As announced, I am here posting the first of a number of responses to Peter Lillback’s letter to me. I have posted his letter to me in full in a previous post that is available to all (and posted with his permission). Here, for reasons of length, I just reproduce the paragraph on our present focus, the account of the departure of Chris Fantuzzo from the faculty of Westminster. If for some reason, someone cannot access my posting of the full letter feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will send it to you. Here is Lillback’s statement:
"Like Chris Fantuzzo, I was passed over for a faculty position. In fact, this happened for three positions that I was asked to interview for at WTS. However, unlike Dr. Fantuzzo I had not had the privilege of competing for these positions with a three year written and mutually agreed upon contract behind me. In regard to this matter, I’m sure you know that I believed we needed to hire an experienced senior scholar to lead our OT department. To that end, I used my presidential constitutional prerogative to nominate Dr. Iain Duguid, one of your former students here at Westminster and a Cambridge PhD with many years of seminary and college teaching experience. This nomination was next supported by a faculty vote with no negative votes and two abstentions. This then became the faculty nomination that went to the Board where it unanimously carried. I am grateful that Westminster is now strengthened with an OT scholar who studied under you and has achieved his doctorate from such a world renowned institution as Cambridge. I believe Dr. Duguid is also your successor as senior editor of an OT commentary series that you helped launched with our distinguished deceased professor, Al Groves. As you know, the world famous Westminster Hebrew Institute that Al started still operates here on our campus and has been named in honor of Professor Groves."
First, I cannot speak to all three instances where Dr. Lillback was passed over for a faculty position, but I can for the first two and they were nothing analogous to the Fantuzzo situation. He was interviewed and the faculty agreed he was not the right person to fill that position. That is quite different from what, as you will now learn, was Dr. Fantuzzo’s experience. Second, I knew Al Groves very well, having hired him and worked with him for over fifteen years (and considering him one of my very best friends), and let me just say he deeply loved Doug Green and he would be distraught over Doug Green’s situation. To invoke his name in this context is a travesty. The Westminster Hebrew Bible Institute, named after Al, was founded well before President Lillback’s tenure. I guess the fact that he has chosen not to terminate it is something to be “celebrated” as he has apparently terminated any interest in Urban Missions (a subject of perhaps a future post). And yes, Iain Duguid, is a respected former student of mine. He also knows that I am deeply disappointed that he accepted the position in the manner that it was offered to him. And finally, I did not know Lillback had to hire a senior Old Testament professor to lead the department since they had a senior Old Testament professor, Doug Green, who had not yet been forced to retire (I will explain in a future post why that is an appropriate description in spite of administrative spin).
But what is most egregious about Lillback’s statement is that it misrepresents the circumstances of Fantuzzo’s departure. For that reason, I asked Chris if he was willing to comment on the situation. After receiving his letter, I had it corroborated by others and found it to be a true telling of the story. Here is Chris’s letter.
Peter Lillback’s statement that I was simply passed over in competition is misleading. The only time I competed for an academic post at Westminster (WTS) was in 2009, when I was invited to lecture—in a fair and public competition with two other candidates—as a finalist for the Old Testament (OT) position formerly held by Al Groves. And I wasn’t passed over. Far from it. The search committee brought my name to the faculty as its top choice, and the entire faculty approved the decision. There might have been a few abstentions, but there were no negative votes. I don’t recall the board’s vote, but I wasn’t passed over; I was appointed as a full-time faculty member, and the search was closed. The idea that once hired I was still competing for the position is absurd. The truth is the OT department, the faculty, President Lillback, the administration, and the board all welcomed me, making it plain that I had safely secured the post and would be promoted once my dissertation was finished. That was not a promise put in writing, but I was told to expect advancement as I met the benchmarks published in the faculty manual. I bought my first house based on this information. My record of service by 2012-13 (summarized in my previous letter [TL: posted earlier on my Facebook page]) was more than sufficient for a tenure track promotion at WTS. Therefore, I find Peter’s explanation not merely duplicitous but ludicrous.
So, let me restate the aim of my previous letter:
I am sharing [my story] because it shows that the treatment Doug Green has received was not an isolated incident, but part of a pattern. There may be supporters of Doug who do not realize that or understand the position in which WTS has left my family. I am not seeking vengeance; rather, I am writing in the interests of justice for the families whose lives have been unnecessarily hurt by the actions of the WTS administration and board.
Former faculty, current students, staff, and alumni rightly become angry when they see faculty and board members consistently ignoring evidence of an administration that acts as though ends justify means. I have shared my story as a further example because it raises questions about whether the Lillback administration’s conduct has been just and moral. WTS administrators, faculty, and board members who know about these and other injustices should challenge them.
(1) If I were competing with other candidates, why wasn’t I told? In academic communities, are competitions typically secret or essentially (especially in regard to accreditation?) open and public?
(2) Why wasn’t a search committee formed? If such a party were formed, why wasn’t my department (and I) notified? Why wasn’t I (or others) invited to lecture and interview?
(3) If Peter blocked my department’s decision to promote me because of “complaints” (see my previous letter), why didn’t he or Jeff Jue (or my department, or the faculty, or the board) ask or examine me about them? Why weren’t my OT colleagues consulted for their professional and scholarly assessment of my work and contribution to the seminary?
(4) When competent administrations make decisions affecting the future of OT studies at a seminary—of all departments—do they leave the OT department out of the process? Wouldn’t responsible leadership give special consideration to the members of faculty with expertise in the field? So, why did the Lillback administration snub Doug Green and Mike Kelly? And why did they keep my other WTS colleagues in the dark? Is it because plans to eliminate Doug were already in the works?
(5) If a fair and open competition were being held, why was Peter’s “presidential constitutional prerogative” required both to block my promotion and to appoint Iain Duguid?
(6) And when Peter finally announced Iain’s “nomination” to faculty, why did Jeff insist that there would be no discussion of the matter? Don’t public and fair competitions welcome frank and open conversations?
The truth is I wasn’t passed over: Peter Lillback treated my colleagues and me with contempt because I was being eliminated. His actions in my case were simply the next phase in what’s amounting to a ‘totalitarian purge’ of the WTS OT faculty.
As regards Iain, he was eventually interviewed, but about six months after it was announced that my contract would not be renewed. Is that how competitions work? And yes, it came to a vote. But as [a present faculty member outside the OT department; name withheld] indicated to me, the “unanimous vote” for Iain was the result of administrative manipulation. [This faculty member; name withheld] told me that he would never have voted positively for Iain, without pressure from the administration. That he would tell me this suggests the administration’s conduct was well-enough known that it could no longer be hidden—even behind Peter’s pious platitudes.
To summarize, Fantuzzo was treated unfairly and unethically. His treatment is not an isolated incident but is a story that could be told by a number of former faculty and staff. Second, Lillback misrepresents the situation. When does spin become an attempt at deception? I leave this to readers to answer. I should also point out that Lillback’s appeal to “presidential constitutional prerogative” may be legal, but it is something that previous presidents would never contemplate. Indeed, Westminster was founded as a faculty run institution because they felt that the president of Princeton had acted in such similar single-handed ways.
I call on the board (which may be the subject of a future post) to hold the administration accountable.
I anticipate that my next post will come in about a week.