Letter from Dr. Matthew Suriano in Support of Chris Rollston

I received the following letter from Dr. Matthew J. Suriano of The University of Maryland, which I am posting below. I have added the letter to Dr. Rollston’s list of public supporters here.


Dr. Matthew J. Suriano

Dr. Matthew J. Suriano

Dear President Sweeney and Dean Holland,

I add my voice to those of my colleagues in asking that you halt the termination proceedings for Professor Christopher Rollston, Toyozo W. Nakarai Professor of Old Testament and Semitic Studies, at Emmanuel Christian Seminary.  Prof. Rollston is one of the most prominent Semitic epigraphers in our field, and his contributions are considerable.  Therefore, I should think that his services to your seminary be held in the proper esteem.  Indeed, I find your treatment of this scholar inappropriate, and moreover, unfitting for an institution that recently added “Christian Seminary” to its name.  I feel that such a name change would bring with it a sense of duty to operate with a higher standard of ethics that bear witness to the institution’s purpose.  Instead, the situation is such that I must write this letter to you protesting the unethical treatment of a member of your faculty.  Even more disturbing is the fact that Professor Rollston has done nothing that contradicts the basic tenets of Christianity.  I state this because it seems that the controversy you have created has little to do with higher education inside the confines of a confessional institution.  To the contrary, the situation is nothing more than the suppression of intellectual freedom for reasons that are less than academic.

I urge you to reverse these actions against Professor Rollston.  It should be clear to you that the very integrity of your seminary is at stake in this matter.

Sincerely,

Matthew J. Suriano
Assistant Professor
The Meyerhoff Center for Jewish Studies
University of Maryland
http://dev.profile.arhu.umd.edu/msuriano/

Letter from Anat Mendel in Support of Chris Rollston

I received the following letter from Anat Mendel of The Institute of Archaeology at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, which I am posting below. I have added the letter to Dr. Rollston’s list of public supporters here.


Anat Mendel

Anat Mendel

I am writing this letter following the ordeal that Dr. Chris Rollston is facing lately. I could not help writing it to express my highest appreciation of Dr. Rollston and to humbly defend him through this latest upheaval.

I am a PhD candidate at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in the field of Northwest Semitic epigraphy and archaeology. It is a general consensus that Chris is one of the world’s leading West Semitic epigraphers and palaeographers working today; his methodological essays are groundbreaking. As a young scholar sharing Chris’s field, his work has been a source of admiration and inspiration to me. It is filled with awe that I arrived at our first meeting this last January in Jerusalem. The moment we met (Chris was accompanied by his youngest daughter, Rebekah) I discovered that this great scholar I was so looking up to was an extremely gentle, modest man. During my latest presentation, at the ASOR annual meeting in Chicago, we were scheduled to be presenting at different places at the same time. I cannot describe how deeply moved I was as Chris attended my entire lecture. I would forever be grateful to Chris for his generosity and his kindness.

The most important thing I learned throughout my years of higher education, including Chris’s books and articles, is to always question old notions and to challenge preconceived “truths”. In the popular article that started this upheaval Chris only pointed out some undeniable verses in the Old and New Testament that outline the status of women in the Bible, remarking about its irrelevance to life in the 21st century. How troubling that expressing his scholarly views would cause a modern scholar to fear for his position.

I consider Chris as a mentor, a role-model as a scholar and as a human being, and a friend. Emmanuel is truly blessed to have him in its ranks. To let him go would be a great loss to that institution and to its students.

Sincerely,

Anat Mendel
PhD Candidate
The Institute of Archaeology
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Letter from Dr. Ronald Hendel in Support of Chris Rollston

I received the following letter from Dr. Ronald Hendel at the University of California, Berkeley, which I am posting below. I have added Dr. Hendel’s letter to Dr. Rollston’s list of public supporters here.


Dr. Ronald Hendel

Dr. Ronald Hendel

Dear President Sweeney and Dean Holland,

I join my colleagues in attesting to the superb scholarship of Prof. Chris Rollston.  He brings credit to your seminary.  His views expressed in a column in the Huffington Post ought not to be a concern to an accredited institution of higher learning.  Infringement of this principle would be a very serious matter to accrediting institutions, the AAUP, and the membership of the SBL.

Sincerely,

Ronald Hendel

Norma and Sam Dabby Professor of Hebrew Bible and Jewish Studies

University of California, Berkeley

Letter from Dr. P. Kyle McCarter in Support of Chris Rollston

Dr. P. Kyle McCarter

Dr. P. Kyle McCarter

Dr. P. Kyle McCarter, the William Foxwell Albright Professor of Biblical and Ancient Near Eastern Studies at The Johns Hopkins University, has written a lengthy letter in support of Dr. Chris Rollston regarding the present scandalous efforts at Emmanuel Christian Seminary to terminate Dr. Rollston from his tenured, endowed chair.

The letter can be read on Dr. McCarter’s site here.

