For the past month, eight out of ten full-time faculty members at the General Theological Seminary in New York City have refused to teach, alleging a pattern of harassment and bullying behavior by the school's dean, Kurt Dunkle. The GTS trustees subsequently deemed the striking faculty ("The GTS 8") to have resigned on September 29. Negotiations between the two sides reached an impasse last week when the faculty group called for the appointment of an Organizational Ombuds.
The GTS 8 stated their position in a letter dated October 20, 2014:
Dear Bishop Sisk,
Thank you for your invitation to come together to find a way forward.
We receive this invitation in the good faith in which it is offered. Thank you also for acknowledging that healing is not an easy thing to accomplish; we are appreciative of both the alacrity with which you seek to facilitate our return to work and the attention you are giving to a long-term process of reconciliation for the entire Seminary community.
We accept your offer of reinstatement to our positions, and the salaries and benefits outlined in our contracts in effect prior to September 25, 2014. We look forward to being able to do this as soon as possible. Like any member of the Seminary’s faculty we agree to abide by the terms of the Seminary Constitution, Bylaws and policies. Given some of the confusion that has arisen about these texts in recent weeks, we will need you to provide us with copies of them: this would help us as we seek together to work within them. We are pleased to see that during the “cooling off period” all of the parties’ respective legal arguments and positions will be reserved.
We also commit with energy to the holy work of reconciliation which we understand to be very important for the health of the entire institution and all of its constituent members: faculty, board, administration, staff and students alike. You mentioned in a telephone conversation the possibility of using a Mennonite group to facilitate this process. We heartily accept this proposal, since we have great respect for their expertise in this area.
If, God forbid, at the end of the academic year we find that the collective process of reconciliation has not worked well, we ask that there be some understanding that appropriate severance will be made available to enable us and our families to make a transition. Lest we be misunderstood here, let us state clearly that we will devote ourselves fully to the difficult work of reconciliation this year.
As you know, one of our principal concerns has been to ensure that the seminary workplace be one of mutual respect and collegiality. As we move forward and return to our work, we ask that you consider the appointment of an ombudsperson agreeable to all sides who would act during this “cooling off period” as an interlocutor and safe person to whom complaints could be referred if need be. This will help all of us to feel less on edge and safer, and so will be an indispensable means of helping the process of reconciliation to work well.
As an important sign of our movement forward together, any public acknowledgement of these agreements should be issued together.
Thank you for this very positive step forward for the sake of our Seminary, our students, and staff and God’s church.
Professors Davis, DeChamplain, Good, Hurd, Irving, Kadel, Lamborn, Malloy
A response from the trustees did not address the Ombuds proposal. The board countered with offering a four person panel made up of trustees and chaired by a priest who has publicly criticized the strike. While the situation remains unresolved, hundreds of religious scholars have refused to speak at the seminary. (Episcopal News Service; The Living Church; Religious News Service.)
Related Ombuds Blog post: Episcopal Church Considering an Ombuds Office.