Inside Higher Ed Exposes Emmanuel Scandal: Christian Seminary To Terminate Professor in Exchange for Donation?

Dr. Chris Rollston, a tenured professor at Emmanuel Christian Seminary, has had termination proceedings begun against him. According to documents obtained by Inside Higher Ed, his dismissal appears to be in exchange for a potential donation from a donor who personally dislikes Rollston.

Inside Higher Education reporter Libby A. Nelson has written an exposé this morning that sheds tremendous light on an academic scandal presently unfolding at Emmanuel Christian Seminary (formerly Emmanuel School of Religion).

The scandal involves the current attempt to terminate a tenured professor, Dr. Chris Rollston, the Toyozo W. Nakarai Professor of Old Testament and Semitic Studies – a disciplinary process which a another Emmanuel professor, Dr. Paul Blowers, divulged to the public on Facebook last month while criticizing Rollston online for an article he wrote for the Huffington Post in August 2012.

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.

The fact that President Sweeney would attempt to blame the school’s best known and most prolific professor for the school’s present financial troubles is not only shameful, it appears to be unsubstantiated by the evidence. Dr. Rollston is the very reason many scholars even know about Emmanuel.

And, the fact that Dr. Rollston’s immediate supervisor, Dr. Paul Blowers (who serves as Chair of the Area Chairs, and who is therefore necessarily involved in any termination process) would divulge knowledge of this disciplinary process to the public whilst criticizing Rollston publicly is not only highly unprofessional, it is potentially actionable legally due to the confidentiality that necessarily surrounds cases of termination (that Emmanuel suddenly appears to want to honor as reason for not responding to the Inside Higher Ed article).

Dr. Blowers’ comments criticizing Rollston and divulging the disciplinary process can be found here and here. Dr. Blowers bragged:

We are looking at disciplinary action in the next few days. I still scratch my head trying to figure Rollston out.

I responded to Dr. Blowers in comments on the Bible and Interpretation website.

Yet, even after apologizing for making the disciplinary action public, Dr. Blowers continued his defense of his criticism of Dr. Rollston on the Bible and Interpretation website and various blogs around the web. Dr. Blowers’ apparent obsession with defending himself throughout this entire scandal may have placed Emmanuel Christian Seminary in a very vulnerable position legally.

Indeed, the article notes that Dr. Rollston has retained a lawyer.

The Inside Higher Ed story highlights the central problem in this scandal: The argument over Dr. Rollston’s recent Huffington Post article seems to be, at best, a distraction that the seminary hoped it could use as an excuse for a “for cause” termination of the tenured Rollston.

Likewise, arguments about issues of academic freedom of private Christian institutions are moot for the following reasons:

  1. Emmanuel includes language on “Academic Freedom” in their faculty handbook that is adopted word-for-word from the secular American Association of University Professor’s (AAUP) statement on academic freedom.
  2. Emmanuel sought and was awarded accreditation from the secular Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS).
  3. Emmanuel awards tenure. (This is unlike many Christian universities that only extend term contracts to professors, so that in the event a professor ever says something the administration finds disagreeable, the school simply need not extend a contract extension to the professor.)

From the beginning, this appears to have been a case about the wrongful termination of a tenured professor, on trumped up grounds of interpretation of scripture, when the real reason appears to be one of a financial nature: sacrificing academic integrity and disregarding the tenure process in exchange for a potential donation from a theologically conservative donor.

If this turns out to be the case, then Emmanuel deserves any and all pending litigation brought against it.

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.

(N.B.: Note that the image of Rollston used in the Inside Higher Ed image depicts Dr. Rollston wearing a Pepperdine University sweatshirt. Pepperdine is another tenure granting college and like Emmanuel, affiliated with the Restoration Heritage.)

The mash-up images and internet memes below are satirical commentaries on the present apparent Emmanuel scandal as first reported by Inside Higher Ed. They do not reflect the opinion of Emmanuel Christian Seminary. All free-speech, satirical comments below are solely the opinion of the blog author. All images below are freely available online.


22 Responses

  1. […] Bob Cargill writes: In documents obtained by Inside Higher Ed, it appears that Emmanuel Christian Seminary President, […]

  2. Reblogged this on Zwinglius Redivivus and commented:
    It is authentically infuriating to know that – after the honor Rollston has brought to ECS – he is being treated so scandalously.

