The Rev. Ellen Tillotson, a priest in the Diocese of Connecticut and a member of the General Seminary Board of Trustees reflects on the conflict between the faculty and the Dean at the Seminary.
This is taken from her Facebook page, and as such is her personal reflection and does not attempt to articulate the official position of the Seminary, administration or Trustees. It is reprinted with permission.
This is my own reflection, my own experience, my own broken heart and faulty but best wisdom speaking. Nothing official. Personal.
Like many of you, I am heartsick.
Like many Trustees of GTS, I have been heartsick and felt profoundly betrayed for a week now as I have wrestled with, read in shock, re-read in disbelief, the communication that the Trustees received from people I believe to be my friends and colleagues in the great enterprise of the Realm of God. I am going to hold fast to that friendship and collegiality, though they have been tested. I know that is true for those I hold dear on the Faculty as well, directed toward me. I am committing myself, here, to stay open to relationship.
On September 17, eight members of the GTS faculty prepared a letter and sent it out to the Trustees. In it, they said, twice, that they were unable and unwilling to work with Dean and President Kurt Dunkle and that unless certain changes were made, they would be “no longer able to serve in our positions at General” They made several allegations about comments alleged to have been made by the Dean which currently are being investigated at the request of the Executive Committee.
In addition to the implied demand that President Dunkle be fired, they put the following conditions on their continuing to work: 1)the appointment–by them, not by the Board–of a committee of Board members to meet with them to discuss their “conditions necessary for moving forward as an institution”; 2)that the faculty be immediately empowered to set the curriculum, the academic schedule, the worship and overall program” of the seminary (vitiating several stated and traditional lines of governance stated in by-laws adopted unanimously by the board); 3) the identification of an outside person, external to the institution, to provide pastoral support to students, staff and faculty; 4) placing the authority for the implementation of the program of the seminary in the office of the Academic Dean; and, 5) the hiring of a fundraiser. (Though God knows why anyone would take THAT job with such chaos going on–my editorial comment…..) Numbers three and five aren’t bad ideas at that. The others are simply impossible. Impossible.
They stated again, at the end of the letter, that “If Dean Dunkle continues in his present position, we will be unable to continue in ours.”
When the Board, through its Executive Committee, moved on the most urgent matter–that of investigating the accusations against the Dean–that action was dismissed as “irrelevant” in a second letter and the investigators–a highly respected law firm doing the work pro-bono– dismissively referred to as a kind of corporate reputation white-washer (my phrase but reflective–I can give you the exact language if you want it.) The investigation continues, by the way, and we take it with utmost gravity.
In this second letter, the eight members also stated that “the damage has been done,” “no working relationship is possible,” “we can no longer work with President Dunkle.” They also reiterated the five demands placing conditions on their willingness to talk, informed us that they were organizing as a union and that ALL “further negotiations of these matters will be through our Union and in consultation with our Attorney.” They said that they were stopping work, all teaching and administrative work, commencing Friday, Sept. 26. They also stopped attending worship.
They then wrote to and met with students, presenting themselves as “only desiring a conversation” with the Trustees, a conversation they had so delimited as to make it impossible for us to hold. Which were we to believe? The spoken and unofficial communiques with the students or their strict and repeated statements to us that the conversation could only happen according to their stated limits? On which were we to act? When offered such an ultimatum, what were we to do? No, they never used the word “resign”. But over and over they said they were unable to continue to do their jobs unless we met unmeetable conditions.
What has become clear to us is that the timing of this letter and action–the day after Matriculation–was in the works for some time. The eight had been preparing this letter, it seems, since the summer. They timed their ‘walkout’ to cause as much distress to the most vulnerable members of the GTS community, the current students, as they possibly could. It didn’t happen during the summer, when we might have addressed their concerns with a meeting. It didn’t happen at the start of the school year so that we could have made some other preparations. When the seminary’s treasurer, a trustee, met with the entire faculty a few days before the 17th, not a word was said. They believe, I think, that they have tried and tried to communicate their difficulties. Yet they didn’t go through any of the channels provided in the faculty handbook nor speak to anyone on the Executive Committee of their “collective decision”. A couple faculty members–one of the eight and one who continues to teach–spoke to the Chair of the Board who encouraged them to work with the Dean. Nothing was said about the impossibility of such work–they merely stopped and began to plan. What kind of example is that? What kind of ‘formation’ of future leaders of the church who will, again and again, be asked to rise to servant leadership, sacrificial love?
The letter written to each of the eight ends with a commitment to reconsider the resignations after the allegations of the Dean have been investigated and acted-upon by the Board, as appropriate, if the faculty members desire such a reconsideration. The letter also states our profound desire for a meeting–as soon as we can manage it. We’ve always been willing to meet and to talk. We just couldn’t do it under the very strict limitations and requirements twice stated in writing by the eight faculty members.
At first, I wanted us as Trustees to hold out before acting on the resignations until we had had a meeting with the faculty. But the discovery that this had been in the works for some time, that the dates and actions were carefully chosen made me rethink my openness to a longer process up front. My trust in their good faith has been broken. Yet I believe that we can still be whole–though deeply bruised–as a seminary community as the days unfold. I also believe that all of this is a sign of the profound and chaotic change happening in the world around us and in the church generally. It’s merely General’s iteration of it and so, like most things about GTS, is particularly intense and deeply painful. I hope, deeply, that we can find Rumi’s field, out beyond all ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing and meet there.
I strongly believe that nothing “must” happen for God to work redemption and renewal out of any hurt, chaos or betrayal. And I know from human sinfulness–most especially my own–that human beings will mess it up royally on a regular basis. Me, I’m rooting for God’s power working in us, accomplishing infinitely more than we can ask or imagine. It’s the only hope we have.