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Oxford theological college at centre of row


The head of an Anglican theological college in Oxford, the Rev. Richard Turnbull, has been accused by his three immediate predecessors of threatening its survival as an academic institution

The three former principals of the Wycliffe Hall college gave their warning in a letter to the bishop of Liverpool, James Jones, who chairs the governing council of the institution, which trains candidates for ordination in the Church of England.

The letter follows claims that Turnbull, who was appointed in 2005 and is introducing reforms into the college, operates an allegedly abrasive management style and promotes a conservative brand of Christianity.

According to media reports, at least a third of the college’s academic staff have resigned.  "The resignation of so many competent and dedicated teaching and admin staff all together in such a small community cannot be written off simply as a new broom sweeping away out-of- date and out-of-touch lumber," the three former principals – Geoffrey Shaw, Dick France and Alister McGrath – write in their letter to Bishop Jones.

The three men say the staff who resigned had been made to feel stumbling blocks to a new regime by a man, "who despite the qualities many attribute to him, has had no experience of academic and spiritual formation leadership in a college context", according to a Church Times report on 15 June.  Neither side has disputed the existence and contents of the letter sent to Bishop Jones.

Turnbull has responded to press inquiries by saying that the letter was private and that he would not be resigning. In an article in The Guardian newspaper in early June, Turnbull strenuously denied claims that the college had become more anti-gay and hostile to women’s ordination since his appointment. "I know of no homophobia or misogyny at Wycliffe. If there is any evidence then it must be produced," Turnbull wrote.

A spokesperson for Bishop Jones told Ecumenical News International: "The bishop does not respond publicly to private correspondence. The [governing] council has been at the college inspecting plans for the future and meeting with staff, students, and the newly appointed staff. The bishop chaired a council meeting that was united in its support for future plans. The bishop will be responding privately to the principals."

(c) Ecumenical News International