Calvin Theological Seminary, the official theological school of the Christian Reformed Church, found itself the center of media attention this fall when a former professor accused its administration of gender discrimination.
Rev. Ruth Tucker, appointed in 2000 as the first full-time female faculty member at the Grand Rapids, Mich., seminary, announced her departure from the seminary in November 2005.
In September of this year the media aired her allegations of gender discrimination, in which she specifically names seminary president Cornelius Plantinga Jr. and vice presidents Duane Kelderman and Henry De Moor Jr.
While making allegations on the Internet and in the news media, Tucker has not taken any legal action, nor has she presented her case to the CRC’s ecclesiastical court, known as the judicial code process.
Clearly there is a dispute between Tucker and the administration about why she was taken off tenure track in 2003, while remaining on the faculty. She said in an interview with The Banner that the issue is sex discrimination, and that there were false allegations and a cover-up of facts. “Why was I demoted and was it deserved?” she asks.
The seminary administration says it is not free to respond to those charges, citing confidentiality of personnel issues.
When Tucker brought her complaint to the seminary’s board of trustees in 2005, the board launched an investigation of its own with a committee made up of board trustees plus two people from outside the seminary—a total of three women and two men.
“When allegations were made that discrimination was happening, it didn’t take the board officers 10 seconds to get a group together to find out, because if there was, we would put an end to it right there,” said Sid Jansma Jr., president of the board. “We made a point that this was not swept under the rug, that this was aired in front of everyone.”
That committee recommended that Tucker continue to be reviewed for a tenured position, and the board’s executive committee agreed. Jansma said Tucker was also awarded back wages. “We were working out the process to make sure she had a complete review for full professor. That process requires input from faculty and students,” said Jansma. “Then she withdrew her name from further consideration.”
Tucker, 61, said she withdrew her name because she felt the process was doomed to fail.
The board also brought in professional mediators to work with Tucker and the administration.
The Banner interviewed more than 20 people currently or recently associated with the seminary, both male and female, including faculty, staff, students, and graduates. None of them, on or off the record, offered any confirmation or evidence of deliberate gender discrimination by the administration.
Some acknowledged that, institutionally, change from an all-male environment to one that is welcoming to women comes slowly, but they credit the current administration with moving that process along. So they were surprised at a charge of gender discrimination against those men.
Rev. Lisa Vander Leek graduated from the seminary in 2005 and is now a pastor in Whitby, Ontario. “From when I started seminary to when I finished, the whole attitude among faculty changed and became much more hospitable. I found that the administration was very supportive of women in ministry,” she said.
Rev. Beth Guikema-Bode, another recent grad, said she found the charge perplexing.
Rev. Roger Greenway, a retired professor from the seminary, called the situation “curiouser and curiouser.” He was the one who recommended that Tucker apply for the position. He said that while he doesn’t know what the reasons were behind Tucker’s demotion, the charge of gender discrimination doesn’t make any sense. “These men are not against women and not against women at the seminary,” he said. “I feel bad for her and the seminary.”
Sam Perry, currently a seminary intern in Jenison, Mich., and his wife, Sandy, both take classes at the seminary. Perry sat on a panel last year with professors, administration, and students about life together at the seminary as men and women. “The accusation of gender discrimination is not easy to swallow,” he said. “In my experience and conversations, I’ve found nothing but a big push to make women comfortable.”
“What upsets me most is how [Tucker] took it to the courts of public opinion,” he said.
No faculty member would comment on the record for this story. As one member said, “Everyone is closed-mouthed about this because it is a personnel matter. We’re not afraid of the administration. People won’t talk because you can’t be deposed in court for what you haven’t said.”