October 10, Frequently Asked Questions

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS OF THE
GENERAL THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY FACULTY

For news and documents go to www.safeseminary.org

In the past two weeks, both legitimate questions and erroneous information have surfaced
about our work stoppage. This is an attempt to set the record straight on some of those.
Q: What precipitated your communication with the Board of Trustees about
conditions at GTS?
A: There was no single event that “broke the camel’s back” but rather the accumulated
frustrations of the past 14 months over matters ranging from the curriculum to the
scheduling of chapel services. In a short period, an atmosphere of collegiality and
collaboration had become one of management by fiat where the views of the faculty were
no longer invited and were, in fact, grounds for reprimand. Unprofessional and
inappropriate comments by the Dean and President – made in public and in private – also
contributed to making the situation intolerable.
By September, an accelerating series of exchanges between individual faculty members
and Dean Dunkle demonstrated that our climate had become adversarial, prompting us to
seek legal counsel and to begin the process of collectively organizing.
Q: Many people resist change in the workplace. Could it not be the case that Dean
and President Dunkle was faced with some towering challenges when he came to
GTS and is simply doing his best to meet them?
A: We are sympathetic with the financial challenges the Board and the Dean and
President face. Our issues, though, are not about financial cutbacks or cost-saving
measures but rather an environment in which students feel intimidated and unfairly
scrutinized and faculty members are disrespected and have no voice in matters that are
important to them including patterns of teaching and learning.
Q: Did you make a sincere effort to express your concerns and complaints with the
Dean prior to going to the Board?
A: From the time of his arrival, Dean Dunkle has said he wanted “healthy
communication” from faculty and students. In reality, however, he stifles not only any
kind of dissent but even normal questions about policies and practices. Some areas of
dissatisfaction, such as the completely disruptive moving of daily Chapel to 10 a.m., were
raised in nearly every faculty meeting. Because of the breakdown in our communication
with the dean, the faculty prevailed upon him to engage in a day-long meeting in May
with a professional facilitator who specializes in communication and conflict resolution.
But it had no lasting effect.
Q: Did the eight faculty members resign or not? Why is there a dispute about this?
A: There was never any intention to resign and we never used that word in any
communication. Our goal was to have a businesslike conversation with the Board. We
just wanted to be heard, which most leaders recognize is a fundamental human need. We
have made it clear that we are prepared to return to the classroom as soon as we are
allowed to, but the Board has effectively fired us. We believe the Dean and some
members of the Board of Trustees have used our letter of complaint as an excuse to clean
house, undoubtedly with the intention of bringing in a compliant faculty.
Interestingly, the Board has retained a nationally prominent law firm to conduct an
investigation into the allegations made concerning Dean Dunkle’s behavior. If that
investigation does produce evidence of inappropriate conduct by the Dean – and if 80
percent of the faculty has been fired – where will that leave the board and GTS?
Q: You have said many students feel intimidated and unfairly scrutinized. What
does that mean?
An example would be Dean Dunkle’s chastising students for meeting to discuss a series
of issues they wanted to raise with him. Rather than invite them to speak with him, when
he learned of their meeting, we understand that he chastised them for having a “secret”
meeting and was dismissive of their concerns. GTS is a “close,” where students, faculty
and the dean live, study and worship together, so contact among all members of the
community is constant. More than once, including when having lunch with students, the
dean has said that if people have trouble with authority at GTS, they should go
somewhere else to study or work.
Q: One Board member has said that you were planning this current job action as
long ago as June. Is that correct?
A: No. We did begin having conversations last spring and summer about the best ways to
express our concerns, and we did draft a letter addressed to Dean Dunkle. But we reached
no decisions at that time and did not send the letter. In August we decided to instead
address our concerns directly to the Board, and we used some parts of the letter we had
begun in June.
Q: Board Chair Bishop Sisk’s letter to GTS students on October 7 says that he and
the Executive Committee only recently became aware of the severity of the crisis
and that they are “working non-stop behind the scenes in an effort to move as
swiftly as possible toward reconciliation of the current crisis…” Are you actively
engaged with Bishop Sisk and the trustees in a reconciliation effort?
A: We have accepted Bishop Sisk’s invitation to meet with him and the Executive
Committee on October 16.
As to when the Chair realized the seminary was in crisis, we leave it to others to decide
whether he missed or ignored obvious signals. For certain he was informed in late May
via a letter written by Dr. Good to Trustee Bishop Eugene Sutton and then in a follow-up
phone call with Bishop Sisk that we anticipated a major crisis with the Dean unless the
Board intervened. It is correct, however, that before communicating with the Board, the
faculty made every attempt to resolve the issues directly with the Dean. We, of course,
were not privy to his communications with the Chair or Executive Committee.
For the October 16th meeting, we still have hope. It has become clear to us that we have
tapped into a huge public conversation—an emerging movement, even, for a new and
creative approach to theological education for a new model of being the Church. We
think General Seminary can have a real and remarkable future as a center of theological
education. How amazing it would be if our efforts toward reconciliation could include
conversations for what is possible on the other side of this very difficult conflict.

NY Times photo GTS8

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