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Northern Seminary President Resigns, Following Allegations of Bullying & Retaliation

By Rebecca Hopkins
bill shiell northern seminary
Bill Shiell speaks in a promotional video for Northern Seminary. (Video screengrab)

The president of Northern Seminary in Lisle, Illinois, has resigned, following allegations published by The Roys Report (TRR) of bullying and retaliation against multiple women in key leadership roles.

In his resignation letter to the university’s board, former president William Shiell defended his treatment of others. And he stated that “publicity” surrounding the seminary’s attempts at reconciliation made it impossible for him to lead.

“When I offered to take a leave of absence on February 18, I wanted to make room for every voice to be heard, to give the Board time to work through the seminary’s process for resolving conflicts and grievances, and to make myself available for listening, mediation, and reconciliation,” Shiell stated in his resignation letter. “The publicity around this process during my time away has hindered Northern’s mission and prevented my ability to lead the institution into the future.”

Shiell added that he has “guarded the flock under my care” and “done everything in my power to prevent the kind of abuse of authority that has been publicly alleged about my character and leadership.”

Shiell resigned effective today. He had been on a leave of absence since Feb. 18, while the allegations against him were being investigated by a third party hired by Northern’s board.

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northern seminary
Northern Seminary in Lisle, Illinois (Photo via social media)

Shiell did not respond to requests for comment from The Roys Report (TRR).

In a letter to students, faculty, and staff dated March 13, Northern Board Chairman Wyatt Hoch announced Shiell’s resignation, but didn’t address the allegations of bullying and retaliation. Hoch praised Shiell’s “dedicated service” and “deep commitment to women in leadership and racial injustice.”

Hoch did not respond to TRR’s request for comment.

The female whistleblowers told TRR they were drawn to Northern for its reputation of caring for diversity and fostering a safe culture for women, influenced by prominent Northern professor Scot McKnight,* who wrote “A Church Called Tov.” Instead, they say Shiell bullied and controlled them, and retaliated when they complained.

Today, they expressed disappointment in both Hoch’s and Shiell’s letters. They say the letters invalidate their concerns and show Shiell’s lack of repentance. The letters also don’t address the board’s repeated failure to hold Shiell accountable.

wyatt hoch northern
Northern Seminary Board Chair Wyatt Hoch (Courtesy Photo)

“As a woman in leadership, who has read statements from many other women who have worked in leadership positions under Bill, this letter denied our actual experiences,” wrote Jennifer Boysen, whistleblower and Northern’s chief development officer, in a statement to TRR. “The issue with Wyatt Hoch’s letter is that it sounds like he is the voice for the Board, when I don’t think that is the case. An acknowledgement of how poorly this was handled, and a commitment to be better going forward, would go a long way toward helping the community heal.”

Three representatives for about 200 students who have joined the call for accountability said they have mixed feelings about the news of Shiell’s resignation.

“First, we are relieved that healing can begin in our community, particularly for those who have bravely come forward with their stories,” wrote Sarah Klingler, Justin Charles, and Karen Smith in a statement to TRR. “Second, we are grateful for the many ways in which students, faculty, and staff have worked to support and encourage one another and to seek justice together over the past month. Finally, however, we still have deep concerns about how this whole situation has been handled by the board.”

The students have now penned three letters raising concerns, the latest sent to the board last week, calling for Shiell’s firing and a more victim-focused approach.

“The victims who have courageously come forward with their painful stories deserve to hear the leadership of the seminary accurately and truthfully name what has brought us to this point,” the students’ March 8 letter to the board stated. “Very little has been said to address them with care and compassion, to express sorrow about all that has happened, nor to ask what help and support they need at this time.”

northern seminary
Promotional image for Northern Seminary (Via social media)

Shiell’s resignation will likely end any HR process looking into Shiell’s bullying, said Avy Ivy, a whistleblower who used to oversee the seminary’s human resources. Ivy told TRR that the university should, however, still examine what went wrong with Shiell’s leadership so it can move forward in a healthy way.

“With his resignation, that closes the chapter on Bill,” she said. “However, after-action planning for what came out of that investigation, should speak to, ‘how do we create a culture that is diametrically better than what existed under Bill Shiell’s leadership?’ We have to call out truthfully what occurred, and own it and repent, and then you can experience true reconciliation.”

In late February, the board unanimously named John Bowling, former president of Olivet Nazarene University, to be acting president during Shiell’s administrative leave. The university provided no updates on Monday on whether Bowling will continue to serve in an interim role while it looks for a new president.

Shiell’s resignation could be a new opportunity to introduce diversity and cultivate more of a “tov” culture of goodness, Ivy said.

