Gospel faithfully in our society and to provide leadership for the faithful.

The situation at General Theological Seminary is not atypical; it is only the worst. The future of theological education ought to be a leading concern on the church’s agenda.

—(The Rev’d) Milton McC. Gatch, Ph.D.

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Anthony Christiansen
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Anthony Christiansen

White is black and black is white. Dissimulation. Not even remotely believable dissimulation to any who know anything about this debacle. Isn't it time for some honesty from those who have arguably destroyed GTS? The only real question at this point is whether this destruction has been intentional and premeditated. Hopefully the Attorney General of New York State will be able to answer that question.

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John Chilton
Editor
John Chilton

Why require reports if we don't require they have content? I have a feeling many reports to General Convention are like this one in the sense you could read it and not learn anything substantive. Do we need these reports, and if so what can be done to insure they tell the real story? Shaming?

Do deputies read them?

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