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In dispute with dean, faculty fired from Episcopal seminary

A long-time professor of music said the Episcopal Church's General Theological Seminary now feels like "junior high school" or a "plantation."

By
Frances Burns
Bishop Mark Sisk of the Episcopal Church's New York diocese heads the General Theological Seminary board. UPI/Kevin Dietsch
Bishop Mark Sisk of the Episcopal Church's New York diocese heads the General Theological Seminary board. UPI/Kevin Dietsch | License Photo

NEW YORK, Oct. 2 (UPI) -- Eight of the 10 professors at the oldest U.S. Episcopal seminary were dismissed after they staged a strike in dispute with the dean.

The faculty at General Theological Seminary in New York has been getting support from the students and from colleagues at other seminaries. They have also taken worldly action, hiring a lawyer and arguing that the board violated a New York State labor law that bars the firing of strikers.

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"It's a really difficult situation, it's chaotic," Alexander Barton, a student who entered the seminary last month, told the New York Times. "And as a student, it's hard to see what's true and what's not."

The seminary in Manhattan's Chelsea neighborhood came close to bankruptcy in 2010. The Rev. Kurt H. Dunkle was brought in as dean and president as part of GTS's efforts to correct course.

Dunkle said he would make the seminary "joyful, thankful and useful." But students and longtime faculty have complained about many of the changes, including the ending of the daily Mass and moving morning prayer from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m.

Faculty members complain that Dunkle keeps track of their attendance at lunch and say he has made vulgar remarks that verge on racism and sexism. He also said GTS should not have a reputation as a "gay seminary," a sensitive issue in a church that has become known for its acceptance of homosexuals in its clergy and membership.

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"Suddenly it has felt progressively like I'm in junior high school, or maybe on a plantation," said David Hurd, a black member of the faculty who has been teaching music at GTS for almost 40 years.

After an exchange of letters with the eight teachers, the board chose to interpret their actions as a mass resignation.

"They kept saying, 'If you don't do these things, we can't keep our position,''' Bishop Mark Sisk, the board chairman, said. "Well, we thought, 'We can't do those things, so you don't have your position.'"

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