Emmanuel President Sweeney Announces Pursuit of $3,000,000 Donation, Merger with Milligan College

Dr. Michael Sweeney, President of Emmanuel Christian Seminary

Dr. Michael Sweeney, President of Emmanuel Christian Seminary

Confirming two items that I’ve mentioned on this blog over the past month (here and here), Emmanuel Christian Seminary President, Dr. Michael Sweeney, confirmed via two separate emails sent to all Emmanuel students the following two items:

  1. Emmanuel is close to signing a $3,000,000 donation from a donor, who has offered the money to be used in debt reduction.
  2. Milligan College has voted to pursue acquiring Emmanuel Christian Seminary, including its assets and debts.

The October 29, 2012 email reads as follows:

From: Michael Sweeney <msweeney@ecs.edu>
Date: Mon, Oct 29, 2012 at 2:46 PM
Subject: Emmanuel and Milligan
To: Emmanuel Students Distribution List <emmanuel.students@ecs.edu>

Dear Emmanuel Students,
The Board meetings are finished and we are all trying to catch our breath. Last Friday, Milligan’s Board voted unanimously to move to the next step in integrating Emmanuel into Milligan – which is a very positive thing in light of our situation! Below, please see the press release from Milligan. A great deal of things need to come together before this will be able to happen, but we will proceed one step at a time.
Dr. Sweeney
_____________________
The Milligan College Board of Trustees today approved that Milligan President Dr. Bill Greer continue the process of due diligence toward the possible integration of Emmanuel Christian Seminary into Milligan College.

The two institutions have always operated independently but have a strong shared history, since Emmanuel was founded in 1965 using shared space on the Milligan campus and under the leadership of then-president Dr. Dean E. Walker. Both institutions are part of the Stone-Campbell Movement and have a similar mission of preparing men and women for ministry and servant-leadership.

Financial and economic conditions have been difficult for Emmanuel in recent years, which led Emmanuel’s board and president in Summer 2012 to begin discussions with Milligan about some sort of operating relationship. Since then, both institutions have been in a period of due diligence to explore the options and determine if such a relationship would be in the best interest of both parties.

No definitive decisions or agreements have been reached. Today’s decision to prepare a non-binding Letter of Intent formalizes the period of due diligence in order to fully investigate the financial, academic, administrative, and logistical details of such an arrangement. There are many details and decisions still to be explored prior to a final agreement being reached.

It is in the interest of both institutions to perpetuate quality academic degrees in Bible and ministry. It is the hope that the result of this process will be to integrate Emmanuel into Milligan College in a way that strengthens and continues that mission.

Michael Sweeney email footer
.

The November 7, 2012 email reads as follows:

From: Michael Sweeney <msweeney@ecs.edu>
Date: Wed, Nov 7, 2012 at 11:40 AM
Subject: Answer to Prayer
To: Emmanuel Group <Emmanuel@ecs.edu>, Emmanuel Students Distribution List <emmanuel.students@ecs.edu>

Dear Emmanuel students, staff, and faculty,
As many of you know, last week Dan Lawson, Linda and I took a trip out West to visit a new prospective donor. This contact came about through the connecting efforts of one of our alums, who contacted me about a month ago. He said that there was a woman of significant means in his congregation who was looking for a Christian cause to support and asked for his advice.  He told her about Emmanuel. She wanted to see us and only had a window of a couple of weeks before she was heading south for the winter.
We had a wonderful visit, and in the end she informed us that she would be giving Emmanuel a gift of $3,000,000 to be used exclusively for debt reduction. I believe this will be the largest gift ever given to the school. Of course, the timing could not be better. The greatest barrier to our moving ahead in our talks with Milligan was Emmanuel’s debt. A reduction of $3,000,000 will go a long way in overcoming that problem.
We are praising God for bringing this about as a very direct answer to prayer.
Dr. Sweeney
Michael Sweeney email footer
.

Let us set aside for a moment that fact that the President of Emmanuel Christian Seminary sent these emails to the entire student body.

These emails from the Emmanuel President all but confirm what many have been saying throughout Emmanuel’s scandalous attempt to dismiss a tenured professor: that Emmanuel’s “very direct answer to prayer” appears to have involved an attempt to terminate Dr. Chris Rollston in exchange for a large donation. There is certainly evidence to support such a claim.

Likewise, the letter reveals that Emmanuel Christian Seminary’s financial woes are far greater than many thought; Emmanuel’s present administration appears to have led Emmanuel into such a deep financial hole that discussions of the acquisition of Emmanuel’s debt and remaining assets have been ongoing with Milligan College for some time now. Likewise, President Sweeney explicitly hopes that “the result of this process will be to integrate Emmanuel into Milligan College”. That is, according to an email Emmanuel’s President sent to its students, Emmanuel wants Milligan to assume control. Thus, we’re past the point of if it’s going to happen, but we are now talking about when.

Beyond violating the rule of never announcing a major donation until the deal has been inked, Emmanuel appears to have handed Dr. Rollston more evidence than he needs to argue, quite compellingly, that financial factors played at least some role in his attempted termination – evidence that can only add to Emmanuel’s (and apparently now Milligan’s) financial woes, as a wrongful termination case appears to be all but inevitable.

