Northern Seminary students are increasing pressure on the seminary’s embattled board of trustees, calling for them to apologize or resign due to how they handled accusations that Northern’s former president bullied women.
Almost one-third of the student body—106 of the reported 325 enrolled students—sent a letter to the trustees today, saying they have “no confidence” in their ability to lead. An additional 21 alumni also signed the letter.
The letter specifically asks for the resignation of Board Chair Wyatt Hoch, as well as any board members who cannot affirm 10 confessions, originally penned by former board member Faye Quanstrom.
Quanstrom resigned Monday, accusing the board of bullying female board members and mishandling an investigation into reports that William Shiell bullied and retaliated against key female leaders. Shiell resigned March 13, about three weeks after The Roys Report (TRR) first published allegations of his bullying.
The letter from the students specifically asks the board to confess it prioritized confidentiality over transparency; took staff and faculty for granted; and made many decisions without understanding the emotional toll on others.
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Some students have withdrawn from the school or are considering withdrawing, the student letter states.
“We are concerned about our prospects of being able to stay at an institution with a Board that continues to be distant, refuses to listen to students, staff, and faculty, and perpetuates harm to our own community,” the letter states. “The salvageabilty of our seminary is at stake. We are signing this letter stating our vote of no confidence in the Board of Trustees at Northern Seminary.”
Tommy Lee, executive director of Northern’s Grow Center for Church and Mission, also wrote a letter to the board, faculty, and staff this week, saying Board Chair Wyatt Hoch “failed miserably” and was absent in discussions over the last few weeks.
“This has gotten ridiculous and has become a great embarrassment to the Seminary,” Lee wrote. “This will one day go down as a case study on leaders failing to lead. We should be doing good work here at the Seminary and for the Gospel but instead we are dealing with grown men who can’t get over themselves.”
Lee added that Hoch has “hidden behind a ‘busy schedule’” and was “nowhere to be found.
“You let people take the hits and yet you have remained quiet. In a time when your leadership is needed you are not at board meetings or meeting with staff. That is astounding and simply inexcusable. . . . You have FAILED miserably.”
TRR reached out to Northern Seminary’s board members through email and phone. Most did not respond. Board Member Melody Douglas said she needed more time to consider her response. Board Member Evelyn Kurtz said she wishes she could “speak freely” but can’t at this time.
In a written statement she sent to TRR, Board Member Harriet Harral personally affirmed Quanstrom’s statement. She said the board has learned a lot, but has more to learn through this situation.
Harral said that according to the university’s bylaws, the board has to wait seven days before taking action on Quanstrom’s statement. She said the board will meet Monday, March 27.
“I have great appreciation for our students and for their concern for Northern,” Harral continued. “I personally endorse the items in Fay’s letter. As a consultant and as an Executive Director of a non-profit, I know very few boards that would not have been caught flat-footed when this situation arose. We’ve learned a lot and we have more to learn about how to respond both with legal/fiduciary responsibility and with human kindness. . . . I believe everyone on the board wants to learn from this situation and improve.”
Board member Robert Dold, who told TRR that he’s been on the board a “long time,” said he thinks this is a “good board trying to do the right thing.”
“I welcome to have conversations with the students to share what their concerns are, to listen to what their concerns are, and to take proper action from a board point of view,” he said. “I don’t think the board has done the best job in listening to the faculty and students although I’m not aware that they have come openly to the board and sit down with the board members to talk some of these things out. They have not reached out to me that I’m aware of.”
Since Feb. 11, groups of students have sent three other letters to the board, initially calling for the board to handle the reports of bullying transparently, and then calling for the board to fire Shiell.
Dold said the board also hasn’t had time to properly address the concerns.
“The whole thing with Bill Shiell came up so quickly that honestly the board hasn’t met except by phone since all this happened,” he said. “The board has not had a chance to sit down with Bill Shiell before he resigned to listen to the complaints on both sides. I’d like to be able to do that, but he has now resigned and is moving on with his life.”
However, this isn’t the first time the board has heard concerns from staff.
Ingrid Faro, former dean of academic affairs, said in a report she wrote to the board last November that the board knew of Shiell’s poor leadership in 2016. Also, last November, 17 individuals sent reports about Shiell’s bullying behavior to the board and HR.
Despite the vote of no-confidence expressed in the students’ letter, Dold told TRR today that he “wholeheartedly” supports Hoch’s leadership of the board. He added that Quanstrom’s resignation “saddened” him and hopes she rescinds her resignation. He also called the students’ letter “hasty.”
The students sent their letter today not just to the board, but to organizations outside of Northern, including The Association of Theological Schools (ATS) and American Baptist Churches USA (ABCUSA).
Rebecca Hopkins is a journalist based in Colorado.
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