Yesterday I was shocked and saddened to read this story in the Daily Herald newspaper.
Wheaton College President Philip Ryken said in an email to students and faculty Friday that chaplain Timothy Blackmon has been fired for “inappropriate comments and actions of a racial and sexual nature” toward staff members. …
Ryken wrote in his email that the college hired “external professionals” to investigate allegations against Blackmon.
“The investigation revealed conduct inconsistent with Wheaton’s policies and commitments. Following this investigation and adjudication, as well as a trustee review process, Tim Blackmon is no longer employed at Wheaton College,” the email read. “Because of the unique role of the Chaplain as one of Wheaton’s primary spiritual leaders, we believe it is important to share this information with the campus community. In deference to the confidentiality of multiple parties in a personnel process, though, we do not plan to provide additional information beyond this message and encourage our community to respect the privacy of the individuals involved.”
The Rev. Blackmon has been a guest preacher at my local church on numerous occasions, so there is a personal connection here that magnifies the impact of this particular incident. Obviously I don’t know any of the details behind this event. However, I do know what Wheaton College has chosen to communicate publicly, and find it disturbing.
Yes, I can conceive of circumstances in which the level of privacy chosen by Wheaton College may be appropriate. However, there is no avoiding the consequence that, by shielding the details from public disclosure, the college has left the Rev. Blackmon’s reputation to the imaginations of anyone who happens to hear about this incident. This seems grossly unfair to me.
I see three likely reasons why this level of privacy is demanded by Wheaton College, those being:
- The verbal conduct in question is indeed so damaging and painful that any further public disclosure would be destructive to all involved;
- The verbal conduct in question would be highly controversial, with some strongly supporting the decision and others strongly opposing;
- The college is ashamed of its conduct, knowing that were the details made public the institution would suffer grave damage to its reputation.
At the very least Wheaton College should be more specific regarding the reasons for this level of privacy.
Were this event to have occurred a decade or more ago I would have been predisposed to take the College at its word. However, given the “cancel culture” experience of the past few years it has become difficult to give any institution the benefit of the doubt in these matters.
We are all well aware that a statement as obviously true as “all lives matter” or that “sex is real” can be cause for firing in today’s environment. Thus, the college’s statement that “inappropriate comments and actions of a racial and sexual nature” covers a scope that may or may not be defensible. For example, were these statements gross, vicious sexual and/or racial attacks then the vast majority of people would agree with the firing.
Perhaps the Rev. Blackmon is free to eventually comment publicly on this event. Perhaps the college has induced him to sign a non-disclosure agreement that will forever prevent him from public comment. Perhaps someone who knows the details will someday make them public. Perhaps we will never know what happened.
My current predisposition is towards the assumption of craven cowardice and bad faith by our major institutions. So, while I will withhold judgement, I will also fear for the worst by Wheaton College in this shocking event.