Home Christian News Columbia Theological Seminary Students Object To Firing of Black Administrator

Columbia Theological Seminary Students Object To Firing of Black Administrator

Columbia Theological Seminary
Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Georgia. Image via Google Maps

(RNS) — Black students at Columbia Theological Seminary, a Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) seminary in Decatur, Georgia, are protesting the surprise firing of a beloved admissions director, saying it’s the latest in a series of firings of faculty and administration of color since 2019.

On Tuesday (June 21), as most faculty, staff and students had left campus for the summer, the Columbia community received an email from President Leanne Van Dyk informing them that it was the Rev. Samuel White’s last day. The following day, the seminary’s African Heritage Student Association published a letter addressed to the president’s council and board of trustees expressing “deep sadness and tremendous frustration” over the incident and asserting that Van Dyk’s tenure “has been defined by racial injustice.”

The letter demands that the president, who is scheduled to leave her post in six weeks, resign immediately, that the board president resign, that White be reinstated and that a new advisory board be appointed to oversee personnel changes at the seminary.

White’s time as director of admissions, the students wrote, “resulted in the recruitment of one of the largest incoming classes in recent history, and the most diverse incoming class in the school’s history. Without fail, Rev. White is committed to ensuring that the seminary upholds the values and ethics it professes around justice, diversity, equity, and inclusion.”

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White did not respond to a request for comment in time for publication.

In an email to Religion News Service, Jennifer Cuthbertson, the seminary’s director of marketing and communications, declined to say why White had been let go.

“Columbia Theological Seminary is sensitive to students concerns over the departure of Rev. Samuel White,” Cuthbertson wrote. “However, it was a carefully considered decision and out of respect for the privacy of all current and former employees and consistent with our policies, we do not comment on personnel matters.”

The students also claim that the Rev. Brandon Maxwell, another Black administrator, was forced to resign as vice president for enrollment and student affairs and cited the 2019 firing of the Rev. Ruth-Aimée Belonni-Rosario Govens as the seminary’s chief enrollment officer, prompting outrage from the school’s Hispanic and Latinx association, as well as a lawsuit.

That same year, the school did not renew the contract of Kevin Park, dean for advanced professional studies who oversaw Korean American ministries, and John Azumah, a Ghanaian professor of world Christianity and Islam and director of international programs, left sooner than expected, according to the Presbyterian Mission, after the seminary announced that its office of international programs would be realigned.

“This is not an isolated incident, but it’s more of something that is systemic with Columbia,” the Rev. John DeLoney, president of the African Heritage Student Association, said in a virtual news conference Thursday morning, noting that 60% of the students at CTS are of color. “With that majority of people of color coming to the university, you should be adding more administration of color, but they seem to be ushering the people of color in the administration out.”

DeLoney added that the lack of transparency about the terminations only makes the matter more concerning.