BBC Radio Ulster (2007), 'Wycliffe Hall : The Crisis Facing Oxford's Anglican College', Sunday Sequence, 30 September 2007; BBC, [Online], Available World Wide Web, URL: http://www.bbc.co.uk/northernireland/radioulster/sunday_sequence/story6.ram. [Accessed: Wednesday October 03 2007, 21:27]
Robbie Meredith: Now, more on the turmoil engulfing Wycliffe Hall in Oxford, one of the Church of England's best known and most respected theological colleges. It has now been revealed that the broadcaster and writer Dr. Elaine Storkey, a regular contributor to Radio 4 and of course well known in Ulster to Sunday Sequence listeners, is the latest in a succession of members of staff to leave the college since the appointment of a new Principal Dr Richard Turnbull two years ago. Dr Storkey confirmed to Sunday Sequence this week that she had been dismissed and that makes a dozen staff who have now left for one reason or another out of a staff of around twenty. Three former principals of the college, including the Belfast born theologian Dr Alister McGrath, have called for Dr Turnbull's resignation amid claims that the college has taken a more conservative shift. This weekend William Crawley spoke to Dr Eeva John who last month resigned her post as Director of the Diploma for Biblical and Theological Studies.
Eeva John (EJ): I resigned because I felt personally that, given the culmination of all the events that had taken place over the last two years, that I could no longer respect or have confidence in the leadership of either the Principal or of the Hall Council, and in particular I guess I would say that, em, the way they had managed and led the Hall, em, just doesn't match my understanding of the Christian gospel and how a Christian institute should operate.
William Crawley (WC): What exactly is going on there, Eeva?
EJ: I think, actually, over two years, em - you can imagine it's quite a complex picture, and so there are numerous strands I think to the difficulties that we now find ourselves in. Certainly there are big issues over leadership at a variety of levels. There's leadership of the Hall by the Principal - and, em, there I think we have really come down to a breakdown in communication with some staff as a result of the Principal, em, shutting down discussion, making decisions that, er, have gone, em, directly against the consensus of views of the staff; and of course now, em, we have the, t, termination of the employment of three, em, outstanding and eminent colleagues: Andrew and Lis Goddard and Elaine Storkey, er which in a sense, em, has been the event that has sparked off, em, some of us going public.
WC: Elaine Storkey was probably Wycliffe Hall's best known faculty member - a sociologist, theologian, a regular broadcaster, a president of Tear Fund, a leading Christian feminist. How did you react when you first heard that her contract had been terminated?
EJ: Absolute shock to be honest with you. I I knew that she had no intention of leaving the hall. She was planning teaching programmes. In fact she was, em, in the middle of of taking, em, a grievance procedure against the Principal herself. So in the middle of all of that to, em - with really absolutely no grounds that I know of, em - to be effectively dismissed, er, is absolutely shocking.
WC: Is this merely the story of a new management style being introduced to the college, and some members of staff not being prepared to go with the new direction of the college, or is there an ideological or a theological dimension to this story?
EJ: In a sense, em, how you lead and manage a hall is in itself a theological dimension, in my view, em, an and I could expand on that an and that's what I hinted at when I said that that it is not consistent with what I see as, er, a Christian way of, em, functioning.
WC: Well let me be more specific...
EJ: But, yes!?
WC: Is this an ideological conflict of a kind: two different strands of evangelicalism clashing?
EJ: I would say that there are definitely theological undertones in the situation that we have at Wycliffe Hall and I think my some of my colleagues would certainly agree with that. It is not completely straightforward and there is some ambivalence - but, just to list a few indicators, er, about that: Em, certainly the Principal has made some public statements about his theological intentions for the Hall in terms of moving towards a more conservative, em - a narrower conservative evangelical approach - and and to my understanding I don't think he's retracted those statements; he did sign that Covenant for the Church of England (which again, em, reflected a much narrower approach than some I think some staff would, em, agree with); he has changed the curriculum at the Hall (has, em, again narrowed it down against the consensus of staff); and of course he's appointed a Vice-Principal whose, em, theologically like-minded in terms of a more conservative approach. But having said that, he's, you know, also appointed two women on the staff; he's appointed, em, a senior academic with charismatic sympathies; and it's hard in a way to reconcile, em, the Principal's apparent, er, conservative leanings with the theological stance of the Chair of the Hall Council, Bishop James Jones, who, em, has consistently said that Wycliffe Hall would adhere - will adhere - to, em, a breadth of evangelical ethos and of course he himself can by no means be described as a - as a Conservative Evangelical. So it is a confusing picture. But I do believe that there are undertones and which possibly may somehow link to the issue of how the Hall is managed as well and that I think is quite dangerous.
