The Episcopal Church's oldest seminary in is in uproar as it remains unclear whether most of the faculty staff went on strike, resigned or were fired.
Eight of the ten full-time teaching staff at General Theological Seminary in New York wrote to the board on September 17 to register a series of concerns about the leadership of the Dean and President, Kurt Dunkle.
The faculty staff complained about the dean's controlling behaviour, alleged that he had made a number of inappropriate remarks and called for more collaborative leadership.
The Dean's inappropriate comments allegedly include describing an Asian person as "slanty-eyed" and saying to a female faculty member that he "loved vaginas".
When the board did not address their concern about Dean Dunkle, they wrote again on September 25 to say that they would not teach again until this "crisis of leadership" was addressed.
They also wrote to their students to explain the decision. "Please know that we are not referring to off-hand remarks, or that we are overly concerned with 'political correctness'," they wrote. "Rather we refer to a number of very serious incidents and patterns of behavior which have over time caused faculty, students, and staff to feel intimidated, profoundly disrespected, excluded, devalued, and helpless."
The board responded with a statement on September 30 announcing their resignation. "The Board came to this decision with heavy hearts, but following months of internal divisions around the future direction of General Seminary," the statement said.
As a result of "the eight faculty members' refusal to teach, attend meetings, or even worship, it has become clear that this is the best path forward in educating our students," it continued.
They also said that they were willing to meet with the faculty staff "about the possibility of reconsidering the resignation". They added that they would be investigating the complaint about statements made by the dean.
But the faculty staff are adamant that they did not intend to resign. Andrew Irving, one of the eight faculty members, wrote to students saying: "Our letters did not say that we would resign."
The board responded yesterday by posting copies of the two original letters online, adding "we believe that the letters speak for themselves."
GTS had 70 students enrolled for the 2013-2014 academic year. The 200-year-old seminary has had to undergo massive financial restructuring to manage its $40 million debt.
Dunkle was appointed last October, having been working as a parish priest in Florida.
The head of the US Episcopal Church, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, attended the seminary for morning prayers on Wednesday, saying "We are standing in the middle of chaos," as she addressed the gathered students.
An Associated Press reporter was at the prayer meeting, but was escorted off the premises by Dunkle's spokesperson, according to a report on KWWL.com.
The group of teaching staff, who have now sought legal advice, have started a Facebook page, a website, and a Twitter feed to garner support. A petition has also been signed by dozens of other seminarians from other parts of the country in support of their case.