The chief development officer for Northern Seminary says she was fired this week and believes it is connected to her complaints about the former president, who resigned, and how the trustees handled the resignation.
Jennie Boysen told Baptist News Global Interim President John Bowling told her this week on a Zoom meeting the board had instructed him to terminate her, and she had the option to resign with a severance. After the meeting, her email and electronic access to the seminary had been blocked. Boysen, who is also an alumna, said she hasn’t received anything in writing from the seminary about this week’s action, nor had she received any negative feedback about her competency or job performance.
She did receive a letter in February offering her severance if she resigned, after her complaints about former President Bill Shiell were investigated and found did “not warrant disciplinary action against Dr. Shiell,” according to the letter she shared with BNG. According to the letter, her job required working with Shiell, and as she had said she was unable to do that, she was offered a severance package. Boysen hired a lawyer who contacted the seminary but didn’t receive a response.
In the meantime, 16 other complaints against Shiell’s leadership surfaced, leading to the board placing him on leave, from which he never returned. After conducting its own investigation of Shiell’s reported bullying and retaliatory tactics, the board accepted the president’s resignation. Since then, six former staff members of a Tennessee church where Shiell previously served as pastor came forward to tell BNG they experienced the same kind of abusive and demeaning behavior from him.
Shiell has continued to maintain he did nothing wrong. Friends who have not worked for him continue to describe him as someone with “high expectations” and a “charismatic leader.”
Boysen’s original complaint against Shiell is an example of the types of bullying and difficult behavior others at Northern spoke about. And her deep disappointment with the board’s support and praise for Shiell — despite his resignation — reflects a broader concern among students and alumni that the leadership is failing to live up to the seminary’s own teachings.
“The thing that’s really sad is what this is doing to the school. It’s destroying the school,” she said in an interview.
Wyatt Hoch, an attorney in Wichita, Kan., who serves as chairman of the Northern Seminary board, declined to comment on the trustees’ reported action against Boysen: “The Northern Seminary board of trustees does not comment on seminary personnel matters.”
“The Northern Seminary board of trustees does not comment on seminary personnel matters.”
Boysen was hired in October 2022 to lead the seminary’s development, and she was responsible for maintaining relationships with major donors. When she first met with Shiell to learn about the status of some key donors, he didn’t provide the information she says she needed to do her work. She found herself in a position of being responsible for outcomes without the ability to influence them.
She said she confronted Shiell at the time, and “he lashed out at me,” complaining she hadn’t completed some tasks she reported were already finished. She realized she couldn’t be successful in this situation, but she didn’t want to quit, as so many others had done, she said. She also began to hear about other people who had been hurt by Shiell, so she made an official complaint to the board of trustees.
When Shiell resigned, she realized she wouldn’t have to work with him anymore and thought the severance offer was moot.
Boysen said she felt a calling to work for the seminary during a summer intensive class last year as part of her women in theology program. She had been working in development for the University of North Carolina but felt a pull to work at a seminary that had a strong leadership program for women in ministry.
“It just sort of felt like a God thing,” she said, which is why her experience as she began the job felt shocking. “It was the polar opposite to the Northern identity I knew.”
That’s what prompted her to continue to push back on Shiell’s leadership style, because she saw a systemic problem, she said. And after his departure, she continued to push the board to take student complaints seriously about the disconnect between the seminary’s teachings and the leadership approach at the top, rather than emphasizing that there was no evidence of discrimination.
“We are holding ourselves to a bigger standard, so why are we even talking about what’s technically legal?” she said. “This is about integrity.”
Elizabeth Souder is a freelance writer and editor in Dallas.
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