Christian Curriculum

Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary faces uproar after firing only one full-time black professor


“The way people spend their money gives you a glimpse of their priorities,” said Bishop Talbert Swan, leader of the Black Pentecostal denomination of Springfield at The Church of God in Christ and a Gordon-Conwell alumnus in 2008. “And if you’re tight on budget and one of the first things you do is say, ‘Let’s get rid of the black guy,’ that tells us a lot.”

Swan was among more than 200 Price supporters – academics, black leaders, local pastors, alumni and staff – who signed an open letter to the school saying they were angry and offended by the failure to hold Price. Even though they knew it was probably too late to change course, they hoped that the seminar would “begin the work of repairing lost trust and repairing damage.”

The seminar says that budgetary problems have forced his hand. President Scott W. Sunquist said in a letter to the campus community on Monday that the decision was “very painful … given the many ways Dr. Price has blessed and touched us.”

“We pray God’s blessings on Dr. Price in his next area of ​​ministry and teaching,” he said.

The seminar, over the past two years, had cut six faculty positions and cut its budget by about $ 2.5 million, Sunquist wrote.

The seminar did not respond to requests for comment. Price could not be met for a comment.

It is not lost on the seminary, Bishop Swan said, that the loss of Price will negatively affect the recruitment of black students. As of fall 2020, black students made up 7% of the student body on the Hamilton campus, according to school data.

“I think the seminar needs someone like Dr. Price to be there if it commits to a certain level of diversity and continues to recruit black students to attend,” Swan said.

In addition to Swan, others signed the letter to Gordon-Conwell, including Reverend Laura Everett, executive director of the Massachusetts Council of Churches and Reverend Cheryl Townsend Gilkes, director of the African American Studies program at Colby College.

“We receive this news with confusion, anger and a sense of betrayal,” the letter said. “Your actions are not an isolated experience, but are part of a pattern of behavior of predominantly white institutions that use black intellectual labor when they are useful and then get rid of when they are seen as inconvenient or costly.” , wrote Price supporters.

three black Gordon-Conwell alumni say Price made all the difference in their seminary experiences. He was their go-to in times of conflict, and not just for academic issues.

For Denicia Ratley, 38, Price brought heart and light to campus.

“A Gordon-Conwell without Dr. Price is very scary,” said Ratley, who holds two master’s degrees from seminary and is director of religious and spiritual life at Babson College. “[Gordon-Conwell] shone brighter with him there.

Price was one of the only Ratley teachers to comment and write commentaries throughout his articles, she said. A common line was “I see your heart”. He was also the first to tell Ratley that she was “brilliant”.

Not renewing Price’s contract as racial tensions and civil unrest rock the country was particularly shortsighted, she said.

“By not renewing his contract, they are not renewing their commitment to social justice; they are not renewing their commitment to a compassionate, pastoral leader in the community, ”she said.

For Zachary Stephenson, Price was not only a mentor but also a liaison when Stephenson was harassed by security for a locked classroom where he was studying. and when he was dealing with housing issues at the seminary.

“If it hadn’t been for him, I would have left,” said the 34-year-old social worker. Instead, he obtained a master’s degree in the spring of 2020.

From Stephenson’s perspective, the campus could be inhospitable to people of color.

“You will be emotionally exhausted, you will be physically exhausted, you will start to struggle with your identity and wonder who you are,” he said.

Reverend Kenneth Young, alumnus and former recruiter of Gordon-Conwell, now associate director of the Massachusetts Council of Churches, livened up by talking about the classes with Price. He had an infectious and fun quality that attracted students to him, Young said.

When Young was president of the Black Students Association at Gordon-Conwell, there was little diversity on campus or within the program, he said. Young remembers asking for a black preacher to visit campus each year. Going from that to having Price and his institute come to campus felt like the seminary was going in a refreshing new direction, Young said.

“It really puts a heavy blow on everything,” he said.

Price’s firing leaves a remarkable void, Young said.

“Minority teachers, they transport and actually do more than their contracts tell them to do,” he said. “I say from the outside looking inside, he did it right.”

Tonya Alanez can be reached at [email protected] or 617-929-1579. Follow her on Twitter @talanez.


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