Thinking Anglicans

Wycliffe Hall: former staff write to church press

The following letter to the editor was published today in full in the Church of England Newspaper and in a shorter form in the Church Times.

from Eeva John, the Revd Geoff Maughan, and the Revd Dr David Wenham

Sir,

Recent revelations concerning the removal of Dr Elaine Storkey and of the Revd Dr Andrew Goddard and the Revd Lis Goddard from their posts at Wycliffe Hall have ensured that this Oxford Evangelical theological college continues to attract media attention. Over the past six months, rumours have abounded regarding a shift towards conservative evangelicalism, homophobia, misogyny on the one hand, and heavy-handed management involving bullying and intimidation on the other. Until now, out of loyalty to the college and concern for its students, staff at the college have been reluctant to comment, even though the situation has been repeatedly misrepresented in the press by other stakeholders. But now the serious and distressing injustice of the forcible removal of three fellow staff members compels us to set the record straight and to let the facts of the past two years speak for themselves.

Wycliffe Hall was in a strong and healthy position, when the Revd Professor Alister McGrath stepped down as Principal in 2004. But the appointment of a new Principal in April 2005 heralded a new era and the time for various changes, especially in administrative and managerial areas of college life. Staff were open to change, and wanted to work with the new Principal in this.

Distress soon set in, however, as strategic decisions, policies, and appointments were made without due regard for the views of colleagues. Despite intense behind-the-scenes discussions, these acute management difficulties culminated in the first of many resignations: David Wenham resigned as Vice-Principal, and Geoff Maughan, Director of Ministry, left the Hall to take up a parish post.

Tensions continued and reached a new climax at a meeting of staff and student representatives, at which the Principal responded unsatisfactorily to questions from students about various issues, including future staff appointments.

Dr Elaine Storkey, the Hall’s Senior Research Fellow, spoke out forthrightly at the meeting in support of those students and staff who had questions. This led directly to the Principal’s initiating formal disciplinary proceedings against Dr Storkey, and in due course to her responding reluctantly with grievance proceedings.

The heavy-handed disciplinary action, following all that led up to it, resulted in an appeal to the Hall Council from nine mostly senior staff (not including Dr Storkey), asking for their help in resolving the difficulties within the staff team and in bringing reconciliation. This was followed in subsequent months by a series of letters to the Council (six from groups of staff and many others from individual staff members) asking the Council to help.

The repeated pleas for face-to-face meetings with the Council and eventually for independent mediation were consistently rejected by the Council; substantive issues raised by staff were not addressed.

Eventually, the Council initiated a listening process, giving individual staff members access to two designated Council members. The outcome was a brief 140-word statement to the Hall community which reiterated the Council’s unanimous support for the Principal, and emphasised the need for all staff “to follow proper processes, to support the Principal, and to work to the highest Christian standards”.

In the mean time, resignations continued unabated. By the end of the academic year, eight staff members had resigned, two annual contracts had not been renewed, and one senior staff member had stepped down from his management responsibilities in protest.

Not all these resignations were as a direct consequence of the difficulties at the Hall, but many were. Three were staff who had been appointed by the current Principal and had been in post only two years. They could hardly be described as dead wood. Finally, the recent dismissals without grounds of Dr Storkey and the Goddards, none of whom had plans or desires to leave their posts at the Hall this year, has taken the toll of staff departures in one academic year to a total of 13. This represents more than 40 per cent of all support and academic staff.

Clearly neither Elaine Storkey nor the Goddards were alone in their unhappiness with the leadership and management of the Hall: they simply outstayed their welcome as far as the Principal and the Council were concerned.

The rough and tumble of heavy-handed and abrasive management may be the harsh reality of life in some businesses and organisations, but it is unacceptable and damaging in an institution that is first and foremost a Christian community in which future leaders are trained and mentored to imbibe the counter-cultural values of servant and team leadership. Furthermore the severance of the contracts of three members without any justification other than elimination of dissent is unjust. This is particularly the case when so many pleas for help in working towards reconciliation and understanding have been ignored.

Purported theological dimensions to the crisis at the Hall have been eagerly grasped by the press, and expressed variously as an attempt to capture the college for a narrow evangelicalism that is hostile to women’s ordination and homophobic. We are deeply distressed by, and wish to distance ourselves from such attempts to to polarize the Christian community caricature theological viewpoints. However, some of the Principal’s recent appointments, public statements, and changes to the curriculum do, however, suggest a more narrowly conservative emphasis (not to mention his signing of the “Covenant for the Church of England” without consulting colleagues). On the other hand, the appointment of two women academics can be seen as representing a broader approach.

As for the outgoing staff, any suggestion that they were uncommitted to the Evangelical heritage and emphasis of the Hall is untrue: we all held highly the Hall’s long-standing commitment to biblical doctrine, preaching and practice in a spirit of generous theological orthodoxy.

Finally, Wycliffe’s status as a Permanent Private Hall within Oxford University has been under the spotlight as a result of the recent review of all PPHs by the University. An important dimension of the Hall’s vision is to foster the pursuit of evangelical biblical scholarship within a context in which views are respectfully exchanged and heard. The Hall’s association with Oxford University is vital to this vision. We are naturally concerned that the recent events may have weakened this important relationship, but hope that the Council will support the Principal in ensuring that any damage is swiftly and unequivocally repaired.

