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Colleges & Universities Culture

Taylor University May Not Have Followed Its Own Process In Dismissal of Professor

Taylor University fired a longtime faculty member, Jim Spiegel, for – among other things – not adhering to the school’s “Life Together Covenant,” a statement all faculty members must agree to.

Ironically, Taylor may have violated the terms of that agreement when it fired Spiegel.

The key reason Taylor gave for firing Spiegel was his refusal to remove from YouTube a humorous video titled “Little Hitler.”  The satirical video was, Spiegel said, an artistic effort to highlight the Christian doctrine of original sin.

However, Taylor officials said the school received “a formal harassment complaint” from “another faculty member because of your song.”  

And therein lies the rub.  According to Spiegel and others familiar with Taylor’s “Life Together Covenant,” the first step in resolving such a conflict should be a one-on-one meeting between the person wronged, and the person who allegedly committed the wrong.  By going to the administration first, the anonymous faculty member likely violated the terms of the “Life Together Covenant,” and by accepting that complaint rather than encouraging the faculty member to meet with Spiegel directly, the college also seems to have violated the terms of the Covenant.

Spiegel told MinistryWatch, “By honoring that illicit complaint, the administrators themselves failed to comply with their own process.”

The formal letter telling Spiegel his employment was terminated also cited a “contract agreement” dated May 3, 2019.  The termination letter accused him of violating the terms of that agreement.  

However, according to Spiegel, the May 3, 2019, letter no longer defined the terms of his employment.  That letter covered the 2019-2020 academic year.  Spiegel said he had signed a more recent contract that did not include many of the terms in the May 3, 2019, letter.

Spiegel’s firing has re-opened ideological fissures on the campus.   Taylor made national news last year when it invited Vice President Mike Pence, a fellow Indianan, to deliver the school’s commencement address.  Some students and faculty objected to the invitation, and some students walked out of Pence’s address.  Others refused to shake Pence’s hand when they received their diplomas.  The controversy became so heated that the president of the college was forced to resign a month after Pence’s address.

During that controversy, and at other times, Spiegel aligned with – and sometimes led – those who took a more conservative position on sexuality and other matters being debated on campus.  One of Spiegel’s efforts was the creation of a newsletter called The Excaliber.  The newsletter promoted conservative views on human sexuality, abortion, and other issues.  

The newsletter sometimes made him a thorn in the side of the administration, but Spiegel defended the effort.  “We published it in order to express a conservative perspective that we sensed could use more representation on campus and to create substantive conversation in our community about a variety of issues,” he told Religion News Service in an email last year.

Taylor said it does not comment on “personnel matters.”  But Interim President Paige Cunningham, Provost Michael Hammond, Board Chair Chris Goeglein, and Dean Thomas Jones addressed the “process by which this separation occurred.” Their email said the school followed the procedure to restore damaged relationships in its “Life Together Covenant.” That included “engaging faculty leadership, the academic department and the administration.”  The email concluded, “In this case restoration was not possible.”

But Spiegel and his allies say those statements are false.  Ben Wehling was the director of marketing for Taylor University for 11 years, but he left the school in the spring of 2019.  He said, “Provost [Mike] Hammond has engaged in patent hypocrisy.  The ‘Life Together Covenant’ holds process highly, but in this case that process was virtually ignored.”

He added, “Jim was not treated fairly, but Taylor is conflict-averse, so they tend to placate the loudest and most reactionary voices.”

If that’s true, Taylor may have tried to get rid of the wrong guy.  A GoFundMe campaign has already raised thousands of dollars for Spiegel and his family.  A petition drive led by a Taylor faculty member is calling on the administration to reinstate Spiegel to his former position.

As for Spiegel himself:  he says he is willing to take his old job back.  He says that not only is restoration possible, it is something he earnestly desires.  “The damage is not irreversible,” he said.  “I refuse to be bitter about it.  All it would take is an apology.  It could be a marvelous example of Christian reconciliation.”

Warren Cole Smith

Warren previously served as Vice President of WORLD News Group, publisher of WORLD Magazine, and Vice President of The Colson Center for Christian Worldview. He has more than 30 years of experience as a writer, editor, marketing professional, and entrepreneur. Before launching a career in Christian journalism 25 years ago, Smith spent more than seven years as the Marketing Director at PricewaterhouseCoopers.