Friday, October 03, 2014

Signs of the Stressful Times: Liberal Religious Seminaries by Cynthia Landrum

The last few years have seen a noticeable number of seminaries dealing with major public conflicts.  Some examples (with links to further information about the situations):
  • Starr King School for the Ministry - Last June the UU seminary Starr King School for the Ministry withheld diplomas from students about to graduate because of an ongoing investigation around leaked information from the recent presidential search process.  
  • General Theological Seminary - A recent walk-out of the faculty at this Episcopal seminary has resulted in the firing of most of the faculty.  The faculty's dispute was with alleged actions of the president and dean, including sexist, racist, and homophobic statements, and breaches of confidentiality.
  • Episcopal Divinity School - The faculty of EDS passed a vote of no confidence in the seminary president.  Tenure for faculty members was put on hold as a result.  The issues cited with the president included student enrollment decline, staff turnover, changes in the term of the tenure process, and the diminished role of faculty.
  • Andover Newton Theological School - The UCC seminary has kept its conflict out of the news and off of its webpage and Facebook page, but a controversy is swirling as the new president is inaugurated this weekend.  A letter apparently went out recently to students and alumni.  
All of these conflicts are about the presidents, something that's certainly not new to higher education.  When I started at the University of Michigan in 1988, controversy over the new President existed, and a photo of a protestor carrying a sign that read "Duderstadt is illegal" at the president's inauguration ran in the Michigan Daily frequently.  Nor is this an uncommon occurrence now.  At the school where I currently teach as an adjunct, Jackson College, the faculty voted no confidence in the president in January.  A month later in February the faculty of Oakland Community College (in the Detroit metro area) voted no confidence in the chancellor.  At Kendall College in Grand Rapids, MI, the vote of no confidence in the interim president was in April.  At nearby Washtenaw Community College in Ann Arbor, the faculty voted no confidence in the president in May.  And all that is just in the state of Michigan within the last year.  Within the last year there have been no confidence votes at New York University, Saint Louis University, Louisiana State University, Cleveland State University -- the list goes on.

No confidence votes at universities usually are an indicator of financial stress and decreasing influence of faculty.  The Episcopal Divinity School situation is very like the situations at all the colleges and universities listed.  And it's no surprise that liberal religion, with all the anxiety in the liberal religious system about decreasing membership and influence, might see this mirrored in its institutions. 

The other three seminary conflicts listed above, however, while about the president fall less into the pattern of the colleges and universities. 

1 comment:

Cynthia Landrum said...

Oops -- this was an unfinished post! I started it, but wasn't sure where I was going with it. But maybe you, gentle readers, have more to say? What does this all point to?