Winners and Losers in the Emmanuel Christian Seminary Scandal

Dr. Christopher Rollston is kicked off the sinking Emmanuel Christian Seminary ship. Image by Daniel O. McClellan (http://danmcclellanart.wordpress.com)

Image by Daniel O. McClellan (http://danmcclellanart.wordpress.com)

It’s finally over. The Emmanuel Christian Seminary tenure scandal, stemming from Emmanuel’s attempt to fire (the very tenured) Dr. Chris Rollston, has been resolved.

Dr. Rollston has voluntarily resigned his position at Emmanuel Christian Seminary after completing the Fall 2012 semester. Shortly thereafter, it was announced that Dr. Rollston had accepted a Visiting Professorship at George Washington University in the Department of Classical and Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations beginning in the spring of 2013.

Meanwhile, Dr. Michael Sweeney, President of Emmanuel Christian Seminary, announced that Emmanuel is taking steps toward being wholly acquired by neighboring Milligan College, but only after a donor forks over a substantial sum to alleviate Emmanuel’s existing debts.

All of this has caused me to reflect upon Emmanuel’s self-inflicted wounds in the form of an old Newsweek-style (remember them?) “Winners and Losers” post.


Winners

Chris Rollston – Some will spin argue that Dr. Rollston lost because Emmanuel ultimately got what it wanted: his departure. But those with eyes will see that this is a HUGE win for Dr. Rollston. He ended up with a better job at a much more prestigious university (had you ever heard of Emmanuel before the scandal?), with a faculty and administration that will protect, defend, and promote him, and, he won’t miss a day of teaching during the transition. He’ll have colleagues like Dr. Eric Cline with whom he can discuss his discipline, and he won’t have to worry about duplicitous “colleagues” on the thought police questioning his scholarship or divulging confidential personnel matters on Facebook. Dr. Rollston landed at better school, didn’t miss a day of work, and I’m guessing got paid for his troubles. (Again, please correct me if no cash was paid to Dr. Rollston as part of this “amicable resolution“). This is definitely a win for Chris Rollston.

George Washington University – What a steal! GWU got to hire an excellent professor the way that other ball clubs sign talented free agents out of Oakland or Miami. (Sorry, baseball joke.) AND, Eric Cline gets credit for stepping up with a great offer, which will earn him many points (as well as a few beers I’m guessing) with the academy. Big win for GWU!

Academic Freedom – It’s actually nice to see academic freedom win one every once in a while. With the deplorable treatment of excellent scholars by confessional schools over the past few years, it’s nice to see academic freedom, critical scholarship, and fundamental concepts like academic tenure come out on top now and then. It was nice to see Inside Higher Education get involved when Libby Nelson’s article broke the story onto the national scene. It was also nice to see the multitude of scholars line up to lend their voice and support to Dr. Rollston. It demonstrates that scholars must stick together to protest the underhanded workings of many confessional schools, who only hope that the academy will stand idly by and silently hold the coats of those attempting to dismiss good scholars because of their academic speech. This was a win for academic freedom.


Draw

Milligan CollegeMilligan will get to pick up the remaining Emmanuel assets during the forthcoming fire sale, and some quality professors to boot (if they choose to stay, but I’m guessing a few have updated their resumes and, let us say, have perhaps had some quiet conversations with colleagues at other schools during SBL last month). However, Milligan now has to deal with a fiscally problematic seminary with a tainted reputation. Will students will want to attend a place that fires their favorite (and very tenured) professors because said professors won’t toe a denominational line? Will students want to pay big private tuition dollars for a degree from a school now associated with the far right and the suppression of academic theological thought?

Still, the acquisition of the property across the 359 from Milligan (presently Emmanuel) should be seen as a opportunistic acquisition.


Losers

Emanuel Christian Seminary – Some will surely argue that Emmanuel won this standoff, and Emmanuel may attempt to spin this as a victory because they got what they ultimately wanted: the departure of Chris Rollston. However, the price they paid both in attempting to fire a tenured professor, and the price of the clumsily orchestrated and completely botched administrative handling of this scandal is so great, they must be characterized as losers. This is more than cutting off your nose to spite your face: this is sinking your own ship to spite your best professor.

