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Turmoil at Episcopal Divinity School

Turmoil at Episcopal Divinity School

An intense struggle has developed between the administration and faculty at of the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Mass., over the seminary’s future. Rather than attempt to summarize the conflict, we offer a link to this letter the Very Rev. James Kowalski, chair of the board of trustees and dean of the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine in New York City, to members and friends of the EDS community.

Please feel free to discuss the situation in the comments.


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Jim Pratt

I am an EDS alum, and the first I heard of this was the email from the Trustees. I am very pleased with the formation I had there, and am saddened by the current state of affairs.

During my time at EDS, I heard occasionally from the faculty about the overthrough of the “dinosaurs” of the previous generation. By all accounts, that transition was not without its pain, but what came of it was a seminary that was vibrant, innovative and played a very important role in the wider church.

Reading the faculty facebook page, which is frank about the problem (declining enrollment and dioceses’ steering postulants elswhere) but short on any analysis, and big on process and innuendo but lacking suggested solutions, I can’t help but wonder if the faculty have become dinosaurs themselves.

Maybe I am too sympathetic to the Trustees. I have myself recently been elected to the Board of Governors of another seminary, and as such very cognizant of the need for some radical change. Maybe the EDS administration is being too heavy-handed.

As Tom Erlich writes, this is not setting a good example for students, or for the Church, in conflict management.

My prayers for all on both sides.


viewing your Comment

From what the various sources relate, this seems to be a conflict over a hire. The administration seems to have initially granted the search for the position as a tenure-track hire, a long-term hire with security (as long as goals are met by the hire), and then reneged on this agreement for a hire that was contractual.

Cynthia Katseralis points out that tenure serves a “check and balance” function by allowing tenured faculty a determinate say in the future of the institution. This is a fair and important point against administrations that come and go, and might perhaps too quickly decide for arbitrary and panicky changes.

Dennis raises very good points concerning contract labor over the past 25 years in higher ed. He is mostly correct. Colleges and universities have been ending tenure-track lines (hires) for contract labor that is simply disposable. This is a profound disruption to what teaching means and how institutions can be life-giving cultures. I agree with Dennis that adjunct labor is being exploited by colleges and universities for money! This is the truth! However, I don’t think that ending tenure is the solution – this action only empowers the admin to kill with impunity, to expunge, to eradicate others in a whim.

Tenure is not about publication records, or “productivity”, or servility to what the latest yea-sayer has said to power. It’s about minds and relationships, and how we cooperate in love.

We have to be serious about what tenure means. We cannot exploit others.

We have to stop scapegoating one another.

Brian Sholl

Ann Fontaine

Seems to me that for Episcopal Seminaries whatever they used to do is not working – so why not innovate or at least take a look at what might need changing? I don’t think Monti’s critique applies in this case.

The Rev. Michael Cadaret

First, thanks to Marshall for reminding us of the all-too-frequently used fall back position taken when one’s position is not persuasive, “you didn’t listen.” Such is a victim’s patronizing – “because if you had REALLY listened, you would have been persuaded.” I fold this into Tom Ehrich’s remarks of the parallels to leadership conflict in the parish, because so often triagulation/side-taking/scapegoating begin with just this position.

Now, I’m not saying that this is what is happening. I’m not in the EDS community. But all of those alarms go off when I read of the parties working their way into intractable positions.

Second, thank you to Joe Monti for the LePore article. Seems to me that so much “change talk” in the church is reactionary and anxiety laden (and anxiety-causing). Now, I’m not afraid of anxiety – sometimes anxiety is the most appropriate response to what is occurring. However, so much of our “change talk” is driven by anxiety and we end up grasping at straws – straws like the Theory of Disruptive Innovation – that aren’t really helpful or applicable to Christian community. To that end, here is my favorite quote from the article:

“Innovation and disruption are ideas that originated in the arena of business but which have since been applied to arenas whose values and goals are remote from the values and goals of business. People aren’t disk drives. Public schools, colleges and universities, churches, museums, and many hospitals, all of which have been subjected to disruptive innovation, have revenues and expenses and infrastructures, but they aren’t industries in the same way that manufacturers of hard-disk drives or truck engines or drygoods are industries. Journalism isn’t an industry in that sense, either…Doctors have obligations to their patients, teachers to their students, pastors to their congregations, curators to the public, and journalists to their readers—obligations that lie outside the realm of earnings, and are fundamentally different from the obligations that a business executive has to employees, partners, and investors.”

Again, I don’t know if the Board is grasping at straws or not. But, again my alarms went off reading this article.

Mark Jenkins

Here’s a link to the article Joe Monti mentions:

Worth a look.

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