  3. Sounds like they should fire Blowers for cause and retain Rollston…for cause.

  4. We will forever remember ECS, not for their academic contributions, but for the unjust way in which they have treated Chris. Shame, shame

  5. Has anyone been wondering if there’s a connection between this “housecleaning” and that which happened at Lincoln Christian University this past Spring? Both schools are in the Stone-Campbell movement. Maybe it’s the same potential donor(s) causing trouble in both cases.

  6. It is my guess that Emmanuel is in severe economic distress. They are likely looking for a golden parachute – either the wealthy donor that the President cited as being one reason Dr. Rollston has to be fired, or, as is so often the case with Church of Christ/Disciples of Christ/Christian Church schools, a buyout, takeover, and assumption of debt by a sister institution. Milligan College across the road seems to be the best bet. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if Emmanuel isn’t begging Milligan to assume control (and the debt) of Emmanuel as I type. If it’s anything like other Restoration schools, I’m guessing that many of the administrators and faculty attend the same church. So Emmanuel is probably trying to talk Milligan into assuming ECS, which would make for some awkward Sunday morning services if Milligan doesn’t want to.

    So, Emmanuel is doing what so many people do when they are broke and desperate – blaming others, looking for cash, and potentially committing crimes (criminal or civil) to do what they can to find more cash.

  7. […] Cargill, Dr. Davila,  and Tom Verenna have given their say. I do not want to take away from their […]


  9. I read the huffing ton post article. I can see where it would be viewed controversially by some. I didn’t see higher criticism in this article. Unfortunately what happens in local churches with a congregational polity is also impacting seminaries, where any view that strays from a cultural milieu or the view of the majority is deemed heresy. Unfortunate we can’t alway distinguish what is culturally orthodox from what the Word actually says.

  10. […] Christian Seminary, but given the recent article in Inside Higher Ed (which I was directed to by Dr. Cargill) I thought it might be appropriate both to lend my support to Dr. Rollston and to add a few brief […]

  11. Six figures is actually not very much money in the general scheme of higher education donations. Sad.

  12. […] pursue a large donation) rather than respect the wisdom and insight of a valuable professor. Bob Cargill offers further comments on that topic.Matthew Worsfold wrote an open letter from a student in […]

  13. Well … this should come as no surprise . . . this is, after all, a RELIGIOUS educational institution that is masquerading as an ACADEMIC institution, i.e., an institution dedicated to mind-control mumbo-jumbo wanting inclusion into the ranks of institutions that foster and protect genuine INTELLECTUAL inquiry. The problem is: “you can’t have it both ways”.

    That this professor is being treated unfairly is clear, but should surprise no one. All such religious institutions are doctrinal and sectarian, and when you fail to parrot the specific BRAND of mind-control mumbo-jumbo (which its adherents pretend comes from — you guessed it ! — You-Know-Who), you pay the price, as this professor is finding out.

  14. agreed. as i said before, it might as well be 30 shekels of silver.

  15. […] serious biblical scholar — conservative or liberal — would disagree with.But apparently Rollston’s article angered one wealthy conservative donor at the school. Tenure schmenure, this donor told Emmanuel, get rid of this guy and I’ll make it worth your […]

  16. […] note: screaming “mind your own business” and “cheap seats” is not considered effective damage […]

  17. […] listed in his letter to Dr. Rollston detailing why they were initiating the termination process. (A potential significant donation from a donor who didn’t like Rollston is also mentioned.) And if the fact that Emmanuel began termination proceedings against Dr. Rollston wasn’t […]

  18. […] bloggers, Mark Goodacre, Bob Cargill, Thomas Verena, Jim Linville, Chris Heard and James Tabor, write in support of Christopher […]

  19. […] Blog post in support of Rollston […]

  20. […] University has written a lengthy letter in support of Dr. Chris Rollston regarding the present scandalous efforts at Emmanuel Christian Seminary to terminate Dr. Rollston from his tenured, endowed […]

  21. […] two items that I’ve mentioned on this blog over the past month (here and here), Emmanuel Christian Seminary President, Dr. Michael Sweeney, confirmed via two separate […]

  22. […] out of the mess he helped create (AKA trying to dig him self out of a hole), which generated a plethora of puns and the ever-puzzling “cheap seats” refrain, as well getting into an online shouting […]

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