Emmanuel may have avoided a law suit by paying off Rollston (allegedly), but the damage done to the Seminary’s reputation, coupled with their existing financial woes, ultimately doomed the school.

When all is said and done, Emmanuel Christian Seminary will cease to exist as an independent entity. It is desperately trying to get itself acquired by Milligan.

So sure, they got rid of a professor that a couple of people thought wasn’t doctrinally conservative enough, but in doing so, the school went under, and will have to be absorbed by Milligan College.

Ironically, that’s usually what happens when the good professors leave a school: it suffers and ultimately ceases to be. And this is probably not a bad thing, as the “Emmanuel brand” is so toxic right now, they essentially need to do like Philip Morris did and just change their name to Altria (or in this case, “Milligan”), start over, and hope no one notices (or at least that everyone forgets). The school will cease to be independent, they sullied their academic reputation, and they lost Chris Rollston. Three HUGE losses for Emmanuel.

Paul Blowers – Hardly anyone outside of Emmanuel had ever heard of Paul Blowers prior to the scandal. And now that the scandal is over, he’ll be forever known as the thought policeman who tried to get Chris Rollston fired. Lowlights include an awful article at Bible and Interpretation, in which he attempted to wiggle out of the mess he helped create (AKA trying to dig himself out of a hole), which generated a plethora of puns and the ever-puzzling “cheap seats” refrain, as well getting into an online shouting match with an undergraduate (and having it handed to him.) He disclosed confidential disciplinary proceedings on Facebook (proceedings some say he helped start), and was exposed for doing so. What’s more, it took Blowers far too long to put down the shovel and stop talking online. In trying to clean up his own mess and defend himself, he only made matters worse, and placed Emmanuel in a precarious legal position (which fortunately was “amicably re$olved”). BIG time loss.

Michael Sweeney – From attempting to fire a tenured professor, to not knowing how to handle a simple press release, this was an abject failure for President Sweeney and the Emmanuel administration. Dr. Sweeney successfully oversaw the demise of his seminary. It was an utter mess – one that will end with Milligan College having to step in and bail out what’s left of the school.


In the end, Dan McClellan‘s editorial cartoon captures it all in a single frame: Dr. Rollston improved his career, and Emmanuel will cease to be.

When all is said and done, it’s a victory for critical scholarship, tenure, and academic freedom. And for once, it’s nice to see the good guy win.

Thank you to all who sent letters in support of Chris Rollston

Thank you noteI’d like to offer a very big THANK YOU to all who sent letters in support of Dr. Chris Rollston.

According to Professor Rollston, the case involving his attempted termination has been “amicably resolved”. (I’m guessing there was a substantial cash settlement involved that kept Emmanuel from a further embarrassing and certainly losing effort in court. Please correct me if there was no cash payment involved in said “amicable resolution”.)

I want to thank my colleagues who sent letters to this blog and/or posted them elsewhere in support of Dr. Rollston. It was wonderful to see so many members of the academy, graduate and undergraduate students, alums, and friends, from such a wide spectrum of religious, doctrinal, and disciplinary perspectives, from around both the county and around the world, all rally behind academic freedom and the gross mistreatment of one of their own.

Dr. Rollston has voluntarily resigned the Toyozo W. Nakarai Professorship of Old Testament and Semitic Studies at Emmanuel Christian Seminary, and has accepted an offer at George Washington University in the Department of Classical and Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations beginning in the spring of 2013, where he can work with our colleague, Dr. Eric Cline, and the remarkable faculty there. This, too, is wonderful news!

Thank you again for standing up publicly, especially for matters as important as academic freedom, tenure integrity, and for someone as gracious, poised, and humble as Chris Rollston. Thank you.

eric cline reviews richard freund

Dr. Eric Cline has “reviewed” Richard Freund’s “Digging through the Bible” for Biblical Archaeology Review:

