More than 100 students at Northern Seminary have signed a letter stating they have no confidence in the board of trustees to manage the Chicago-area school in light of recent events with former President Bill Shiell.
That represents one-third of the seminary’s reported fall 2023 headcount enrollment, which is 325.
“We are writing as students of Northern Seminary who are deeply concerned and grieved over the state of our institution,” the letter begins. “We are concerned about our prospects of being able to stay at an institution with a board that continues to be distant, refuses to listen to students, staff and faculty, and perpetuates harm to our own community.”
Some students are reconsidering staying enrolled at the American Baptist Churches USA-affiliated school, they said. “How can we stay at a seminary with this state of leadership at the board level?”
The students believe the board has mismanaged allegations from 17 staff members that Shiell was abusive and retaliatory in his leadership. While Shiell resigned after a board investigation, the board chairman praised him and allowed him to submit a letter of resignation that implied he had been cleared of all wrongdoing.
“The salvageability of our seminary is at stake.”
“The salvageability of our seminary is at stake,” the students wrote. “We are signing this letter stating our vote of no confidence in the board of trustees at Northern Seminary.”
Trustees “have had ample chances to make better decisions, and yet you continue to turn a blind eye to this body of students, staff, faculty and most importantly the victims. We have lost a provost, peers that have already withdrawn, and now the only board member who approached us with an ear to listen and consider our perspective.”
That was a reference to acting board chair Fay Quanstrom, who quit the board earlier this week while explaining she wanted the board to be more transparent about Shiell’s leadership and departure. Why Quanstrom, who had been vice chair of the board, was suddenly acting chair is not clear. The listed chair of the board is Wyatt Hoch, who offered praise for Shiell as he departed.
The student letter calls for Hoch’s resignation from the board, as well as the resignation of “any other board members who cannot affirm the statement” issued by Quanstrom.
The letter then lists 10 points extracted from Quanstrom’s letter that are both confessional and call for greater listening, involvement and action.
The students contend trustees have “assumed that all was well without independent confirmation” and have “allowed legal priorities to deny us vital human contact and interaction.”
The students believe they have been ignored during the investigation and devalued by trustees.
“Due to your previous lack of ability to hear us we are also sending this to every faculty member, staff member, the press, Dr. Fay Quanstrom, and representatives at The Association of Theological Schools and American Baptist Churches USA,” the letter concludes.
Twenty-one alumni also signed the letter, along with 106 active students.
Meanwhile, Northern Seminary alumnus Scott Johanningsmeier, has written to both the Indiana and Kentucky regional office of the ABCUSA, where he serves, and to ABCUSA General Secretary Jeff Woods on behalf of the Teaching Church Initiative, a
collaboration of Northern, ABCIN/KY and individual congregations to provide seminary education to pastors with lowered cost.
“Today the students and alumni are making public a vote of no confidence in the seminary’s board of trustees,” he wrote. “Throughout this entire process, the board has defended the abuser rather than protect the abused. They have hidden behind the fear of legal actions
rather than following the justice and mercy of God.”
He added: “While the board is not the whole of Northern, it does reflect upon the seminary and our region’s relationship with the school. The TCI students are not calling for an end to the program at this time but requesting your voice be lifted to stand with those who are
calling for compassion for the hurting. The justice and mercy of God must
be present in all aspect of seminary life and this board has failed on all