Where things stand–October 27, 2014

The GTS Board of Trustees saw fit last Friday to release a statement that prematurely implied our return to the Seminary was imminent. We therefore believe it is necessary to clarify just where we are in the negotiating process.

From the outset, the central issue we have sought to address is the existence of an abusive environment at GTS. This is why we called our Facebook page “Safe Space.” Many of the details have been well-publicized and do not need repeating here.

The Board of Trustees’ unqualified vote of confidence in President and Dean Dunkle understandably raises a concern about whether anything would be different upon our return other than our reduced academic roles and our new status as “provisional.” Our proposed solution to this concern has been for the Board to name an unaligned, objective ombudsperson who would be available to any member of the GTS community who believes he or she has a legitimate complaint. That doesn’t seem like a radical step to us, but on Monday evening the Board’s attorney informed us that this idea was unacceptable.

Rather than name a single impartial person to act as ombudsperson, the Board proposes to appoint a four-person committee of trustees, chaired by the Rev. Ellen Tillotson, to field any complaints. But a month ago, the Rev. Tillotson sharply criticized us in a 1,200-word essay she posted on social media. One of the first trustees to speak out on the dispute, the Rev. Tillotson said she felt “profoundly betrayed” by us, and she falsely accused us of timing our work stoppage to cause as much distress as possible to the GTS students. Her view of the situation has been made crystal clear, and it is not an objective one.

The other point the Board seems to miss is that, despite deciding that there were not sufficient grounds to terminate Dean Dunkle, the complaints we made about him remain, and continue to create a toxic work environment. A four-person committee chaired by an outspoken critic is not going to rectify that problem.

In its Friday public statement, the Board lifted language from an earlier letter we wrote for an entirely different purpose to suggest that in a “joint response” we had thanked the trustees for giving attention “to a long-term process of reconciliation for the entire Seminary community.” There can be no reconciliation as long as students and faculty lack the confidence that their work, their contributions – even their presence – are valued by the President and Dean.

So here is where we really stand in our efforts to return to GTS: We have made a proposal that we consider reasonable and essential, the naming of an ombudsperson, and the Board has rejected it.

We cannot know whether all the trustees are listening to what we say. For the sake of the institution we all love, we pray that they are.

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