The Silence Requested by Andover Newton and What It Says About Theological Education and Failing Academic Institutions.

I am not going to pretend to be unbiased regarding this situation.  I have stated my disgust in more private forms of social media for about a year.  Much of the facts are shrouded in the silence that comes with a cover-up, a disgrace and most of all an attempt to preserve a reputation of what was national and is now mostly regional mid-tier academic institution.

 What I know is that last fall; Dr. Mark S. Burrows was dismissed from Andover-Newton Theological School.  In a letter dated on 10/21/2011 from school president, Rev. Nick Carter, it was stated that Dr. Burrows was dismissed for “due to unprofessional, unethical and immoral behavior involving failure to maintain professional boundaries with students.”  As an alumna, I did not receive the letter sent to the Andover Newton Community and “close friends”; I received several copies via e-mail from alumni/alumnae.

 At the close of the letter, Rev. Carter asks that “you appreciate the sensitivity of this and limit what you say to others.”

 Here is the response I should have sent last year:

Go to hell.  Rev. Carter is asking for silence to save the reputation of the professor involved and the institution that employed him for many years.  Rev. Carter, instead of using this as an opportunity to say that the reasons for Dr. Burrows’ termination were wholly unacceptable in a public manner (asking community for silence is something that has been vilified by criticizers of Penn State, the Roman Catholic Church and other organizations that have dealt with “immoral behavior” issues.)  At the time, or shortly before, Dr. Burrows was Rev. Dr. Burrows.  He is no longer an ordained minister according to his personal web site.  He has accepted another teaching position in Germany to begin in 2013 (his wife is German).  Does this institution know of the reasons behind Dr. Burrows’ dismissal? Or has the wider community of Andover-Newton (this author included) conspired in duplicitous behavior to save an institution?

 ANTS is just as much as an institution as Penn State Football.  Is there a difference between “immoral behavior” between adults and children: perhaps.  The underlying tenant is the same: a person in power (real or perceived) demanded something causing harm to another.  The difference is in the legal aspect: ANTS did not break a law, some at PSU did.

 Rev. Carter and ANTS did not use this as an opportunity to have open and real discussions on the abuse of power, the damage to the reputation this can cause.  Instead, they swept the matter under the rug.  Any institution that has faced a situation (a family, an organization, a football program or a university) often gives the first response of “I had no idea”.  This is not an act solely out of ignorance: but lack of awareness, lack of a safe environment for discussions without fear of retribution and the inherent power dynamic that tends to present itself in all structures.

 Instead of saying “what can we learn, how can we educate ourselves as supposed moral/ethical/religious leaders”, the president of the nation’s oldest theological school, Rev. Nick Carter, requested silence.

 The time for silence surrounding the abuse of power is long gone.  If an organization wants to be a leader, wants to mold leaders, wants to demonstrate how to answer the hard questions, then speaking up is the action: not a plea for silence.

 I know I will offend people with this: I don’t care.  Read that again: I don’t care.  I am embarrassed by my actions of a year ago: I should have spoken up then.  I am embarrassed to hold a degree from this institution that publically touts itself as liberal and forward thinking, but in one of its darkest hours returned to the traditional response of get the offender out the door and ask for silence to preserve the institution.

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