Nearly the entire full-time faculty at the Episcopal Church’s oldest seminary is battling with the school’s leadership, although neither side agrees whether the professors quit, were fired or staged a walkout.
Either way, the dispute revives a long-standing debate about the future of General Theological Seminary and the larger question of how storied seminaries should adapt to the changing culture.
GTS, the flagship seminary that has produced generations of bishops and noted theologians, is the only Episcopal seminary overseen by the national church. Last week, eight faculty decided to stop teaching classes, attending official seminary meetings or attending chapel services until they could sit down with the Board of Trustees.
The school reported 10 full-time faculty in its 2013-2014 annual report to the Association of Theological Schools, the main accrediting body for more than 270 seminaries and graduate schools. That left the student body of 70 students with just a handful of full-time faculty. A spokesperson for the school did not know the number of faculty and students for 2014-2015 before press time.
The dean and president, the Very Rev. Kurt Dunkle, wrote a letter to students saying the Board of Trustees accepted the eight faculty members’ resignations. But faculty member Andrew Irving wrote to students saying the professors never suggested they would resign.
“We wish to underline that we have not resigned,” Irving wrote, suggesting the group was seeking legal counsel. “Our letters did not say that we would resign. We requested meetings with the Board.”
The Rev. Ellen Tillotson, an Episcopal priest in Connecticut and a GTS board member, wrote that it has become clear that the eight faculty have been planning a walkout.
“When offered such an ultimatum, what were we to do? No, they never used the word ‘resign,’” she wrote. “But over and over they said they were unable to continue to do their jobs unless we met unmeetable conditions.”
On Tuesday (Sept. 30), the Board of Trustees made clear in a statement that the eight faculty had resigned, and the board said it’s willing to “meet with any former faculty member about the possibility of reconsidering the resignation.”
“The Board came to this decision with heavy hearts, but following months of internal divisions around the future direction of General Seminary … it has become clear that this is the best path forward in educating our students and shaping them into leaders of the church,” the statement said.
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SOURCE: Religion News Service
Sarah Pulliam Bailey