Suzi Spangenberg and Julie Brock are former student leaders at Starr King School for the Ministry whose Master of Divinity degrees are being wrongly withheld by the school’s Board of Trustees. Suzi and Julie have met all degree requirements and the school’s faculty unanimously voted to grant Suzi and Julie M. Div. degrees in February 2014.
Recently, an anonymous email was sent to SKSM students and faculty, other members of the Unitarian Universalist community, and the news media, making allegations of abuse of power by the SKSM administration during the presidential search process. Documents were attached to the email that had apparently been leaked from the search committee. Recipients of the anonymous email would not necessarily have known these documents were confidential in any way (if they were.)
The Board of Trustees reacted to this embarrassing email by threatening to withhold student degrees until the anonymous author was named. Suzi and Julie participated in the restorative justice process and made clear that they did not send the anonymous email and did not know who did. The Trustees never confronted Suzi or Julie directly except to ask Julie to submit to an interview by an investigator for the board’s law firm, which they mischaracterized as “further restorative justice”. Finally, on May 19 — the day before the graduation ceremony — the Board notified Suzi and Julie that their M. Div. Degrees were being withheld and would only be granted if they submit to interviews and turn over any and all of their personal email and other electronic or written communications — no matter how private, and regardless of whether any such communications may have been received in confidence.
Three members of the Starr King core faculty have spoken out against the Board of Trustees’ actions. Additionally, two board members have resigned citing concerns with this process.
Suzi and Julie disagree with anonymous communication and inappropriate leaking of information, but they do not wish to set a precedent where students can have their degrees arbitrarily withheld by the trustees even though they have met all degree requirements, or where students can be be compelled to give up their right to privacy and forced to break UUMA guidelines regarding confidentiality in order to receive their diplomas. They have therefore refused to submit to the broad inquisition proposed by the Trustees and are exploring their legal options to compel the school to grant them the Masters degrees they have earned.