The events we have described have caused intense pain and perplexity to many people. Although we readily acknowledge that the failures of judgement and charity have not all been on one side, we believe it is important for the wider Church, to which Wycliffe Hall is ultimately accountable, to be exposed to the voices that heretofore have been silent.

As staff who have left the Hall, we deeply regret what has happened, and the divisions that have arisen within the college and among its friends. We continue to have great affection for the Hall and for colleagues and students who have meant so much to us, and we hope and pray, still, for reconciliation, for healing of relationships, and for the rebuilding of the Wycliffe community.

Eeva John (Wycliffe Hall 2004-07); Geoff Maughan (Wycliffe Hall 1998-2007); David Wenham (Wycliffe Hall 1983-2007)

23
Leave a Reply

avatar
3000
23 Comment threads
0 Thread replies
0 Followers
 
Most reacted comment
Hottest comment thread
10 Comment authors
andyChristopher ShellCheryl Va. CloughHugh of LincolnFrozenchristian Recent comment authors
  Subscribe  
newest oldest
Notify of
Prior Aelred
Guest

Gosh!

This doesn’t sound good, does it? Not a healthy situation at all.

Someone once described the difference between “secrecy” and “confidentiality” as being that the latter is important to protect vulnerable people from being damaged and the former is a ploy to protect the powerful from embarrassment. I thought it rather glib, but useful — sounds like there has been too much “secrecy” for too long to protect an institution & that people have suffered (IMHO).

Matthew B
Guest
Matthew B

First, thanks are due to Eeva, Geoff, and David for their courage in speaking out, which will no doubt come at some personal cost. For a theological college to lose 13 teaching staff in a single academic year is little short of a revolution. These are people who ought to be close to the conservative evangelical perspective, so for them to acknowledge that ‘a more narrowly conservative emphasis’ is taking place is worrying. Obviously they are upset at the insinuation that they are not true evangelicals. But while the theological differences between these people ought not perhaps to be exaggerated,… Read more »

Lapinbizarre
Guest
Lapinbizarre

I await a further exposition of Corporate Business Practice for Jesus (aka “can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs”) from NP.

Cheryl Va. Clough
Guest

These three brave souls state that “…the serious and distressing injustice of the forcible removal of three fellow staff members compels us to set the record straight… The events we have described have caused intense pain and perplexity to many people. Although we readily acknowledge that the failures of judgment and charity have not all been on one side, we believe it is important for the wider Church, to which Wycliffe Hall is ultimately accountable, to be exposed to the voices that heretofore have been silent….” God praise victims who speak out. In Sydney the press has been running hot… Read more »

Cheryl Va. Clough
Guest

Sorry, I realised just after submitting the previous posting that in meeting the word count, the link between 2 Corinthians 2:13-23 and Wycliffe got lost. It was the idea of interdependency and that the whole body of Christ is interdependent. 2 Corinthians 2:19 was edited out “… the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow.”; which links to Ephesians 4:16 “From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” Since this is… Read more »

Cheryl Va. Clough
Guest

The Sydney hospital fiasco continues http://www.smh.com.au/news/national/sovietstyle-hospital-ruled-by-budgets-and-bullies/2007/09/28/1190486569852.html

The title of Sydney Morning Herald article “Soviet-style hospital ruled by budgets and bullies”.

Apparently souls don’t like being bullied in large organisations either.

dodgyvicar
Guest
dodgyvicar

This doesn’t read well for Richard Turnbull does it?

Christopher Shell
Guest
Christopher Shell

A summary: the key issue is that heavy-handed unilateral management has reached unacceptable levels. Placing theological issues central may have titillated some, but was a red herring. I always valued the extremely short opening speech of one of my housemasters: ‘I am well aware that this place has strong traditions and I intend to respect them.’ – or words to that effect. Leaders who can effectively combine visionary innovation with building on what has already been achieved may be rare. But it is logically indefensible and also (at an emotional level) heartbreaking and to a degree selfish when the gains… Read more »

Christopher Shell
Guest
Christopher Shell

A further point: The mere elimination of dissent, rather than the endeavour to address it rationally, is a manifestation of the Might is Right (apology-for-a)-philosophy – which we are currently seeing at work in Burma. You may have the power to eliminate it, but that doesn’t make it right to do so – and the questions raised will remain unanswered. If it is a display of macho – big deal. I am not sure to what degree this point applies to Wycliffe, but it seems to apply to at least a small degree.

Ford Elms
Guest
Ford Elms

“The mere elimination of dissent, rather than the endeavour to address it rationally, is a manifestation of the Might is Right (apology-for-a)-philosophy – which we are currently seeing at work in Burma.”

Is ‘Burma’ the new name for the Anglican Church?

