Eight members of the faculty of the General Theological Seminary in New York have written to their students stating they have begun a work stoppage in protest to the policies and administration of the school’s president, the Rev. Kurt Dunkle
[Statement distributed via email]
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.
Professor Joshua Davis
Professor Mitties DeChamplain
Professor Deirdre Good
Professor David Hurd
Professor Andrew Irving
Professor Andrew Kadel
Professor Amy Lamborn
Professor Patrick Malloy