So not only has President Michael Sweeney led Emmanuel into a financial position that can only be solved by the wholesale assumption of the seminary by another school, but he has publicly announced a forthcoming donation, adding support to earlier claims that at least part of Dr. Rollston’s attempted dismissal was, in fact, based on financial reasons that, according to Dr. Sweeney’s letter, originated “about a month ago”.

What is no longer in question is that Emmanuel Christian Seminary, for all intents and purposes, will cease to be what it has been: an independent Christian seminary.

And as Milligan College picks up the remaining pieces of Emmanuel Christian Seminary in this forthcoming fire sale, Emmanuel has done its students no favor by casting itself the symbol of academic and intellectual suppression, and of selling out good professors for quick cash. I shudder to think how Emmanuel students have watched as its administration has damaged the school’s academic credibility, and therefore the reputation of an Emmanuel degree – which their students are paying good money to receive! What good is a degree from a seminary that has so quickly come to be associated by many scholars as the poster child for ultra conservative, religious fundamentalism, and a place where the religious thought police prohibit professors from saying anything out of line with a predetermined statement of beliefs required as a condition of employment?

It is not beyond the realm of possibility that the students – both present and future – who are associated with Emmanuel School of Religion (and apparently soon to be Milligan College) might begin to transfer to other schools so as not to sully their chances of getting into PhD programs. Given the overwhelming number of faculty members who have written in support of Dr. Rollston from a wide array of schools, both confessional and secular, what are the chances that these institutions are going to accept Emmanuel students into their PhD programs?

Beyond putting Emmanuel in a precarious legal and financial situation, President Michael Sweeney may very well have destroyed Emmanuel’s one true asset: its reputation as a school that produces quality, critically thinking biblical scholars.

What is more, it is not beyond the realm of possibility that Emmanuel students will begin to demand refunds for they education that they’ve paid for, but which has now arguably lost value because the “Emmanuel brand” has become associated with the suppression of scholarly inquiry.

It is time for President Sweeney and Emmanuel Christian Seminary to admit what many scholars already know: they made a HUGE mistake. They tried to pressure a good scholar out of a tenured position, in part at least, to secure a donation from a donor that did not like Dr. Rollston. The emails from President Sweeney to the Emmanel students certainly support this claim, as does the disciplinary action letter from Dr. Sweeney to Dr. Rollston.

It is time for Emmanuel to apologize and settle this case quickly, before any further damage harms the Emmanuel brand, and before the lack of academic credibility begins to stain Milligan College.

Call for Letters in Support of Christopher Rollston

Dr. Chris Rollston

Dr. Christopher Rollston, the Toyozo W. Nakarai Professor of Old Testament and Semitic Studies at Emmanuel Christian Seminary

I’d like to announce an open call for letters in support of Dr. Christopher Rollston, who Emmanuel Christian Seminary is presently attempting to terminate, despite the fact that he is a tenured professor holding an endowed chair.

Emmanuel’s egregious and (I believe the courts will show) unlawful actions have triggered an unprecedented and nearly unanimous shower of support and praise for Dr. Rollston, including letters from a wide range of scholars and alums who would otherwise disagree on any number of theological issues. Emmanuel’s actions are not only harmful to its own, now tarnished reputation, but also harmful to the generally accepted concepts of tenure and academic freedom, which serve as the foundation for accredited academic institutions of higher learning.

As this scandal has dragged on, Emmanuel has yet to offer even a single public acknowledgment or explanation of its actions. Emmanuel must realize that simply ignoring the problem, dragging out the process, and hoping that scholars will forget what Emmanuel has done is not an effective solution to the problem they’ve created. I am certain that if this ugly episode is not resolved by the AAR/SBL annual meetings in Chicago, word of Emmanuel’s actions will only further spread to faculty members of other schools and to potential graduate students, creating even deeper recruiting problems for Emmanuel as they attempt to deal with a crushing financial crisis that may very well result in Emmanuel being taken over by another sister institution.

Of course, this financial crisis is one of the reasons Emmanuel President Michael Sweeney actually listed in his letter to Dr. Rollston detailing why they were initiating the termination process. (A potential significant donation from a donor who didn’t like Rollston is also mentioned.) And if the fact that Emmanuel began termination proceedings against Dr. Rollston wasn’t wrong enough, the fact that his Emmanuel supervisor, Dr. Paul Blowers, divulged the supposedly confidential personnel matter to the public via Facebook (see here, at the bottom) is all the more legally problematic for Emmanuel.

(For more background on the scandal, read the Inside Higher Ed article that was published last month, or read my previous blog entries here and here and here.)

As word of what Emmanuel has done spreads and begins to dominate conversations among professors in our well-networked field at AAR/SBL, it will only further expose Emmanuel’s shameful actions, and likely further bolster Dr. Rollston’s legal case.

Therefore, I’d like to make a public call for letters in support of Dr. Christopher Rollston.

If you would like to submit a letter in support of Dr. Rollston, please email it to me at robert-cargill@uiowa.edu. I shall add your letter to the list below, and announce it with a blog post when it arrives.

