By Tom Ehrich
Last week, I wrote about a toxic conflict under way at my seminary, Episcopal Divinity School. You can read what I wrote here: http://www.morningwalkmedia.com/tom-ehrich-on-life-faith/
A reader asked if I had "any ideas to get a meaningful resolution." I replied:
"Some of these steps might already be under way. But I would suggest the board of trustees assert their authority, bring in a trained corporate mediator (not a fellow or former seminary dean), agree on terms of a mediation, name them as binding, and then follow through with accountability. I would give it two months, then bring the conflict to a close. Anyone who can't accept the mediator's plan should be invited to leave, including tenured faculty and administrators."
I don't pretend to have any superior inside wisdom on this conflict. But I do know that boards of trustees exist for this type of purpose. Church vestries and councils rarely function as trustees or directors. They represent the members, especially longtime and large-giving members. That's one reason why church conflicts rarely get resolved short of the pastor leaving.
But a seminary does have a board. And that board needs to step up. Not as an ally of the CEO, as it were, but as the functional and legal authority.
Why a "corporate mediator"? I say pay the big bucks to hire a skilled professional mediator. Failure to act decisively will cost the board far more than a onetime fee.
Why binding? Because church and academic conflicts tend to go on too long. The egos are large, religious people want to be "right," and some people live to fight and, in a religious setting, get away with it.
Why two months? This conflict needs to end before the next school year begins. I could imagine bishops pulling their seminarians if another year is going to be squandered on unproductive conflict.
Why accountability? If the seminary wants to teach anything, it should teach that actions have consequences. And no one is exempt from consequences, not students, not faculty, not administrators, not alumni. No one gets a free pass, not even those with tenure.