Crisis-hit General Theological Seminary is being 'groomed for failure' because of its real estate value, letter alleges

The chapel at the General Theological Seminary.Randy OHC/Flickr

New York's prestigious General Theological Seminary is at the centre of another row following the publication of a letter from 20 former students, alumni and former trustees to the Attorney General of New York.

The letter asks whether recent actions by the GTS have been "calculated to force the seminary to close" and links its speculation to the very high property prices commanded in the area, adjacent to the city's High Line park.

The GTS made headlines last year when eight professors went on strike, ccusing the seminary's dean, Very Rev Kurt Dunkle, of fostering a climate "fraught with conflict, fear, and anxiety". They said he was authoritarian and he had made inappropriate sexual, racist and anti-gay remarks. However, the GTS board deemed them to have resigned, triggering a boycott of the institution by academics including theologian Stanley Hauerwas, who pulled out of a lecture programme there, and widespread recriminations about the handling of the affair. They were later reinstated pending further discussions.

However, the April 20 letter alleges that the situation is now even worse and that the fallout from the row has had serious consequences for the institution. It says: "After worldwide publicity and further protests, several students left at midyear, and the board provisionally reinstated the faculty only for the rest of the academic year, while canceling their academic tenure. No new hires have been announced and several top librarians have left.

"Only one entering student has paid a deposit for admission next fall. The seminary's accreditation by the Association of Theological Schools is under review; if there's no faculty, no library, no accreditation and no students, there's no seminary."

It continues: "Was this alleged egregious conduct by the administration calculated to force the seminary to close? It appears to have been groomed for failure. The High Line is one of the hottest places in the city right now, and General Seminary sits right on it."

In a response addressed to the GTS community, board of trustees chair Bishop Clifton Daniel defended the seminary board and leadership, saying it was "diligently addressing its very serious decades-long financial issues". He also said that more students had been accepted for enrolment.

A March 23 statement from Dean Dunkle said that the last six months had been "challenging" for the seminary and that it was "proactively addressing our financial challenges".

GTS has been asked to comment on this story but did not immediately respond.