I’ve included the conclusion of the letter below, calling academics into action, as this affects us all:

I’ve written this public letter because I’ve watched the treatment of Chris Rollston by Emmanuel Christian Seminary closely, and what I’ve seen so far has me deeply troubled both professionally and personally, as I’ve explained.  My sense is that events are now beginning to move rapidly, so that declarations of concern at this point will be very timely.  I’ve expressed the hope that we will be vigilant and attentive to the process, and I believe that it might help if we directly notify the institution of our general concern and our intention to play a watchdog role.  We can do this by contacting the chief academic officers of the Seminary.  The President is Michael Sweeney (msweeney@ecs.edu) and the Academic Dean is Jack Holland (jholland@ecs.edu).  Even brief messages to President Sweeney and Dean Holland will demonstrate the sincerity of our interest.  Those of you (and there are many) who have knowledge of specific issues and events (things I’ve deliberately omitted from this letter for reasons already explained) may wish to address those things at some length, but (to repeat) short messages will help too.  Many of you will have already written, but there’s no reason you shouldn’t write again.  You might also consider writing to Emmanuel’s accrediting boards, mentioned above.  The representative at SACS is Steven Sheeley (ssheeley@sacscoc.org), and the representative at ATS is Tisa Lewis (lewis@ats.edu). Some of you, moreover, may have special knowledge that could be particularly useful.  If, for example, you have worked in any capacity with either of Emmanuel’s accrediting boards (SACS or ATS, see above), you may know a more direct way to call their attention to this issue — I feel confident they will want to investigate, but I don’t know if they are yet involved.  If by chance any of you knows one or more trustees of Emmanuel Christian Seminary, you might be able to play a particularly valuable role.  As I said above, considering the inevitably positivistic character of Chris’s epigraphic work, it’s surprising to me that he hasn’t found support within even the conservative spectrum of Emmanuel’s constituencies, and I wonder if all the trustees have been told the whole story.

In sum, all of us who hold academic positions, whether in secular or religious or confessional institutions, have a stake in what’s happening in Johnson City, Tennessee.  Many of you don’t know Chris personally, but even some of you who don’t know him personally have already taken bold positions on his behalf, and you have and deserve the special respect of us all.  For those of us who do know Chris, who know the quality and integrity of his work, and who know the quality and integrity of the man, we can’t help but ask ourselves:  Is this a man whose job performance is such that he should be threatened with dismissal for cause?  This man?  Chris Rollston?  The notion is so absurd that it stops all thought processes, leaving only confusion.  How did things get to this point?

Respectfully yours,
P. Kyle McCarter
William Foxwell Albright Professor of Biblical and Ancient Near Eastern Studies
The Johns Hopkins University

Please take the time to read Dr. McCarter’s excellent letter.

Also, please write a letter of your own in support of Chris. If you send them to me (robert-cargill@uiowa.edu), I shall post them here on my blog and add your name and letter to this fast-growing list of supporters who have written publicly in support of Dr. Rollston.

How NOT to Issue a Press Release: Lies, Misleading Statements, and Coverup at Emmanuel Christian Seminary

The scandal at Emmanuel Christian Seminary involving the attempt to (wrongfully) terminate Professor Chris Rollston appears to be much uglier and more mishandled than we first thought.

Thomas Stark, who first broke much of this story on the Religion @ the Margins blog, has posted a new story that at first seems too unlikely to be true. But after reading the story, and more amazingly, viewing the screen shots, it unfortunately appears to be all too real.

Emmanuel President Michael Sweeney apparently asked Thomas Stark to issue a press release for Emmanuel that addressed the Chris Rollston disciplinary action presently underway at Emmanuel. This is, quite frankly, insane! (With all due respect to Thomas Stark and the Religion @ the Margins blog.) Since when does a university president ask a blogger to issue a press statement on the blogger’s blog?  Does the Emmanuel President not own a computer and a website? And how is it that we STILL haven’t heard a single thing from Emmanuel on this issue (outside of Paul Blowers divulging the confidential business of a disciplinary action to the public on Facebook, and then writing an entire article to the B&I website discussing the situation publicly)?

Who taught these guys to deal with press? And who taught them to do damage control? Silence from the Emmanuel administration only further exacerbates the perception that they have committed a grievous crime and STILL haven’t even figured out how to begin to address it. The Emmanuel administration’s complete failure at damage control (i.e., Blowers’ self-serving, and quite unhelpful article at B&I, and nothing else?) and their inability to communicate to the public even an acknowledgment that something is, in fact, going on at Emmanuel, belies just how bad things are there.

(Side note: screaming “mind your own business” and “cheap seats” is not considered effective damage control.)

Not only is Emmanuel missing opportunity after opportunity to address and settle this matter in an expedient manner, now they have apparently taken to attempting to convince bloggers to release “official” statements containing numerous falsehoods on their behalf. That is, they appear to be trying to get bloggers to lie to the public for them. This is absolutely shameful.

