GTS: A Protest and a Response

TLC will report on this conflict in the days ahead. In the meantime, two documents are circulating publicly that give the central perspectives of both sides.

Eight professors at General Theological Seminary have explained their decision to withdraw from teaching and broader community life in protest of their work conditions:

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.


Professor Joshua Davis
Professor Mitties DeChamplain
Professor Deirdre Good
Professor David Hurd
Professor Andrew Irving
Professor Andrew Kadel
Professor Amy Lamborn
Professor Patrick Malloy

The Very Rev. Kurt H. Dunkle wrote on Monday to the seminary community:

I’m sorry I have not had an opportunity to communicate with you until now. I know how rumors, suspicion, and even anger fill silence. No doubt, I will not be able to address everyone’s concerns at once. But I hope our time together last Friday after chapel and this brief update are helpful. I believe the Chairman of the Board of Trustees will have a further communication to you tomorrow or Tuesday.

Chapel: As worship is central at General, it seems fitting to begin here. I know it would be tempting to politicize chapel in one way or another. Please know that the only statement anyone is making by coming to chapel is that you are worshiping Jesus and supporting the worldwide Body of Christ. Chapel at General is all about Jesus.

Tomorrow is a major holy day: St. Michael and All Angels. As we have been doing this semester, we will have Eucharist at 10:10am in lieu of Morning Prayer. While we continue with our worship life, I am aware that it is not without cost, particularly the absence of those usually with us. Please keep that in your prayers.

Monday and Tuesday Classes: Some classes will meet tomorrow and Tuesday and some will not. A few have changes. Here is a list:

  • Classes taught by Professors Owens, McPherson, Silver, Young, Kinman, Moore, and Kaalund will meet as usual.
  • CS-1 will meet at the usual time and place and Professor Spellers will join you for discussion.
  • The Anglican Seminar (AS 594) will meet briefly in the afternoon to discuss your class presentation schedule. Tomorrow I will contact that class directly to set a good time and place for this brief discussion.
  • CH-1 will meet on Tuesday with Professor McPherson.
  • Any classes not listed here are postponed for tomorrow and Tuesday.

Over the next few days, the remaining faculty and I are working on how to make sure that the momentum you have built in these first four weeks is not lost. I will let you know more soon.

Board of Trustees/Executive Committee: I want you to know that the Executive Committee of the Board has been meeting regularly during this time. Their principal concern has been the welfare of our students. They are all intensely aware of the interruption in your education and formation and are working diligently to bring this uncertainty to conclusion. Please keep them in your prayers as you have been in theirs.

I know this limited email may be frustrating to some of you. But in times of intensity like this, brevity and clarity are important so that nothing is misunderstood. I hope to keep you updated regularly.

Thank you, everyone.


Image of the Close at General Theological Seminary by Beyond My Ken (Own work) [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons

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