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An open Letter to EDS from MCC Alumni/ae

Board of Trustees (BOT), Episcopal Divinity School
President & Dean (P/D), Episcopal Divinity School
Faculty, Episcopal Divinity School
Staff, Episcopal Divinity School
From Metropolitan Community Churches (MCC) Alums of the Episcopal Divinity School (EDS)

Dear Friends,

On Tuesday, June 17, 2014 EDS alumni/ae serving Metropolitan Community Churches (MCC) convened a conference call to discuss EDS. The express purpose of this gathering was to hear from MCC alumni/ae regarding the impact that the current state of the school is having since EDS is one of the primary seminaries promoted by MCC for theological education for clergy and laity.

Invoking the VISIONS guidelines for this gathering, alums expressed their concerns and frustrations with the current state of the school. Throughout the conversation, alums shared their perspectives of campus life as well as what was important to them and their learning while at EDS. Noted was what appears to be a shift away from the VISIONS model as a means to facilitate and promote transparent communication, open debate, and conflict resolution. These tools have, in the past, been critical to maintaining shared governance at EDS.

Concerns from the MCC alums also included:

~Writing to EDS officials, BOT and/or administration, and receiving no response. This lack of acknowledgement of well-considered correspondence is fueling ill will and giving the appearance of a lack of even the most basic common courtesy.

~Official emails from the administration seem to defend the President and Dean and the BOT while blaming the faculty in adversarial and accusatory language. Public responses should at least invite shared solutions. This lack of interest in diplomacy contributes to a deepening lack of trust.

~ There was expressed regret that the BOT did not agree to meet with the faculty at their request, and after repeated requests, over a year ago. Actions by the BOT after repeated refusal to meet with the faculty have exacerbated issues and contributed to a perceived lack of safe space for transparent conversation on a variety of topics. The simple act of listening might have kept a loyal and distinguished faculty from going to such great lengths to be heard.

~Perhaps most importantly many are troubled by the circumstances of changing the terms of the Church History position from tenure track to contract at the end of a nearly year-long search and after the Faculty Search Committee had voted on a final candidate. Concern was expressed that this perceived lack of ethics on the part of EDS has damaged our credibility in the academy and the church giving the impression that we are dishonest and untrustworthy. Alums also expressed that the administration seems to discount these concerns and respond as if the complaint was about tenure itself. Some feel that a public apology for making a mistake might open some space for healing. Simply saying the decision was not perfectly timed is not enough.

We are aware that organizations change and need to change. However, unilateral changes to systems by the BOT and the President and Dean without dialogue or buy-in from the larger EDS community, including staff, faculty, students, alumni/ae, and donors, is counterproductive. As Professor Christopher Duraisingh says, “dialogue is the very beginning of theology” and we believe that dialogue can be the key to resolving the tension at our beloved institution.

Some on our call expressed frustration to the degree that they have suspended their giving to EDS or are considering doing so. Some are no longer comfortable recommending EDS to those seeking theological education. Some are not willing at this time to send their own students in formation to EDS. We all look forward to the day when we are again able to fully support EDS. We are committed to dialogue, prayer, and honest efforts toward reconciliation. Healing is the hope of everyone who participated in the call.

Therefore, we as MCC Alums wish to share with you:

1. We have covenanted with one another to be in ongoing prayer for EDS.

2. We encourage you to foster relationships by insisting that all utilize the VISIONS model as a means to return to shared governance and open dialogue. EDS has invested time and financial resources to teach this model as a foundational course. We believe it only makes sense to utilize the tools being taught us as a means to end the friction. VISIONS, as we see it, is a major part of the DNA of EDS. Changes in policy should at least be respectful of the culture of EDS now decades in the making and to which many people remain thoroughly committed in their personal and professional lives.

3. We encourage all to de-escalate hostilities toward one another. We encourage all parties to deal with one another in a manner that is reflective of true integrity, religious values, transparency, and a respect for the dignity of all concerned.

4. MCC has long stood on the side of those are marginalized and oppressed. We as MCC alums recognize that there is hurt being felt in all constituencies. And we all experience both privilege and peril. In order to break this current chain of emotional violence, we recommend that two (2) representatives from each body, (selected from the bodies themselves - Board of Trustees, Faculty, Staff, Students, and Alums), meet to begin to forge a way to healing rather than blame, shame, and intimidation. Because the BOT chair and the President and Dean have become lightening rods for this conflict and because fear of reprisal by the President and Dean has been expressed, we strongly urge that both Chair Kowalski and President and Dean Ragsdale recuse themselves from this proceeding.

We believe that 10 people from these five bodies can begin a dialogue and find three common objectives to embrace and recommend to the larger faculty, the President and Dean, the entire BOT. This dialogue and recommendations will allow movement forward together so that we can begin to support some common goals and shared vision.

We sincerely and passionately ask that you hear these concerns, that you respect the time and energy that went into expressing them, that you allow yourselves to believe that they come to you in a spirit of love and hope. We pray that you honestly consider embracing the recommendations we put forward.

Sincerely,

Convener:
Rev. Dr. Robert Griffin (MDiv, ’06)

Letter Drafters:
Rev. Dr. BK Hipsher (Certificate, ’04; MDiv ’06; DMin ’12)
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins (DMin ‘09)
Rev. Dr. James Merritt (MDiv ’08; DMin ’11)
Rev. Dr. Michael Diaz (MDiv ’07; DMin ’12)

Additional Signers:
Rev. Booth Iberg (MDiv ‘11)
Rev. Candy Holmes (MDiv ‘11)
Eli Higdon (MDiv ‘13)
Terry L. Fetters (MDiv candidate, 2011 DL Cohort)
Rev. Dr. Joan M. Saniuk (DMin ‘08)
Rev. Dr. Kharma Amos (DMin ‘08)
Rev. Dr. Robin Gorsline (MDiv ‘85)
Rev. Dr. Thomas Bohache (DMin ‘07)
 

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