Lapinbizarre
Guest
Lapinbizarre

Could someone with knowledge of UK employment law give a little background on the legal implications of the dismissal of Elaine Storkey and the Goddards? In the US, action of this sort would be pretty-well impossible at any remotely “respectable” academic institution, which would have regulations preventing dismissal without procedures at advancing levels establishing objective cause, and would lay the perpetrator open to both internal and civil sanctions should they be breached – and even, in many cases, where they have not. I had assumed that UK employment law would be much stronger on this point – witness the recent… Read more »

dodgyvicar
Guest
dodgyvicar

UK Employment Law The problem with UK law can be the prohibitive cost of accessing it unless you can get it free – under legal aid. But the concept of constructive dismissal may be relevant here, but who can say without knowing the facts? In the end it is the insurers who end up paying, rather than the institution itself, and unless the admin is dreadfully mismanaged the policy will be up-to-date. Loss of earnings is a reasonable claim, plus a small amount for emotional distress perhaps, (5 grand perhaps?. The tricky thing about claiming for loss of earnings is… Read more »

Frozenchristian
Guest
Frozenchristian

UK employment law again Anyone can bring a case at a tribunal without it costing tham any fees – but if they get a solicitor to represent them, then you pay for them, obviously. Trades Unions will pay for a solicitor for their members if they feel the case is justified (i.e. not just an employee having a poke at the boss) and clearly winnable – and if the payout is likely to be worth the effort. To make someone redundant or to dismiss them for a disciplinary offence there is a set procedure to follow. Failure to do so… Read more »

Hugh of Lincoln
Guest
Hugh of Lincoln

There may be a legitimate claim for unfair dismissal. The ethos of the employment tribunal system here is that it is free, accessible and relatively informal. As far as I’m aware, employers are prohibited from insuring themselves against any financial remedy awarded.

Cheryl Va. Clough
Guest

Christopher It is heartening to see your concerns. Thank you for that. Last week Australia’s Anglican High Court declared there was no legal impediment to a woman becoming a bishop in Australia. (See more recent TA thread). Some of the recent comments by conservatives include issues of not recognising women priests/bishops, nor those who are ordained by same… This is part of their strategy that they intend to see going on for decades. A “Yes Minister” cynic might forsee that they would also be seeking to assess which theological colleges are “suitable” and which are not. There might already exist… Read more »

Christopher Shell
Guest
Christopher Shell

Hi Cheryl-

Thanks. I think my position is very distant from yours however. You would presumably abhor most of what went on at Wycliffe, whereas I am simply having to somewhat prefer one side over the other in an internal dispute.

Cheryl Va. Clough
Guest

Christopher

You are right. Our positions are distant.

Your previous statement infers prefer one side over the other, and are indifferent to the methods used or their consequences.

Thus your theology is to mine as chalk is to cheese.

Christopher Shell
Guest
Christopher Shell

Hi Cheryl-

Not so. I would never prefer anything over anything else unless as the [provisional/hitherto] end-point of discussion/debate/deliberation.

When you said ‘infers’ I think you meant ‘implies’.

I am puzzled about where I said I was indifferent to methods and consequences. Where did I say that?

The only alternative to preferring one thing to another is to prefer nothing to anything else. Death is as good as life. Closedness is as good as transparency. Etc.. Unless I have misunderstood you here.

Cheryl Va. Clough
Guest

Christopher asked of myself “You would presumably abhor most of what went on at Wycliffe, whereas I am simply having to somewhat prefer one side over the other in an internal dispute.” He was right, I abhor bullying whether it is done by conservatives or liberals. Whereas he simply prefer one side over another. His statement does not denounce bullying per se, which infers that bullying is okay, as long as your faction wins… My statements make clear that bullying is not okay, irregardless of which faction wins. P.S. I like the chalk and cheese imagery. Chalk is merely compressed… Read more »

Christopher Shell
Guest
Christopher Shell

Hi Cheryl- What you said would have relevance if I had ever said that bullying is ok. This is what mystifies me: where did I say that? All I said was that in any given dispute one side will sometimes have more right on theikr side than the other. You must surely have read my denouncing of the Might Is Right ‘philosophy’. Does that sound like the words of someone who supports bullying? Any so-called victory is is won by force of logic, internal consistency of arguments, failure to contradict oneself, and so on. Not a punch thrown in anger.… Read more »

Cheryl Va. Clough
Guest

Christopher wrote “Any so-called victory is is won by force of logic, internal consistency of arguments, failure to contradict oneself, and so on. Not a punch thrown in anger. The principle being: play the ball and not the man. And that is precisely what troubles me: the idea that every dispute *has* to be personal. Who says? In the real world, some disputes are about matters of fact, about issues, and only some are to do with personalities. To deny this is to deny something which is obviosuly true.” Gee, and I thought victories came from God. I love that… Read more »

Christopher Shell
Guest
Christopher Shell

Amen! But if you are saying that there is no such thing as logical/factual truth, or no such thing as logical/factual error, that is obviously not the case.

andy
Guest
andy

As a former student at Wycliffe I have much to thank the Goddards, Elaine Storkey, David Wenham and Geoff Maughan, for. It saddens me that they have gone, any place will be the poorer for their absence. Though it doesn’t make things right I am convinced that their ministries will continue to bless others wherever they are called to.