I’d like to ask all bloggers to repost this call for letters, as it will help make clear to the administration of Emmanuel Christian Seminary that this issue is not going away, and their actions will not soon be forgotten.


List of individuals in
support of Dr. Christopher Rollston
:

List of individuals in
support of the actions taken by Emmanuel Christian Seminary:

Adrienne Armes (Emmanuel School of Religion alum) here
Travis Armes (Emmanuel School of Religion alum) here
Dr. Hector Avalos (Iowa State University) here
Jeremiah Bailey (Duke University) here
Dr. Katya Barbash (Brooklyn Museum) here
Joseph Beal (Emmanuel School of Religion alum) here
Adam Bean (Emmanuel Christian Seminary alum) here
Dr. Ted Booth (Lincoln Memorial University here
James Bos (University of Mississippi) here
Dr. Athalya Brenner (Tel Aviv University/Universiteit van Amsterdam, The Netherlands) here
Dr. Robert Cargill (University of Iowa) here, here, here
Steve Caruso (Rutgers University and The Aramaic Blog) here
Dr. Jerrold S. Cooper (The Johns Hopkins University) here
Josh Covey (Emmanuel Christian Seminary alum) here
Dr. Jim Davila (University of St Andrews) here
Heather Dana Davis Parker (The Johns Hopkins University) here
Jason Eisele (Emmanuel Christian Seminary alum) here
Bradley England (Emmanuel Christian Seminary alum) here
Christopher Frisina (American University) here
Dr. Mark Goodacre (Duke University) here
Dr. Stephen Goranson (Duke University) here
Nathaniel Green (University of Wisconsin-Madison) here, here
Dr. Edward L. Greenstein (Bar-Ilan University) here
Rick Hauser (International Institute for Mesopotamian Area Studies) here
Nathan Hawkins (Emmanuel School of Religion) here
Dr. Chris Heard (Pepperdine University) here
Dr. Ronald Hendel (UC Berkeley) here
Dr. Larry Herr (Canadian University College) here
W.G. Hulbert (Baylor University) here
Katya Ivanova (London School of Economics) here
Rev. Wes Jamison (Colesville Presbyterian Church) here
Dr. Chris Keith (St. Mary’s University College, Twickenham, London) here
Dr. Robert M. Kerr (Wilfrid Laurier University) here
Rachel Knowles (Emmanuel School of Religion) here
Kristina Linden (Emmanuel School of Religion) here
Dr. Jim Linville (University of Lethbridge) here
Dr. P. Kyle McCarter (The Johns Hopkins University) here, here
Dr. James McGrath (Butler University) here
Brian McGrath Davis (Emmanuel Christian Seminary) here
Anat Mendel (Hebrew University, Jerusalem) here
Jeff Morgan (Emmanuel Christian Seminary) here
Mychal Nemetchek (University of Manitoba) here
Stephen Paul (Emmanuel School of Religion) here
R.J. Powell (East Tennessee State University) here
Jared Poznich (Emmanuel Christian Seminary) here
Carrie Mayes San Angelo (Milligan College alum) here
Duane Smith (Independent Scholar) here
Thomas Stark (Emmanuel School of Religion) here, here
Dr. Matthew J. Suriano (University of Maryland) here
Dr. Marvin A. Sweeney (Claremont School of Theology) here
Dr. James Tabor (UNC, Charlotte) here
Dr. Juan Manuel Tebes (Pontificia Universidad Católica Argentina)
Thomas Verenna (Rutgers University) here, here, here
Dr. Richard Voelz (Vanderbilt University) here
Joel Watts (United Theological Seminary) here, here
Dr. Bruce Wells (Saint Joseph’s University) here, here
Dr. Jim West (Quartz Hill) here
Matthew Worsfold (Emmanuel Christian Seminary) here
Joe Zias (Israel Antiquities Authority, retired) here
Dr. Paul Blowers (Emmanuel Christian Seminary) here
Dr. Michael Pakaluk (Ave Maria University)
Roger Pearse (unaffiliated)
“Dr.” David Tee (unaffiliated)

The “Will of God” and the Fallen Idol

What do you get when you mix magic, idolatry, and religious fundamentalism? The irony that the same crucifix that you believe “cured your wife of cancer” has now crushed and caused the loss of your leg.

I feel bad for poor David Jimenez, who first had to endure the ordeals of his wife’s ovarian cancer, and has now lost his leg. I really do. And this is a pretty standard liability/injury lawsuit involving an accident and an insurance company.

But it is interesting how many people who attribute healing to prayer to crucifixes and the “will of God”, so quickly abandon this theological position when bad things happen. When good things happen, many devoted religious fundamentalists attribute the good they experience to the “power of God” and “God’s will” brought about through the power of prayer. BUT, when something bad happens, it is no longer the “will of God” (unless you’re a Republican running for senate), but is a civil liability claim against the church because of shoddy construction.

So when you need a miracle, you pray to God, but if God doesn’t deliver a blessing, you sue him.

Such is the state of religious fundamentalism in America today.

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