Stark’s latest post offers examples of four misleading, incorrect, or false statements in the Emmanuel statement. Here is an example of just one of them:

A fourth and final problem with Emmanuel’s statement is this: “nor is a disagreement over the content of Dr. Rollston’s Huffington Post article an issue in our discussions.” This statement is, in no uncertain terms, false. It is not simply a mischaracterization; it is a lie. It is a very troubling lie, and it is a lie that could not have been unintentional. As revealed last Monday in the Inside Higher Education article, President Sweeney’s letter to Rollston does in fact bring up the Huffington Post article as one of the causes justifying termination proceedings against Rollston. A whole paragraph is devoted to the subject of Dr. Rollston’s Huffington Post article and his Facebook posts. In fact, the letter mentions the Huffington Post article more than once, and does in fact express disagreement with Dr. Rollston’s conclusions.

But of course, Sweeney’s letter resorts to obvious mischaracterization of Rollston’s conclusions in his Huffington Post article. Sweeney’s letter alleges Dr. Rollston’s article made the claim that “the Bible, as a whole, marginalized women,” and that its conclusion was, “we cannot put our trust in ‘biblical values.’” This is of course completely false. Rollston did not argue that the Bible “as a whole,” marginalized women. He argued that a majority of texts relevant to the question of women’s status in ancient Israel reflected patriarchy, while a minority of texts pushed back against this ideology in various ways. In the article, he identified eleven examples of such push backs. Moreover, he did not conclude that we cannot put our trust in “biblical values.” He concluded that patriarchy was one biblical value among many (and who in their right mind can deny this?), and that this specific biblical value is not something we ought to value. (Does President Sweeney wish to defend the patriarchal institutions established throughout much of the Bible, and argue that they should remain in force within modern Christianity?) Clearly Dr. Rollston’s article showed that he saw a clash of values within the Bible, and demonstrated that he found some of those values to be morally praiseworthy. President Sweeney and the experts in hermeneutics at Emmanuel should be defending him from those who have plainly misinterpreted his article, not engaging in the same careless and sweeping mischaracterizations themselves.

More to the point, clearly this displays that there was discussion of and disagreement over the contents of Dr. Rollston’s Huffington Post article in connection to disciplinary proceedings. So when President Sweeney releases a statement in which he flatly denies that any “disagreement over the content of Dr. Rollston’s Huffington Post article” was “an issue in our discussions,” we know he is lying. I have spent a great deal of time trying to imagine a charitable interpretation of this claim that does not amount to an intentional lie, and I have been unable to do so.

Unbelievable! But there it is. Not only has Emmanuel apparently begun termination proceedings against a tenured professor (wrongfully, I might add), but they have yet even to address the matter publicly, because their one attempt to quell the growing outrage from other scholars and former students against them failed miserably when the blogger they asked to release an official statement refused to do so because the statement was utterly false – falsehoods that were immediately confirmed by the publication of the Inside Higher Ed article.

Had Thomas Stark published the Emmanuel statement from President Sweeney as-is (like he was asked to do), Stark would have been roped into lying on behalf of Emmanuel, which based on the evidence, Emmanuel asked him to do!

Stark describes how he felt when he finally realized that he had been asked to lie for Emmanuel:

Then, when I was sent a deeply problematic “statement” described as “officially” from President Sweeney, to be published on my website, I had come firsthand into solid confirmation of my suspicions of incompetence. No matter whose idea it may have been, how incompetent would President Sweeney have to be to approve the publication of an official statement from Emmanuel, with his name on it, on my blog! Does this evoke a sense of direction? Does this communicate a sense of properly handling a potentially damaging scandal? What is more, to include in that statement a number of mischaracterizations, evasions, and an outright lie—a lie he should have known full well could be proved false at any time—I ultimately concluded that President Sweeney appears to be in over his head, and is having a great deal of trouble managing the combination of this financial crisis, this ideological controversy over the direction of the seminary, and now what appears to be the wrongful termination of Professor Rollston, in anything remotely resembling a competent manner. It seems to me that President Sweeney has made mistake after mistake after mistake, and in doing so, has put Emmanuel’s reputation and its viability in serious jeopardy.

IMHO, Emmanuel should settle this case ASAP. They should either drop this farce of a “disciplinary action” against Professor Rollston immediately, apologize, and perhaps open an inquiry into Professor Blowers’ activity in this whole mess, OR, Emmanuel should pay Professor Rollston his salary for the next bunch of years, apologize, part ways (I can’t imagine Dr. Rollston (or any other faculty member for that matter) wanting to stay at Emmanuel after this), and end this absolute nightmare before they end up in court and the national press picks this up. It’s only a matter of time. Emmanuel should go to their “six-figure donor”, ask him for the money to buy out Dr. Rollston (and avoid court), and then at least Emmanuel can claim a partial victory (the departure of Prof. Rollston). Professor Rollston can go to a school that will actually appreciate him, and the remainder of the faculty can watch their backs as the Paul Blowers thought police plays hall monitor in Johnson City.

Only time will tell if Emmanuel’s credibility and reputation are too damaged to recover from this inexplicable mess, brought upon their own heads by their own mismanagement.

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