Northern Seminary now has its third leader in three months. Trustees named Karen Walker Freeburg as the new acting president April 23.
She succeeds John C. Bowling, who was named acting president Feb. 27, as President Bill Shiell was put on leave pending investigations of alleged bullying and retaliation against staff. Shiell resigned March 13, and trustees affirmed at that time Bowling would continue as acting president.
Five weeks later, Bowling is gone and Freeburg is in charge, according to a seminary news release. That news release offered no explanation for Bowling’s departure other than to say he was a “short-term” leader for Northern. He is a veteran higher education administrator, having served 30 years as president of Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, Ill.
Freeburg has deep ties to Northern Seminary. She served as interim president during the previous presidential search process. Trustees said her tenure “begins immediately and will continue through Oct. 14, 2023, or the selection of an interim president should that happen sooner.”
The operative words here are “acting” president versus “interim” president.
Freeburg earned a bachelor of arts degree in communication from the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Wash., followed by both a master’s degree and a doctoral degree in divinity from Northern Seminary.
She joined the seminary’s staff in 1994 and served as Northern’s vice president and chief academic officer from 2004 to 2018. She left full-time employment there less than two years after Shiell became president in 2016. Since then, she has remained an adjunct faculty member, serving as thesis supervisor to doctor of ministry students and mentoring female graduates serving in pastoral ministry.
“Karen Walker Freeburg was the unanimous choice of the board to provide leadership at this time as we focus on the mission of this seminary to prepare women and men called by God and empowered by the Holy Spirit to advance and nurture the ministries of the church,” said Harriet Harral of Fort Worth, Texas, secretary of the board of trustees. “Her experience and knowledge of Northern will provide support to all constituencies of the seminary.”