WC: Is the debate within Anglicanism about homosexuality implicated in this particular dispute?
EJ: Certainly within the Hall, within the discussions with staff, that has not featured as a major issue. Em, I think the issue of women's ordination has been - er has featured, an and there have been er some situations where there has been a disagreement on that. But I would say that the issue of homosexuality has not been a great feature - only, as it were, by association, er, with different strands of evangelicalism.
WC: James Jones - you mentioned the Bishop of Liverpool - is of course the head of the College Council; he has, we understand, made efforts to bring both sides of this dispute together with a listening process, for example. Do you have confidence in him?
EJ: Em, no I, em, did say right at the start that my - that the leadership of the Hall is on several levels. The first level is the Principal, the second level is, em, leadership in terms of the governance an and that is - that really points to Bishop James Jones. His, em, listening process that the Council did indeed put in place, em, allowed us as individuals to be heard, but the outcome of that addressed none of the substantive issues er that many of us raised with the Council. Em, so in that sense it may have been a listening process but we certainly didn't feel heard.
WC: In a statement to the BBC Wycliffe Hall says that there has been a listening process at the college, that a new strategic plan has been introduced, that not all staff are clearly happy with the outcomes of some of those processes, and that the college is unwilling to comment on individual staff issues. In response to that statement, you do accept that a new Principal should be permitted to lead a college in a new direction, don't you.
EJ: Absolutely. And I think when the a new Principal was in place we were prepared for that. Em, change is part of a healthy developing institution or organisation and, er, we - I would say that staff worked very hard to try to work with him, but that that change-management, em, it seemed, had absolutely no intention of harnassing the the skills and views and expertise and experience of the staff team that was being led. Er, and as I say, er, er, in the final, em, months, er, there was a real, em, atmosphere - a stifling atmosphere - of control and, er, inability to, er, create collaborative atmosphere.
WC: How many staff members have now left the staff of Wycliffe Hall?
EJ: We've now had, em... If if we count into the equation, em, the most recent departures, that is, er, Andrew and Lis Goddard, Elaine Storkey, then that will be, em, seven academic staff who have left and in addition er four support staff have left and, er, one staff member has, em, stepped down from his senior leadership position.
WC: Out of a total staff of...
EJ: Er, about twenty odd.
WC: A very significant number.
EJ: Absolutely. A com... It feels like a complete turnover.
WC: Were do you think it is all going to lead, Eeva?
EJ: I don't know where this is all going to lead. But I am hoping that, em, as a result of taking the very serious step of, er, bringing this into the pubic arena, that it will actually force the Church to think about these kinds of situations. There is a sense in which this situation has been rumbling now for many months; er, it's been discussed, em, in many different places: at Synod, among bishops, Ministry Division, and so on, and there has been a a real culture of, em, avoidance a as if one domain has no accountability on another domain; and I am hoping that the Church will learn from a situation like this that we must be accountable to one another; and Wycliffe Hall, er, has an impact on the wider Church and has an accountability to the Church and vice versa. At the moment it is very hard to see with such a complete turnover of staff, em, what will happen to Wycliffe, as I hope that the wider Church will take some responsibility for another one of its members, as it were.
Robbie Meredith: Dr Eeva John, former Director of Diploma for Biblical and Theological Studies at Wycliffe Hall talking to William Crawley. I should point out that we invited the Principal of Wycliffe Hall, Reverend Richard Turnbull, or a spokesperson for Wycliffe's governing body, the Council, to contribute to an interview, to our programme. Our request was declined. However, we did receive a statement and signed jointly by Dr. Turnbull and, Chairman of the Council, the Bishop of Liverpool, the Right Reverend James Jones. And given the strong nature of the allegations we have heard I will read all of it.
Robbie Meredith: It said that Wycliffe Hall started the academic year with a full compliment of teaching and support staff and the maximum number of ordinands permitted. It also said that the college had now two full time women tutors and the number and proportion of women ordinands has increased in both number and proportion in each of the last three years. The statement said the staff covered the whole range of evangelical opinion and are committed to the tasks of ministerial formation and academic excellence as shown by this year's results in university exams. And the staff include many of the long-standing as well as of new appointments. It also said that Wycliffe Hall has undergone changes in structure, courses and staffing in the last year as the recommendations of the inspectors and moderators together with the agreed vision of the Council have been implemented. And added that not all staff have been content with this process. The senior management team and the Council have at all times, the statement said, sought to work within their respective roles, differentiating governance from management. And the Principal and the Council have engaged in extensive processes of consultation including a listening process. That statement by Bishop Jones and the Reverend Turnbull concluded by saying they are unable to comment on the circumstances of individuals.
Transcribed by Adrian Worsfold from the BBC Interview