When Gordon College disciplines a dissident prof, RNS leaves out some crucial details

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Just when we thought the narrative of Christian college professors getting fired for unorthodox statements had finally died down, up pops another case.

Like the hijab-wearing Larycia Hawkins, who got the boot at Wheaton College because of her comments likening Christian theology to Islam (and possibly some controversial stances on sexuality), here's a new case involves a professor who accused her employer of an "ugly practice" in a letter to the editor of a local paper.

This narrative is about hiring non-celibate homosexual teachers and a tenured professor who feels her employer is deeply wrong. The employer likewise disagrees with her and has demoted her.

The professor recently sued. Religion News Service picks up there:

BOSTON (RNS) -- A Gordon College philosophy professor is suing her employer for allegedly breaching her free speech rights and retaliating after she publicly criticized the Christian school for its policy of not hiring sexually active gays and lesbians.
Lauren Barthold’s suit, filed April 28 in Essex Superior Court, claims she lost a leadership role and was denied an opportunity to seek a promotion after she spoke with news media and published a letter to the editor of The Salem News, a local newspaper.
“As a direct result of Professor Barthold having publicly voiced her opposition to the discriminatory practices of Gordon, Gordon retaliated against her,” the suit alleges, “first by threatening to terminate her, and later disciplining her by demoting her from her position as Director of the Gender Studies Minor.”
In her July 2014 letter to the editor, Barthold, who has academic tenure, called Gordon’s hiring policy “discriminatory” and urged sympathizers to help change it by bringing economic pressure to bear on the school. According to the suit, Gordon College President Michael Lindsay and the Board of Trustees confronted her and disciplinary measures followed.

These next two paragraphs are also important:

A Gordon College statement on the suit says other Gordon employees have critiqued the school’s policy on sexuality without being disciplined, but Barthold harmed the school by going public “at a time when Gordon was under media scrutiny.”
“She identified herself as a Gordon employee and expressed her strong disagreements with the College in a harmful way,” the statement reads. “The faculty member’s statements were found to be detrimental to the College and not appropriate in her role as a faculty member.”

Is there something missing here?

Well, for starters, we are not told whether this professor signed a statement when she was hired saying she would not try to damage the college in any way. Private colleges do have those agreements and while I’m not privy to what Gordon faculty sign, the response from the school makes it sound as if there was one.

Look at the “detrimental to the college” language. Are those same words in a signed faculty agreement that the college is merely enforcing? And was there also a provision saying that faculty could not sue the school without going through a Christian mediation process first? Lots of schools require that. I could not locate the faculty handbook online, but one could go to the trouble of calling the college and asking what that text says. 

We’ve covered –- many times -- the matter of doctrinal, lifestyle covenants that people sign to become part of a voluntary organization, such as a Christian school. This is a crucial point that journalists cannot leave out.

Why is the college so touchy about its reputation? For starters, declining enrollment led to a $3.8 million budget shortfall last year. The college cut out its 5 percent employee retirement contribution matches and laid off 14 people. 

I’ve taught journalism at two Christian colleges and it was a no-brainer that if you disagreed with how the administration runs the place, you had better be circulating your resume before you speak out. These aren’t state universities where faculty can say anything.

What was this professor thinking? Did the reporter talk with her? Or look up what students have to say on ratemyprofessor.com

I get the feeling this story was put together quickly mainly to get it out there and that further details will be forthcoming. Lauren Barthold was in the news several years ago when she led faculty protests against the college asking for a religious exemption for workplace protection for sexually active gay workers. The institution's stance on gay sex among its employees is no great secret. Gordon College’s staff handbook expressly forbids homosexuality on p. 29. 

I could not find anything in the Boston Globe about the lawsuit and the Boston Herald simply ran a short summation from the Associated Press. On Friday, the Salem News (the newspaper in which the original letter to the editor ran) had a story on 200 students signing a statement disagreeing with the school's stance on these doctrines.

I still think some calls could have gone out to various faculty members and heads of student groups for comment. Here’s the link to the college’s press release, which points out that the faculty senate recommended that Barthold be disciplined. GetReligion got ahold of a letter sent out by the college basically saying the same thing. It also stressed:

“... the Faculty Senate’s action had nothing to do with her disagreement with the college on any policies. Professor Barthold was disciplined because she publicly called for a boycott of the school and severing of ties -- actions which would harm Gordon students and potentially affect faculty and staff at Gordon.”

Would a "boycott" of the school include cutting off Gordon students from internships and early teaching experiences at, let's say, local public schools?

I'm sure RNS will have more details at some point.

Meanwhile, students who disagree with the college’s actions have formed a OneGordon Facebook page.  There’s a lot of people and available documents there to milk for more information. Boston and national media outlets should be able to run with that. They may also need to place some telephone calls to relevant leaders on both sides of this dispute.

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