On August 11, 2020, Hellenic College Holy Cross President George Cantonis invited separately me and other five senior tenured professors in his office and, in the presence of Human Resources Director David Volz, informed us that our services to the school were being terminated as a result of the decision of HCHC’s Board of Trustee’s to declare financial exigency of the School.
In an August 19 press release, the school stated, “the declaration of financial exigency was necessitated by a projected budget deficit significantly worsened by COVID-19.” According to the release, “HCHC would have been unable to fund this deficit and, due to its probationary status, a deficit budget would seriously threaten the institution’s accreditation…To achieve the necessary balanced budget, faculty ranks have been reduced by six members, three from Hellenic College and three from Holy Cross – a difficult decision to make, but the only path to right-size the budget.” This press release leads to many questions for President Cantonis. Why did he choose to dismiss six senior tenured faculty? Are there any other rationales behind his decision, besides the issue of finances? What is the effect of the elimination of six tenured faculty in the academic life of the institution? Who will dare to speak up against arbitrary decisions and safeguard the intellectual life of the School? Did he examine other options to address the financial issues of the school, including, but not limited to, reducing the salary of administrative staff and faculty proportionally? In the past, the Chairman of the HCHC Board of Trustees has expressed his opinion that the School must do away with tenure since, in his view, it contradicts the spirit of the Orthodox tradition. Does the school’s declaration of financial exigency provide an opportunity to fulfill his desire?
Looking at the six professors who have been terminated, the common denominator is that all six (three from Hellenic College and three from Holy Cross) are all senior tenured professors that have taught at the schools for many years. Looking at the professors dismissed from Holy Cross, they were the only professors who were born in Greece and maintained scholarly collaboration with their colleagues in Greek universities.
Furthermore, President Cantonis chose to terminate the services of the six tenured professors in an unprecedented adversarial and insensitive manner, as demonstrated by the separation agreement and the email of the director of Human Resources that described the terms and the conditions under which the six senior faculty were forcefully ended up their relationship with the school. These professors, most of whom have given decades of their lives in service to the educational mission of the school, were given six days to clear their offices of all their effects. In most cases, this meant professors, many over sixty years old, had to empty their offices of thousands of books from the top floors of a building without any elevators to assist in the removal. This treatment is unprecedented in the history of HCHC, as all previous retiring faculty had received the status of emeritus, in honor of their decades of service to the school and given the privilege of using a specially designated office for emeritus professors, along with library privileges.
Upon his election in 2019, President Cantonis dismissed the acting deans of Hellenic College and of Holy Cross and appointed interim new deans for both schools. The interim dean of the Holy Cross that he appointed in the school of theology is not an elected faculty member. In contrast, the interim dean of Hellenic College is an assistant professor of ethics at the Holy Cross. Are they the ones who advised President Cantonis that the six tenured professors are not essential for the academic life of the School, and the courses that they were offering can be taught by “current qualified faculty trained in the same theological disciplines”?
While HCHC states that these dismissal plans were discussed with government authorities and accreditors before their implementation, did the government authorities and accreditors really endorse this action? What does this action mean for the morale of the remaining junior faculty? How will academic freedom and integrity be safeguarded if there are no tenured faculty to speak boldly against all kinds of administrative and academic irregularities? Given that President Cantonis does not know the intellectual culture of the School, due to his short tenure as President so far, whom did he consult? Did he contemplate whether other cuts could have just been made instead of targeting tenured faculty members? Why were these faculty chosen over others, and on what grounds, aside from full-time salaries?
While HCHC claims that “a deficit budget would seriously threaten the institutions accreditation” and that “the largest expense has been faculty salaries,” it is not accurate to say that terminating the employment of each professor would save the school money. For example, I held the chair of Archbishop Iakovos Professor of Orthodox Theology. As HCHC’s own website states, this position’s salary is entirely funded by the Archbishop Iakovos Professor of Orthodox Theology Endowment. The School is restricted from using these funds for any other purpose other than to fund the Archbishop Iakovos Professor of Orthodox Theology. Is it the intent of the school to use these restricted funds for purposes other than for which they were given?
Furthermore, HCHC claims that in the School of Theology, “current qualified faculty trained in the same theological disciplines as the three departing faculty will teach the classes.” According to the Fall 2020 HCHC Course listing, the interim dean of Hellenic College will teach the class of Dogmatics. The interim dean has not taught any course in dogmatic theology nor written anything on dogmatic theology. Furthermore, he has not participated in or contributed to international conferences that discuss the theological, ecumenical, and interfaith challenges that the Orthodox church encounters in the modern world. The classes of Biblical Greek and Liturgical Greek, previously taught by a tenured professor who has studied these issues for forty years, will be taught by a historian and a patristic scholar. If the school wanted to save money while preserving “qualified faculty” to teach the required courses, why have they entrusted these classes to professors not properly trained to teach them? Why is the school keeping professors with overlapping specialties, such as two church historians, while dismissing the only expertise they have in other areas?
The firing of the six senior tenured professors raises serious questions about the future of HCHC and the future of Orthodox education in the United States. These six professors, after years of dedicating in service to this School, were not given the respect that retiring faculty have traditionally received in the past. Is this the Orthodox manner and ethos that the School wishes to impart on its students? Despite dismissing these tenured faculty members, serious questions remain about the future of the School. The tenure system enables professors with the job security to speak truth to power, without fear of ramifications. Without their expertise and ability to speak this truth to power, the HCHC administration risks not being held accountable for their actions and decisions. Finally, donors create endowed chairmanships to ensure that the professor who holds that chair is insulated from economic strains to the college’s budget and to guarantee expertise in a field that demands it. Dismissing endowed chairs raises significant questions about the financial integrity of the school. In conclusion, while HCHC claims that the firing of these six tenured professors was necessary “to right-size the budget,” this action raises more serious questions about the academic and economic viability of the school. Personally, I will address this challenge in a forthcoming separate article.
BELOW YOU CAN SEE THE LETTER TO FR. CLAPSIS VERIFYING THE “TERMINATION OF EMPLOYMENT” – SORRY, I MEANT THE “SEPARATION AGREEMENT”…
In your meeting with George Cantonis yesterday you were notified that Tuesday, August 11, 2020, was your last active employment date with Hellenic College Holy Cross. I am attaching a scan of your Separation Agreement, and I will overnight the originals of the Agreement and your final checks to your home. Please pay special attention to sections 8, 9, and 10 regarding Confidentiality and Non-Disparagement.
As explained you have up to 45 days to accept the Agreement, however, you will not begin to receive Severance Payouts until 7 days after you have signed the Agreement. It’s required that you remove all personal effects from your office by Monday, August 17, 2020. Any documents, manuals, books, telephones, computer(s), and other equipment which are College property need to remain in your office. Any building, office, and classroom keys need to be given to me.
Howard Thomas and his crew are available up to 2:30pm with boxes, and to assist you with removing your personal effects to your car. Also at the end of day on Monday, August 17, 2020, your HCHC email will be deactivated. Please provide me with an alternate personal email address.
As we discussed, I am available for any questions regarding the Separation Agreement process.
David Volz, Human Resources Director
Hellenic College Holy Cross
50 Goddard Avenue, Brookline, MA 02445