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.

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/

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.

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.

Letter from Dr. Hector Avalos in Support of Chris Rollston

I received the following letter from Dr. Hector Avalos, which I am posting below. You may view a PDF of the letter here.


Dr. Hector Avalos

Dr. Hector Avalos

November 12, 2012
Dr. Michael Sweeney
President
Emmanuel Christian Seminary

Dear Dr. Sweeney,

I write in support of Dr. Christopher Rollston, one of the most distinguished Hebrew epigraphists working today. As I understand it, his principal transgression was to state in an essay in The Huffington Post what is non-controversial among many biblical scholars.

I write also as a faculty member who also was once the target of a wealthy donor who threatened to withdraw a promised donation of over $100,000 because he did not like the idea of a non-Christian teaching biblical studies in a public university. This donor wanted me fired from a tenured position because he thought I was a detriment to our university and our society.

The president of my university was wise enough to see that academic freedom means nothing if it does not mean the freedom to reach conclusions that may be the opposite of what your institution or the broader society holds. The president of my university not only refused to listen to the threats of this donor, but he later approved my
promotion to full professor.

So, I hope you also have the wisdom and courage to repudiate any action against Dr. Rollston, and fulfill the obligations that institutions of higher learning have in protecting the academic freedom of their faculty members.

Respectfully,

Dr. Hector Avalos
Professor of Religious Studies
402 Catt Hall
Iowa State University
Ames, IA 50011
(o) 515-294-0051
http://www.philrs.iastate.edu/avalos.shtml

Letter from Dr. Marvin A. Sweeney in Support of Chris Rollston

I received the following letter from Dr. Marvin A. Sweeney, which I am posting below.


Dr. Marvin A. Sweeney

Dr. Marvin A. Sweeney

November 11, 2012
Dr. Michael Sweeney
President
Emmanuel Christian Seminary

Dear Dr. Sweeney:

I have recently learned of your efforts to begin termination proceedings for Prof. Christopher Rollston, Toyozo W. Nakarai Professor of Old Testament and Semitic Studies, at Emmanuel Christian Seminary.

I understand that your actions are motivated in part by Prof. Rollston’s post in a recent edition of the Huffington Post and by Emmanuel’s precarious financial situation.

I believe that your actions are illegal and represent the worst example of Christian moral and professional action.  Prof. Rollston holds a tenured position at Emmanuel and spoke out in the Huffington Post on a matter of biblical interpretation in the best tradition of Protestant Christian scholarship.

You may disagree with his understanding, but he has every right to state his views.  The proper response in such a case is to debate the issue to arrive at a true understanding of the word of G-d.  Your efforts to dismiss him on financial grounds are simply dishonest.

I urge to pray, reflect, and reverse your actions against Professor Rollston.  Your own reputation and the reputation and well-being of the Emmanuel Christian Seminary are at stake.

Sincerely,

Marvin A. Sweeney
Professor of Hebrew Bible
Claremont School of Theology
1325 N. College Ave.
Claremont, CA  91711
msweeney@cst.edu

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)

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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