Letter from GTS faculty to the students

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Received via email:

Dear students,

As you know, we have announced that we are not going to teach, attend meetings, or participate in common worship until pressing issues at the Seminary are addressed. We want to assure you that we would not have taken this difficult action had our repeated attempts to resolve these matters in a collaborative fashion been successful in any way. Instead, despite many attempts at dialogue in the past year – including conversations facilitated by a professional external facilitator – the situation has deteriorated to such an extent that we have reached an impasse.


Simply put, the working environment that the Dean and President has created has become unsustainable. Moreover, the good faith with which we have communicated these dire circumstances to the Board of Trustees has not, thus far, met with an equally serious response. For example 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.

These are times of great reform in centers of theological education, including the seminaries of The Episcopal Church and The General Theological Seminary. In such times, it is all the more important that we treat one another with civility and respect, and that we work flexibly and collaboratively. For the integrity of our mission, it is also important that the leaders of our seminaries not act or speak in ways that would alienate or exclude any of our partners in ministry or indeed any of God’s children.

Unfortunately the opposite has been our experience of the leadership of our Dean and President. It is our view that that the President has repeatedly shown that he is unable to articulate sensitively and theologically the issues that are essential to the thriving of the Body of Christ in its great diversity. Moreover his failure to collaborate, or to respond to our concerns when articulated has resulted in a climate that many of us find to be fraught with conflict, fear, and anxiety. Unfortunately, it is the most vulnerable members of our community who most keenly suffer the distress caused by this environment.

When Dean Dunkle arrived little more than a year ago, we looked forward to collaborating with him to develop innovative ideas for theological education. We hoped to blend innovation with the best of the General’s proud tradition of education and formation. But we have found that we cannot have these conversations fruitfully if those with experience and expertise in theological education are not heard, and their advice is ignored, and if colleagues and students feel bullied rather than empowered to contribute. This is an inhibiting environment instead of the creative collaborative environment that we so desperately need for the Seminary and for the Church.

Please know that we are not referring to off-hand remarks, or that we are overly concerned with ‘political correctness’. Rather we refer to 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. In short, we find ourselves in an emotionally charged climate that regularly interferes with our current work of teaching and learning together for the sake of God’s Church not to mention our ability to envision and plan for our future. Our concerns about these behaviors and their consequences have been dismissed by the Dean. We find that the Dean’s unwillingness to take responsibility for the damage that these ways of acting and speaking have caused is deeply problematic.

As Dr. Martin Luther King Jnr. wrote in his Letter from the Birmingham Jail, “You may well ask ‘Why direct action, why sit-ins, marches, and so forth? Isn’t negotiation a better path?’ You are exactly right in your call for negotiation. Indeed, this is the purpose of direct action. Non-violent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and establish such creative tension that a community that has consistently refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored.” Our choice for direct action, while extremely difficult for all of us – faculty, students, and staff alike – is a sincere attempt to promote a kind of creative tension for the Seminary community. Far from being immature or dysfunctional, by our action, we hope to “dramatize” issues that we feel can no longer be ignored.

Please continue to pray for us, in our urgent call for negotiation.

Faithfully,

Professor Joshua Davis

Professor Mitties DeChamplain

Professor Deirdre Good

Professor David Hurd

Professor Andrew Irving

Professor Andrew Kadel

Professor Amy Lamborn

Professor Patrick Malloy

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13 Responses to "Letter from GTS faculty to the students"
  1. The Very Reverend Kurt Dunkle's emphasis on training seminarians to grow the church does not sound very Anglican or Northeast if numbers are to be the main focus. New Yorkers do not talk God in the public square. That may work in Florida. I would be concerned with a possible dilution of the academic content as well as a deemphasis of social justice.

    The letter does not mention specific issues. I wonder what his position is on marriage equality and the position of LGBTs in the Episcopal Church.

    I understand the Diocese of Florida, where Dunkle worked, will not allow blessings of same-sex couples, whereas New York does, and New York State goes further by giving them the same rights as all other couples.

    It is troubling to read faculty saying the Dean has disrespected them and seminarians. The work stoppage sounds like a prophetic act.

    Gary Paul Gilbert

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  2. Let's not blame General's problems on the fact that a Southerner is dean. It may surprise those in the enlightened northeast that there are many healthy, progressive Episcopal churches in the south. Not all Southerners are fundamentalist evangelicals, just as I assume all Northerners are not close minded and arrogant.

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  3. In a previous momentary posting which was duplicated and then totally removed, I attempted to suggest that the discernment process for the new dean, as well as a record of regrettable Board decisions previously was at work in this dilemma. Now that others have commented in a similar vein - some of them regrettably with regional biases, perhaps the sentiment of my original comments is acceptable for posting?

    The fact is that the new dean approximately 10 years ordained at the time of his election, had served 4 years as a diocesan staff member and then 5+ years in his first parish: assignment in which he reconstructed a parish whose clergy had led the majority of parishioners out of TEC and into a dissident body. IMO this did not quality his election as dean of a theological seminary.

    Bob McCloskey '67 GTS

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  4. This question of regional bias. It's not a matter of values but of style -- more "Turn that frown upside down" vs "What are you grinning at?" Of course there are progressive Episcopalians and parishes in the South, and hide-bound and regressive ones in the North, but attitudes that seem natural and given differ between communities. These differences must be navigated, but often they aren't recognized. The other seems simply perverse.

    And as far as not maligning the South, Dunkle's former diocese does not in fact recognize gay equality.

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  5. The problem here is not a North/South cultural mismatch, but a failure on this Dean's part to understand academic culture. As a priest with 40 years' experience in an academic institution, I know that academic culture is at heart collaborative, requiring trust and communication between faculty and administration. Administrators who believe they can run roughshod over the faculty are courting the kind of disasters we see at EDS and at General. In both cases, it seems, Boards of Trustees have forgotten that their responsibility is for the health and well-being of the institution, not the job security of the dean.

    Academic culture is pretty much the same everywhere. I remember years ago at EDS Harvey Guthrie -- a wise Dean if ever there was one -- told us he never forgot that as Dean he served at the pleasure of the Board, but as a member of the faculty he had tenure.

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  6. Thank you John Wall. You are spot on! GTS current dean has no such credentials other than being an alumni/ae. The prior provisional Dean and financial whiz kid had never even matriculated in an Episcopal seminary. Seems we don't learn our lessons very well.

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  7. I was completely unaware until yesterday, of the situation at General. A friend who is a GTS grad posted a lament on FB which eventually led me here. It is as if the deans of EDS in Cambridge (my alma mater) and GTS are collaborating in an effort to destroy theological education in the Episcopal church.

    EDS is in terrible shape. Three faculty members have left to take other jobs, and I'm told that the incoming class across all degree programs this year included only nine souls.

    Does GTS want to follow EDS right down the drain?

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  8. Considering the financial mess at GTS, the failed property upgrades and sales, and the shrinking student numbers, the failures have been building for quite a while. With the drastic changes the Dean made to worship, etc. seems board probably hired him and said something like, "We don't care what it takes, change it; The church is changing and we need to catch up because we're already dying."

    Prayers especially for the students as I was also stuck in a Faculty/Dean war.

    Chris Harwood

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