Open Letter from William F. Hammond to GTS Trustees (October 21, 2015)

William Hammond is a lifelong Episcopalian. He was a professor of mathematics at the State University of New York at Albany. He is now living in retirement in San Diego, California.  Bill sent the letter below to the GTS Board of Trustees this week.  He would like it to receive wider circulation, so I am posting it here in my blog.

Open Letter to GTS Trustees (October 21, 2015)

Be Servant Leaders

An Open Letter to the GTS Board of Trustees

William F. Hammond

San Diego

October 21, 2015

Mark 10:42-45
So Jesus called them and said to them, “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

It was a dark day in 1962 when I saw my long time friend, a priest who had graduated from The General Theological Seminary, fired from his post for daring to call out the congregation on its racially segregated status. The darkness was that of institutional power subverting the Gospel in the name of the Church.

Fortunately I find most days in The Episcopal Church to be days of light.

theEightsm

But a year ago October 1 was another dark day when the New York Times published an article entitled “Seeking Dean’s Firing, Seminary Professors End Up Jobless”.

An eight member majority of the Faculty had found that the new Dean, far from being a servant leader, was making it impossible for them to carry out their duties conscientiously. The conflict was complicated because your leaders had refused meaningful dialogue and had become a party to the conflict.

The eight members of the Faculty had written a letter to Bishop Sisk, then your Chair, beginning “We the majority of the Faculty,” saying that the hostile authoritarian posture of the Dean was making it impossible for them to continue and listing the changes they thought essential for them to be able to continue. In reply on behalf of the Board’s Executive Committee, Bishop Sisk sent individual letters to the eight disingenuously dismissing them by “accepting their resignations” apparently without bothering to check whether individually any of them had intended to resign.

Several weeks later you ratified that decision with a majority vote and then insensitively and dishonestly “made it unanimous” with a second vote where nay voters were pressured into abstaining.

Another priest friend, a teacher on the staff of a seminary, said: “The Dean was mean, and the Board sacked the Faculty.” My friend along with more than 900 seminary professors, theological scholars, and academically-oriented preachers signed a petition in protest of an inappropriate abuse of institutional power by your leaders, who, with your cooperation, had recently revised the Bylaws so as to make the Seminary an earthly kingdom with the Dean as king.

A year after the event, it is clear, as many had predicted, that dismissing eight of ten members of the Faculty was a nearly fatal blow.

It is not insignificant that since the Dean arrived a dozen members of the professional staff other than Faculty members, including three librarians, have left the Seminary.

According to grapevine information, this fall there were only 14 students (though fewer than 14 full-time-equivalent students) in the entering class. Of those only six are seeking the M.Div., among whom four are postulants.1

The latest newsletter from the Seminary indicates that giving in the past year, including giving by Board members, has greatly declined relative to the previous year.

There was a suddenly scheduled “focused visit” last December by an accreditation team from the Association of Theological Schools (ATS), which identified a number of issues: the broken state of the Faculty, confused theological vision, questions about workplace ethics, and a dysfunctional system of shared governance.

The Seminary faces a second focused visit from an ATS accreditation team before the end of the current term. As far as church observers from outside can see, there will be little progress to report on the concerns raised in the focused visit last year.

Last spring the Seminary submitted a canonically required triennial report to General Convention. That report neglected to mention the pending loss of a majority of the Faculty. In response to the inadequate report and spurred by complaints the 2015 meeting of General Convention passed Resolution D075 ordering the formation of a committee to review the relationship of The Episcopal Church with The General Theological Seminary.

Those of you who were angered and outraged by what you called the ultimatums of the Faculty were contributors to a stifling authoritarianism that has choked the Seminary nearly to death. That is not your calling nor the calling of your leaders. You are called to serve.

I think you should take heroic efforts to preserve the Close. That will take money. But that is far less important than preserving the Community whose beating heart is the Faculty. The Seminary could survive a move from the Close, but it cannot survive without a strong core Faculty of sufficient breadth. Rebuilding the core Faculty will be difficult because of the reputation you presently have in the community from which you will need to hire. You will need to dispel that.

It is time for the Board to apologize to the Church.

It is time for new leadership.

It is time for the Board to restore a proper role for the Faculty in the governance of the Seminary2— not only because that will remove one of the accreditation issues but also because leadership at the Seminary can then more closely match the Kingdom standard of servant leadership rather than the worldly standard of authoritarian leadership.

It is time to separate the positions of Dean and President, with the latter position focused primarily on fund raising (and not operating from a different city).

It is time for the Board to reconsider its size. To the extent that its present large size might have been established in the 1990s toward the end of raising funds, it now seems that end has not been met.

Finally, it is time for The Episcopal Church to find better ways to help support the seminaries that are able to survive and their students.


Footnotes

  1. * Previous information given to me, which had been in an early draft, was five entering M.Div. enrollees with one postulant.
  2. * For example, by reverting the Bylaws to the end of the year 2006.
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3 comments

  1. Thank you, Bill Hammond, for this spot-on letter, and for your attempts to cover-up what has attempted to be hidden. As an alum (class of 1970), I am completely disgusted by the seminary dean’s actions and the Board’s support of those actions. Frankly, I think you’re being optimistic in wishing for the recovery of the seminary itself.I personally believe that the Board and Dean have dealt the seminary a fatal blow from which it can never recover.

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  2. With all the changes at this flagship seminary, is there any attention being given to the changing landscape graduates face as more positions in parishes become less than full time? Is a new training model required? What is our vision for ordained ministry as it serves in today’s Church?

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