Two words: caveat emptor. In the introduction to this book, modestly titled “A Crash Course in Biblical Archaeology,” one finds 46 pages of rambling text but not even the bare rudiments of a crash course in Biblical archaeology. Instead, there is a stream-of consciousness mishmash that lurches from an initial 26-page discussion of the Bible, its redaction and the Documentary Hypothesis, with a twopage aside on the minimalist-maximalist debate, to a nine-page discussion of possible forgeries, including stories of George Washington and some lady who thought she had a Dead Sea Scroll in her sock drawer, then back again for another four pages on minimalists and maximalists, and a final six pages titled “The Three Roles of Archaeology in the Study of the Bible” but which have nothing to do with archaeology and everything to do with Freund discussing the Zohar, plus a paper that he presented in Rome in the early 1990s, and, for some reason, baby Moses in a basket of bulrushes. There is a lot of writing on these 46 pages, but nobody reading them will come away with any more knowledge about how to conduct Biblical archaeology than they had before they began. The same holds true for the bloated first-person narrative in the rest of the volume, which seems to include just about every waking thought that Freund has ever had about archaeology, religion and the Bible. While readers may not actually learn anything useful about digging through the Bible, they will learn a lot about Freund, his life, his thoughts, the “personal and intellectual connection to Qumran” that he apparently feels, his meeting with the Pope, every single TV documentary he has ever been in, etc., etc., etc. Who knew that Rowman & Littlefield had turned into a vanity press?

Actually, it’s less of a review and more of a Surgeon General’s warning label:

WARNING! THE FOLLOWING BOOK MAY BE HAZARDOUS TO YOUR INTELLECTUAL HEALTH. MAY CAUSE HYSTERICAL LAUGHTER, DISGUST RESULTING IN VOMITING, BROKEN HOUSEHOLD OBJECTS RESULTING FROM THROWING IT ACROSS THE ROOM, RASH RESULTING FROM USING IT AS TOILET PAPER, AND DEEP, DARK DEPRESSION AND REMORSE FROM ACTUALLY PURCHASING THIS BOOK.

Two notes via Joe Zias:

  • the author and his colleague have been excavating what they call biblical Beth Saida, but few biblical archaeologists accept this identification
  • the author and his colleague are the ‘archaeological advisers’ for Simcha Jacobovici and the series The Naked Archaeologist (which is neither naked nor archaeology).

Ya, neither of those facts help the author, and only reinforce Cline’s review.

 

shattered dreams of archaeology students

Archaeology Cat is sad he chose the wrong career.

Archaeology Cat is sad he chose the wrong career.

If you’re up for a laugh, then check out Timothy McSweeney’s blog, where author Scott C. Reynolds walks you through “Dream Jobs That You’re Glad You Didn’t Pursue.” In the segment, Reynolds describes up what many people list as their “dream jobs,” and then painfully and hilariously explains why you’re glad you didn’t choose that particular profession.

This particular episode, entitled “So You Wanted to Be an Archaeologist…” made my both laugh and cry (the crying being mostly at my choice of career). Please give it a read.

(PS: This is the expression I keep imagining Megiddo archaeologists Dr. Eric Cline and Israel Finkelstein keep having when they’re not on camera :). Coincidentally, it’s the same expression (inspired by Dr. Jim Linville) that I believe Dr. Jim West has when he reads about dilettante archaeologists, and coincidentally the exact same expression that other top 50 bloggers (well, 2-50) have when they read Jim West’s blog. ;-)

NOVA special on King Solomon’s Mines highlights Khirbet Qeiyafa Ostracon

Quest for Solomon's Mines NOVA

"Quest for Solomon's Mines" aired on NOVA.

The “Quest for Solomon’s Mines” aired on PBS November 23, 2010. It is viewable online. While the NOVA special examined the quest for King Solomon’s Mines, it actually did a good job of raising the issues surrounding the historicity (the actual existence and historical accuracy of the biblical account) of King Solomon. Among the items examined are the copper smelting mines located in Khirbat en-Nahas, the fortifications in Khirbat Qeiyafa, and the Qeiyafa Ostracon, which contains an inscription written in a proto-Canaanite alphabet.

UCLA's Dr. William Schniedewind with a replica of the Khirbat Qeyiafa Ostracon

UCLA's Dr. William Schniedewind with a replica of the Khirbat Qeiyafa Ostracon

The program highlights two of my favorite UC scholars, Dr. Thomas Levy of UC San Diego, and Dr. Bill Schniedewind of UCLA. Dr. Levy served as the show’s principal investigator, and Dr. Schniedewind discussed the importance of the Qeiyafa Ostracon. Drs. Israel Finkelstein and Eric Cline also make appearances, speaking to the relevance of the finds to the ongoing debate about the very existence of Solomon.