“As I look down that wall (of presidents), they’re all white guys,” said Ivy. “If you truly, really believe that you want to honestly deliver a multi-denominational education experience that’s international, interracial, and intercultural, to prepare women and men called by God and the Holy Spirit to advance and nurture the ministries of the church, you’ve got to do the work.”

*Scot McKnight has been a speaker at the Restore Conference, which is sponsored by The Roys Report.

Rebecca Hopkins is a journalist based in Colorado.



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12 Responses

  1. I remember when this was Northern Baptist Seminary, In the 60s, the president was Dr. Koller, a wonderful gentleman and fine preacher. Don’t know when it began its slide, but I had a friend who went there 40+ years ago and it was already moving away from orthodoxy.

  2. (Wikipedia lists several prominent alumni, including Dave Breese, Carl F. H. Henry, Torrey Johnson, Ken Taylor, and Warren Wiersbe. If you grew up in the evangelical world a generation ago, you’d know all those names, and they were all solid, Biblically-based leaders.)

  3. “As I look down that wall (of presidents), they’re all white guys,” said Ivy.

    And the point is….what exactly? Striving for excellence in leadership has nothing to do with skin color. NOTHING.

    It constantly fascinates and amazes me that some still don’t see the problem with fixating on features Jesus considers irrelevant to ministry. Character, people. That’s what matters. CHARACTER.

    1. Just because they said “” does NOT mean they minimize “CHARACTER” at all. I am sure the seminary can find qualified people of “CHARACTER” who are not Caucasian/’white’ men. Don’t you?
      Yeah, they say they are for “interracial” ‘stuff’, then act like it.

    2. Just because Ivy said “As I look down that wall (of presidents), they’re all white guys” does NOT mean Ivy minimize “CHARACTER” at all. I am sure the seminary can find qualified people of “CHARACTER” who are not Caucasian/’white’ men. Don’t you?
      Yeah, they say they are for “interracial” ‘stuff’, then act like it.

    3. Cynthia:

      For all of the talk that most Baptist Churches talk about diversity IMO it is just talk. Northern was founded in 1913. It is over a 100 years later and there is yet to be a person of color elected as president. If you are a person of color you can pay your money and go to this school, but never would you be considered for the presidency.

      1. Tom and Harry:

        Could you quote a Bible verse that supports the idea that leaders should be chosen because of their gender or skin color? Stated differently, I find no support for “diversity” as currently preached anywhere in the Bible. Not one verse. Instead, I find multiple verses that support loving others as we love ourselves, taking care of the poor and needy, loving our neighbors, and taking care of widows and orphans. I also find support for walking humbly with our God, showing mercy, and supporting those in prison.

        Find ANY Bible verse that emphasizes diversity as a goal. I’ll wait for it.

        One last point. The Bible discusses individual talents and abilities. There is nothing about creating equal outcomes in the Bible. Indeed, Jesus emphasizes how the different parts of the Body of Christ are given different gifts that work together for the good of the Church. Not everyone can preach…not everyone can lead….not everyone can teach.

        So, in my opinion, the ONLY Biblically-based word in DEI is “inclusion,” since Jesus’ gospel includes all people everywhere.

        1. Can you cite the verse that says it’s ok to exclude people because of their skin color? Because that’s what this country (and this seminary) has been doing. Sure they don’t SAY it’s that, but there’s a reason that they are not finding “qualified” candidates of color, and it’s not because they don’t exist.

          1. Hello Jen,

            Your point is well taken. It is absolutely wrong to exclude anyone because of skin color. It’s absolutely right to exclude people who are not qualified, however. Qualification for any position, either in ministry or the secular world, should NEVER – repeat – NEVER be based on the color of one’s skin. Rather, we should be seeking excellence. When Biden announced he would ONLY seek a “woman of color” to serve on the Supreme Court, he made a very serious mistake. He should have said, “I will seek the most qualified person available, regardless of sex or skin color.”

            Because he did not, we can only conclude he lacks wisdom.

            There is no verse in the Bible that excludes people because they are a certain color. However, multiple verses in the Bible warn against the consequences of sin. When we become Christians, the old has passed away. The Holy Spirit convicts us of sin and we, through God’s help, become new people. Sin loses its power. We are no longer slaves to it.

            Being a Christian does not provide a free pass to heaven regardless of our actions. We are called to holiness, we are called to follow Christ.

  4. “deep commitment to women in leadership and racial injustice.”

    Mr. Shiell had a deep commitment to women in leadership and to women in racial injustice? Mr. Shiell had a deep commitment to women in leadership and a deep commitment to racial injustice?

    I wonder what Chairman Hoch means to say, and I wonder why he doesn’t have a competent secretary.

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