The eight General Theological Seminary professors who have been on strike over working conditions at the New York City school have tentatively agreed to return.
The so-called "GTS Eight" have responded positively to the seminary's offer of "provisional employment for the remainder of the academic year."
The professors are currently in negotiations with the board of trustees, Rev. Dr. Amy Bentley Lamborn confirmed to The Huffington Post. She declined to offer further details.
The internal power struggle at the nation's oldest Episcopal seminary caught national attention after more than two-thirds of its professors went on strike in late September. The professors cited the leadership style of the school's dean, the Very Rev. Kurt Dunkle, whom they accused of fostering a climate "fraught with conflict, fear, and anxiety." In response, the seminary board accepted the faculty members' resignations -- something the professors claim they never gave.
On Tuesday, the faculty members released a letter addressed to Bishop Mark S. Sisk, the chair of the school's board of trustees, for publication on the blog the Episcopal Cafe:
We accept your offer of reinstatement to our positions, and the salaries and benefits outlined in our contracts in effect prior to September 25, 2014. We look forward to being able to do this as soon as possible. Like any member of the Seminary's faculty we agree to abide by the terms of the Seminary Constitution, Bylaws and policies [...] We are pleased to see that during the "cooling off period" all of the parties' respective legal arguments and positions will be reserved.
According to Jim Naughton, editor in chief of the Episcopal Cafe, one of the key factors that may be driving the reconciliation process is an offer by the board of trustees to use a neutral group or ombudsperson as a facilitator between the two sides.
The faculty members alluded to this in their letter:
As we move forward and return to our work, we ask that you consider the appointment of an ombudsperson agreeable to all sides who would act during this "cooling off period" as an interlocutor and safe person to whom complaints could be referred if need be.
In a statement about the strike, the Rt. Rev. Clifton Daniel, Episcopal bishop of Pennsylvania and a member of the GTS board of trustees, confirmed that this suggestion has indeed come up during the talks.
"I am encouraged by the decision of the Executive Committee to engage a skilled, qualified Christian mediator who will call the Dean, the Board, the Faculty, Students (and perhaps representatives of the Alumni/ae Association) together to engage in a prayerful, structured and disciplined process of mediation and reconciliation," Daniel wrote on Monday.
The offer currently on the table would keep Dunkle as dean and president of the school. In his statement, Daniel emphasized the trust he placed in the dean, although faculty members have previously accused Dunkle of making discriminatory remarks toward women and minorities.
Seminary spokesperson Chad Rancourt told HuffPost that GTS has no comment at this time.
The faculty members also wrote that any further public acknowledgement of an agreement should be issued in conjunction with the school, as a sign of the parties moving forward together.
"Lest we be misunderstood here, let us state clearly that we will devote ourselves fully to the difficult work of reconciliation this year," the professors wrote.