There is a schism under way at the Episcopal Church’s oldest seminary, General Theological. Eight of the seminary’s 10 teachers walked out on Friday after accusing the school’s new dean of creating a campus environment characterized by “deep despondency, anxiety, hostility, fear, and retaliation.”
The teachers, who describe themselves as “typically reserved and compliant people,” say they can no longer abide Dean Kurt Dunkle’s leadership. Dunkle joined the school last year and, according to his bio, is a relatively recent seminary entrant. He graduated from General Theological Seminary in 2004; before that he was a lawyer based in Florida.
The teachers detailed their issues with the dean in a September 17 letter addressed to the school’s board of trustees. Among their long list of complaints:
– “He once described Asian transit passengers in the San Francisco Bay Area as ‘slanty-eyed.’ “
– “In a large community meeting last spring, he compared the technical side of theological education to ‘looking up women’s skirts.’ “
– “Before several faculty members and students, he spoke, as an obvious act of intimidation, of how ‘black people can do such interesting things with their hair,’ a comment about which students complained.”
– “On several occasions he has stated that General Seminary should not be ‘the gay seminary.’ “
– “[H]e once commented that he ‘loved vaginas’ to a female faculty member during a meeting. When told that the comment was inappropriate and unwelcome, he claimed that the discomfort was her problem.”
The teachers told the board they had formed a union, and repeated in no uncertain terms that they would no longer work under Dunkle. The board responded by saying it had retained the services of a law firm to investigate the matter. The teachers said the board’s action didn’t go far enough, and reiterated their intention to walk off the job if Dunkle was not removed. (You can read their entire correspondence on a website the teachers set up.)
…And the trustees didn’t blink. In an open letter dated September 30, the board said it would accept the eight teachers’ resignations: “Yesterday, after much prayer and deliberation and after consulting our legal council [sic], the Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees of The General Theological Seminary voted with great regret to accept the resignations of eight members of the Seminary faculty.”
…Except the eight faculty members maintain they never offered their resignation, but only made clear their intention to strike as a union. Now they’ve retained a lawyer of their own, and have put together a petition calling on “people of conscience” to refrain from speaking at the school.
Instead of rival popes, this schism has rival Facebook pages (so modern!). The teachers have set up their own page (as well as a Twitter account) to keep their supporters updated. General Theological Seminary’s official page, meanwhile, has been inundated with comments from concerned alumni.