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GTS board to meet with faculty, but “resignations” remain in effect

GTS board to meet with faculty, but “resignations” remain in effect

The striking faculty at General Theological Seminary have posted the following at SafeSeminary dated October 6, 2014:

The chairman of the GTS Board of Trustees, Bishop Mark Sisk, apparently wishes to give the appearance of offering a conciliatory hand to the eight striking faculty members without actually engaging in a sincere effort at reconciliation. At least that is the implication of an email sent to Dr. Deirdre Good concerning the previously agreed-to October 16 meeting between the faculty members and board Executive Committee.

In responding on October 3 to Bishop Sisk’s invitation to meet, the faculty members wrote to the trustees in an entirely conciliatory tone that we welcomed the opportunity “with our most sincere hope of working with you to find a way forward.”

Our letter also made two important points: (1) That our original letter to the board on September 17 and follow-up communication to it never were intended as letters of resignation; (2) that a summary Bishop Sisk requested of a phone conversation between him and Dr. Good in which she asked the bishop to work with her to de-escalate the current situation in no way contained what later were characterized as demands.

It has been our assumption and intention that the purpose of the October 16 meeting was to provide a forum to air what we consider legitimate grievances before a group of fair-minded and curious trustees and to work together to seek genuine solutions.

Imagine our disappointment then when on October 6 Bishop Sisk emailed Dr. Good with a message that clarified his view of the meeting, essentially, as: We will hear your concerns, but you’re still fired.

Here is the entire text of Bishop Sisk’s email: “As previously communicated in my emails of October 1st and October 3rd, the Executive Committee and I presently anticipate, as stated, meeting with you and your colleagues on October 16th to hear your concerns. As also stated previously in the Board of Trustee communication of September 30th, your resignations have been accepted. Classes are being taught by supplemental faculty, as also previously stated, in an email circulated by the Dean on October 3rd.”

While it appears Bishop Sisk sees the October 16 meeting as window dressing, we wonder if all the board members do. Or do other trustees believe the meeting was scheduled so that we could engage in substantive adult conversation aimed at resolving the crisis? If so, we hope they will communicate that to the Chair and all the members of the Executive Committee.

In accepting Bishop Sisk’s invitation to meet, we said, “We hope sending this message to all of you board members will help us move forward together as soon as possible, for the sake of the students and the seminary. When Professor Good thanked Bishop Sisk for his positive letter, offered in the spirit of an invitation, we were agreeing to your terms for the October 16th meeting. We hope you will consider our suggestions in the spirit of collaboration and conciliation that we desperately need.”

We still cling to that hope.

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Dcn Scott Elliott

Extremely well said, Prof. Bross!

Addison Bross

Whatever may be the truth and the right in the conflict between the GTS Board and the striking faculty members, I find both these parties using a faulty conception of how negotiations are to be pursued. This is most plain in the striking faculty members’ mistaken claim to be following Dr. Martin Luther King’s example in his nonviolent campaign for social justice in Birmingham in 1963. But the Board’s firing of the faculty members while the investigation of their complaints was continuing likewise shows a violation of the basic assumptions about the negotiation process.

Apparently the strike was called at a time AFTER the Board’s committee had begun or was about to begin consideration of the faculty’s accusations against the Dean and President, but BEFORE that process had been completed. By entertaining the faculty’s accusations, the Board was in the process of hearing the faculty members’ complaints; that is, they had at that time entered into negotiations with the faculty. Hence, the faculty members’ strike began DURING negotiations.

If it’s true, as the faculty members state in one of their communiques, that their strike was intended to follow the example of Dr. King’s direct actions in Birmingham in 1963 — use nonviolent, direct action to bring their adversary to the negotiating table — then the strike was inappropriately timed.

The investigation committee’s consideration of the accusations was indeed part of a process of negotiation: The committee was hearing the accusations and weighing their merit — or had committed to do so. The committee apparently meant to form a response to the faculty members’ complaints. These actions of the committee are indicators that negotiation was occurring.

WHILE NEGOTIATIONS ARE IN PROGRESS, direct action for the purpose of promoting negotiations makes no sense. An effective direct action is not staged DURING the negotiation process. Dr. King’s notion of direct action was that it is to be undertaken IN ORDER TO promote by a dramatic action (to nonviolently force, if need be) negotiations — to make it more inconvenient, in some sense more costly, for the adversary to resist negotiations than for him to engage in them. When the adversary has entered into negotiations, direct action is both useless and inflammatory. It dismisses and scorns the concession that the adversary has already granted.

By the same token, the Board’s request for the faculty members’ resignations was also ill timed. This request was presented — again — while the accusations were being examined (i.e., during negotiations). The investigation committee had not finished weighing the merit of the accusations. The Board’s action in firing the strikers, then, was not based on thorough consideration of the faculty members’ complaints.

The faculty members’ reference to Dr. King’s tactics in Birmingham is based on a faulty notion of the role and purpose of those tactics; the Board’s firing of the striking faculty members also violates any understanding of the purpose of negotiation.

It’s unfortunate that in the 51 years since 1963, so little is understood about the tactics of nonviolent methods for resolution of conflict.

Addison Bross

JulianSheffield

I’m curious, Prof Bross. Can the Board be in negotiation with the Faculty without actually talking to them?

John D

The whole story is cringe-making. However, the thing that disturbs this old supporter of American Labor the most: why are academic theologians crossing the picket line of the GS8 when this dispute is far from resolved? And Sisk+ needs to hire a good PR firm, pronto.

John Donnelly

Gary Paul Gilbert

Thank you, Jim, for helping to clarify what I wrote. The reference is not to Mark Sisk but to the scandal with Richard Grein, the 14th Bishop of New York, whose personal life ended up in the New York Post.

http://nypost.com/2002/05/14/wife-suit-bishop-was-unfaithful/

or

http://tinyurl.com/mjqk48n

On top of that, Grein was sued by a priest, Janet Kraft, for wrongful dismissal from her post at Grace Church, Manhattan. Grein replaced her with his current wife, Anne Richards, who was head of discernment to ordained ministry in the diocese. It was alleged at the time that he was having an affair with Ms. Richards.

http://www.nytimes.com/2004/09/25/nyregion/25priest.html?pagewanted=print&position=&_r=0

or

http://tinyurl.com/ngqqy5p

Ms. Kraft, the sister of actor Matthew Broderick, now works in the Diocese of Newark.

Mark Sisk wrote a letter in which he said he regretted that such charges could be brought against a retired Bishop of New York. Ironically, Grein, at the time of the Monica Lewinsky scandal, said that President Clinton should resign because he had lost all moral authority.

The Diocese gave the 14th Bishop a lovely reception for his retirement.

The first results of a Google search of Richard Grein are to the scandals.

Gary Paul Gilbert

Jim Naughton

Gary, just so readers are clear on what you are saying in your next to last paragraph:

I assume you are not making an allegation against Bishop Sisk, but against one of the men who preceded him as Bishop of New York.

I think I know the former bishop to whom you are referring, but inquiring minds would probably appreciate a link.

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