Dear Members of the Starr King Community,
As your Board of Trustees, we hold the Starr King School for the Ministry in trust on behalf of each of you – current students, faculty, staff, donors, and alumni of the School. We write now to you, those on whose behalf we serve. While we are aware that many throughout the larger Unitarian Universalist community may have interest in this communication, we write now specifically to those to whom we are directly accountable.
You are aware that the recent presidential search process was marred by egregiously unethical acts. A confidential document, one containing private, personal reflections offered by students, staff, and faculty with the understanding that their contributions would remain confidential, was, instead removed from the confidential Search Committee and then distributed widely within and beyond both the School and the larger Unitarian Universalist community. These acts betrayed the essential trust required to conduct and participate in such a search. It belies all of what we hold dear, dishonoring the individual worth of each person involved and disregarding the interdependent web of which we are a part.
We recognize that those responsible for the acts may have been motivated by sincerely held concerns, may have even believed that what they were doing could be justified by some larger end. And yet, no account has been offered. None came forward to explain themselves under the original restorative justice effort. In all the time since, none chose their own venue to speak out in defense of their actions or to address their underlying concerns. The unethical acts became all the more egregious because the acts were done surreptitiously. Those involved could have spoken openly and honestly at the time of the breach or at any subsequent time by any means they chose. Instead, they continued to break trust with us.
Because we remain convinced the members of our beloved community are owed an account, we called upon three highly respected members of the larger Unitarian Universalist community to help us gain understanding. We asked them to serve as an independent Ad Hoc Committee, and in that role to speak with any and all who might offer information as to what happened. After months of faithful and conscientious service, they have now issued their final report to the Board. We thank them for their tireless dedication and exemplary integrity.
We must be clear about the Ad Hoc Committee’s charge. They were convened for one purpose: to discover a clear and transparent account of how this gross misconduct occurred. They were not asked to investigate any other matters. The scope of their work was not to investigate the “culture” of the School or the emotional tenor among any segment of our Starr King community. To the extent that we need to attend to these matters, that work yet awaits us. We could not have expected three individuals to conduct a study so comprehensive that every allegation of concern that may have arisen over years or even decades could be fully explored.
We begin with an acknowledgement of our profound sadness. As these respected Unitarian Universalists went about their careful business, many within our community have continued to be wounded by false accusations, careless misstatements, and irresponsible assumptions. The Ad Hoc Committee’s process and the Board’s intent have been severely misrepresented. Careless charges have largely gone unaddressed by the Board because we are bound by integrity to confidentiality in our proceedings. We are saddened for all of us, regardless of our opinions on these matters, who now feel maligned or unfairly represented in what has been said and written.
Our sadness is now compounded by the fact that, based on the Ad Hoc Committee’s reports to us, and despite the Committee’s tireless work, we are still unable to offer you the clear and definitive account you are owed. We are grateful to many within our Starr King community who engaged in this process in good faith to the benefit of our beloved School.
While we read the Ad Hoc Committee’s reports and failed to find a definitive account, one affirmed by those involved, and confirmed by personal admissions and acceptance of responsibility, our sadness is deepened because we find plausible the new information this report does offer. In our opinion, the report suggests that a faculty member who served on the Presidential Search Committee, two former Board trustees (one a student and the other an ordained, fellowshipped minister), and several students knowingly and willing violated their covenants and commitments. We find it difficult to express how profoundly dismayed we are by this account, particularly in its implication of those with authority at our School.
With regret, the Board is thus forced to concede that we may never learn why the individuals did what they did, nor how they imagined it to be an honorable, responsible course of action. We have no choice but to offer you this response, one we recognize to be unsatisfying for all who value the truth.
We had hoped that we would, at long last, be able to hold accountable those engaging in misconduct. We had hoped also that in learning the full story we might completely remove from suspicion those members of our community who acted with full integrity. One of our most profound regrets is that, because the truth is still not fully known, we can do neither. We realize those responsible will likely continue to avoid accountability to our community while some who acted with complete integrity may still be regarded with suspicion.
We wish now to turn our attention to a more hopeful future for our beloved school, to begin the difficult and long work of healing from this sad chapter. In order to do so, we will move forward on all decisions that awaited the report from our Ad Hoc Committee, including granting any outstanding degrees. We choose to close this chapter so that we can focus on the work of healing, relationship, and new vision as we move forward in a new way with new leadership.
While the Ad Hoc Committee’s report did not find any evidence of ethical misdeeds within the search process itself, we are committed to learning from this experience and to being more intentional in our commitments to integrity, transparency, and caring communication. As a first act of renewal, we wish to acknowledge that we, too, can do better to serve in accordance with our guiding principles. We commit to improve our policies and procedures to better embody our highest shared values and aspirations. We rededicate ourselves to deeper partnership with you as we work together to rebuild the trust and confidence necessary for us to thrive.
As we seek to embody our commitment to transparency, we are making what has been for us one of our most difficult choices. We know that among those calling for complete transparency are some who will remain unsatisfied without the opportunity to review the Ad Hoc Committee’s reports for themselves. It is for that reason that we are opting to make these reports available (with minimal redactions as required by law) as a part of the Board minutes posted on the Starr King website. We do so sadly aware that our choice to opt for such transparency may be one that others find disagreeable.
We remain proud of the one hundred and twelve year history of our beloved School, whose roots lie deep in the fertile soil of Unitarian Universalism, with branches that embrace the multireligious life and learning that will matter most in this new century. We recognize that Starr King has weathered earlier crises and emerged with the capacity to continue educating exemplary religious leaders. We are grateful to our new President, the Rev. Rosemary Bray McNatt, for her integrity and grace in responding to the challenging situation she inherited at the start of her presidency. We reaffirm our conviction that she is the best possible leader for this time and for the days that lie ahead. Nothing in these intervening months has made us question the rightness of that decision.
With respect and humility, we invite you to join us in the effort to restore right relationship so that we might look ahead to our shared future.
Helio Fred Garcia
Chair, On Behalf of the Board of Trustees