Inside Higher Ed: Rollston Threatened for Financial Reasons

It seems the letter by the president of Emmanuel Christian Seminary about Rollston has been made public(?) and has been written about in an article posted by Inside Higher Ed:

The president of a Tennessee seminary told a tenured professor that his views were offending prospective students and possible donors and that he should look for work elsewhere.

The trouble began when Christopher Rollston, a professor of Old Testament and Semitic Studies at Emmanuel Christian Seminary, a graduate seminary affiliated with the Restoration Movement, wrote an opinion article for The Huffington Post’s religion section about the marginal status of women in the Bible. “To embrace the dominant biblical view of women would be to embrace the marginalization of women,” Rollston wrote. “And sacralizing patriarchy is just wrong.”

The article led to a very public disagreement with another member of Emmanuel’s faculty and a letter of rebuke from the seminary’s president, Michael Sweeney, who issued a less-than-veiled threat to Rollston: stop taking liberal positions that alienate donors and prospective students, or find another place to work.

via Seminary threatens to discipline professor for offending prospective students, donors | Inside Higher Ed.

This is quite revealing.  The matter is not about whether or not Rollston has done his job (he has) or whether or not he has violated the confession of faith (he hasn’t), or about whether his interpretation of the Bible is wrong (it isn’t), but about money.  That’s right everyone.  Dr. Blowers and the president of Emmanuel have threatened Rollston’s job because donors (who, as I said in my article on Bible and Interpretation, care nothing for the accuracy of statements made by professors but have vested agendas and interests elsewhere) are uncomfortable with the idea of giving money to an institution which has a faculty member whose views are that the marginalization of women in the Bible are wrong.

Facts are irrelevant so long as donors are happy.  This is the message that Emmanuel has presented to its faculty, staff, and student body.  When I asked the question in my article:

“How do we want to educate students in the field of Biblical Studies?”

Emmanuel answered, swift and true: ‘In a manner that makes our donors happy.’  In other words, ECS bows down to fundamentalism rather than the facts when their donors are fundamentalists.  Tenure doesn’t matter, the careful education of their students doesn’t matter.  Fall in line with what *our donors believe* or else face the consequences.  That is essentially what Emmanuel has said to Christopher Rollston.  And that is what they are saying to every other member of their faculty and staff and all future student bodies (as well as the current one).

So where does that leave the reputation of Dr. Blowers?  I’m curious since he was aware of the disciplinary action (in fact, he claims to have been a part of it–using the ‘royal ‘we”) and of course the reasons for it–as the Chair of the Area Chairs would be privy to such reasons and for allowing the action to occur.  What is perhaps most revealing is the way Dr. Blowers’ has been trying to skirt over this by completely avoiding it, stating instead that the issue was with Rollston’s interpretation (which everyone with two eyes and a brain could see was completely bunk).  Now the facts are out there.  Indeed, it seems as though my ‘cheap seats’ turned out to be just fine; I just needed a pair of binoculars to cut out all the excess (and by that I mean, all of the trash that was being thrown around from the front row of the stadium which, as it seems, was an attempt to obscure everyone’s view of the real goings on).

UPDATE!  Bob Cargill writes:

In documents obtained by Inside Higher Ed, it appears that Emmanuel Christian Seminary President, Dr. Michael Sweeney, began the termination process of the tenured Rollston, in part, because of the acute financial crisis presently being experienced at Emmanuel, and the potential of a “six-figure” donation that could bail out the seminary, but from a donor who does not personally like Rollston. In this way, the school could kill two birds with one stone: ridding the faculty of a tenured professor to make way for a donation from a potential donor who does not like Rollston, and saving the money from the endowed chair and salary line Rollston presently earns.

That Emmanuel’s president would list multiple economic reasons (the potential of a donation, trouble recruiting tuition-paying students, etc.) for the termination of Dr. Rollston – in the notice of termination to Rollston – is scandalous in itself.

And he aptly concludes:

An institution simply cannot fire a tenured professor who broke no rules (and who happens to be the most credible scholar at Emmanuel) just because the institution wants a donation. Tenure is designed to protect freedom of thought. If Emmanuel wants to fire its professors for thinking outside of Emmanuel’s predetermined theological constraints, why offer tenure in the first place?

In my professional opinion, Emmanuel has committed a grievous violation of academic integrity, and one that will not only cost them financially, but one that will ruin the reputation of the institution for years to come.

Also Jim Davila updated his post:

It appears that Emmanuel Christian Seminary finds itself in a difficult position. Naturally, they want a good relationship with trustees, affiliated institutions, and donors. But at the same time, dismissing someone from a tenured academic post is no small matter. The larger academic world is watching, and whatever decision they make could have an effect on their wider academic reputation and their future efforts to recruit high-quality academic staff.

Jim West writes (in his normal manner):

Congratulations Mr Blowers, you and your ilk have managed to destroy a school and turn it into a gathering of greedy televangelists telling the ignorant flock what it desperately wishes to hear just to make a buck.

Thanks to Bob Cargill for this!

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