Historic Gift Given to General Theological Seminary

I’ve been hearing a lot of talk in the past weeks about the future of seminary education, which has been prompted by scandals at a handful of fairly prominent East Coast seminaries.  Information for some of these scandals has been kind of hard to come by and rather gossipy–twitter reports about who did and did not attend Andover Newton’s presidential inauguration, for example–but some new information and resolution has emerged about the situation at General Theological Seminary in NYC.

If you haven’t been following, the majority of their faculty made a statement that they are unwilling to work with the new President and Dean, and the board of the seminary responded by accepting their resignations.

Some recently posted news and commentary are found at The Lead and Crusty Old Dean.

In my circles, much has been said about this event prompting “the end of seminary education” and reflecting the crisis of mainline Protestantism, and the Episcopal Church has been the established leader of mainline decline for decades.  What I do think is a valid critique to connect the situation of GTS and “the church” is the way the board is rallying around a personality willing to transform the institution–even if it means student privacy policies and occasionally dropping racist, sexist, or homophobic remarks about students along the way–if it means saving the “structure.”  The cult of personality is not only found in churches or seminaries, but churches in this time of crisis love their leaders who, at all cost, bleed the promise of growth or being an institutional savior; and I say this just as everyone seems shocked that Mark Driscoll resigned as the pastor of Mars Hill Church while he was suspended and under review.

Back to GTS, what I haven’t heard others ask is this:  Isn’t General Theological Seminary just a microcosm of what is going on in the world of higher education?  Didn’t the board and administration simply do what nearly all institutions of higher education wish they could do, if they had the chance, namely, eliminate everyone in the teaching class, and replace them with contingent faculty or even teaching administrators?  Or not at all?  It seems to me that the “G8” faculty who resigned/were fired didn’t take this into account, that while their jobs were certainly on the line for making a bold statement about the leadership of their school, they didn’t really think they’d just fire everyone.

General is famous for its educational program that is based around traditional Anglican forms of prayer, and it seems that this is one of the identities that the new president had threatened.  The tenured and tenure-track faculty were hired specifically for this unique educational and vocational program, and it’s likely that a big change of style or approach was really a precursor to inevitably eliminating all or most of the faculty anyway.  This has happened at least one other seminary, one I graduated from, who sent an e-mail to alumni this week claiming that while you may have heard of all the scandals at other seminaries, you can be assured that we’re in a stronger position than were before we eliminated our previous faculty.  In fact, I don’t think one single faculty member remains at that school since I graduated in 2008.  Even the adjuncts I worked with are gone.

The bottom line for me is that the faculty gave the board a tremendous gift, namely, an excuse to fire all of them.

The news of the last two days has been that the fired faculty may individually meet with the board and ask to  be reinstated “provisionally,” which could only mean through the end of the academic year, without tenure, or both.