You can read an accompanying KPBS article here.

dr. ed wright responds to my peer-review article on bible and interpretation: a word on professional conduct in the academy

Dr. Ed Wright, Professor of Judaic Studies at the University of Arizona and President of the W. F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research in Jerusalem has responded to my article entitled, “How and Why Academic Peer-Review is About to Change,” on the Bible and Interpretation website. Dr. Wright’s article is entitled, “The Case for the Peer-Review Process: A Rejoinder to ‘How and Why Academic Peer-Review is About to Change’.”

Dr. Wright is a friend and colleague, and I respect his opinion and the solid points he makes in his response. I’d also like to point out that this is how scholarly debate is supposed to take place. When a scholar produces research or a publication for consumption by the academy and/or the public, the scholar should expect and even invite professional criticism. It is the only way to expose holes in a theory or an academic argument, and this process makes the theory stronger. By pointing out problems with a theory, members of the academy contribute to a global discussion and together collaborate to find an interpretation or theory that best explains all of the data. Political candidates do the same thing during debates: they stand up and critique their opponent’s points of view, and, if done properly and professionally, they shake hands when it’s over and go have a beer together. That’s how it works.

Scholars should never personally smear or attempt to harm the professional development of anyone with whom they disagree. Rather, scholars (and students, and the public at large for that matter) should always argue each case on the merits of the argument. This is precisely what Dr. Wright has done here, and it is precisely what Dr. Jodi Magness and I did last year in the pages of NEA and the SBL session that reviewed my book. We stood up, exchanged points of view, pointed out flaws in each other’s theories, and then walked to the next session, where we advocated side-by-side on the same side of a different issue. Scholars should never respond to a professional, public critique of their work with personal attacks. Rather, scholars should respond on the merits of the argument in public (including peer-review journals, blogs, professional conferences, etc.), let others contribute responses, or not respond. Attacking someone personally will only bring much-deserved shame upon the attacking scholar.

This is how it’s supposed to work. Scholars should make their arguments in their own name and stand behind their claims. They should submit to the peer-review process to be critiqued by an assembly of their peers. This ensures the quality of the academic work and improves the collaborative understanding of a particular subject. Rather than attacking a scholar personally with an anonymous campaign of letters designed to impugn the credibility of a scholar who may hold a differing point of view, scholars should offer alternatives and allow the public (i.e., the academy if a scholarly issue, or the greater public if a popular issue) to determine which arguments seem best.

This is what Dr. Wright and Dr. Magness have done. It is what Larry Schiffman and John Collins and Eibert Tigchelaar and David Stacey and the late Hanan Eshel and Eric Cline and Yuval Peleg and many others have done. We all disagree with each other on any number of topics. And we may very well agree on any number of other issues as well. The point is that we humbly submit our contributions to the academy and the greater public for consideration, we make our critiques professionally, and we stand behind and are accountable for the manner in which we conduct ourselves. The academy has, with very few exceptions, always set the example for professional conduct in the exchange of ideas. The academy is the model to which the public and politicians ought to look as the ultimate example of civil disagreement. And this is what Dr. Wright and so many others have done. I hope to follow their example and always offer commentary and scholarly opinions in a professional, transparent (and occasionally humorous) manner.

Thanx again to Dr. Wright for responding. I’m sure the topic will come up when I see him at the ASOR annual meeting this year in Atlanta, hopefully over a beer (that he buys ;-)

bc

the 2010 megiddo excavation enters its second summer season

The northeastern sector of the mound, Area J with Early Bronze temples in the center at Megiddo.

I must admit: I am jealous. My friend and colleague, George Washington University’s own Dr. Eric Cline, has just completed the first of two summer excavation seasons at Megiddo. And they appear to be having a great time.

The Megiddo team is maintaining a great daily blog of the 2010 season. They are publishing tons of pictures on Facebook. They are even singing songs about archaeology on YouTube. I admit, I wish I were there participating in the excavations, debating Solomon vs. Omri and Ahab, 10th century vs. 9th century, watching Finkelstein and Cline arm wrestle… let’s just say I am jealous.

Check out the blog. And maybe next season, you can see if you too can survive Armageddon!

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