Press conference statement about my termination from Grand Canyon University

Here is my statement delivered at a press conference on 8/25/17:

Words cannot express my gratitude for the people up here standing next to me.  JJ Johnson, Reginald Walton, Richard Crews, Roy Tatem, Warren Stewart Jr, and everyone at Black Lives Matter- Phoenix and the East Valley NAACP have shown me and my family so much love and support.  I am proud to stand by you and with you.  It is truly an honor.  God bless you all.

I am Dr. Shawn Bawulski.  I am a Christian theologian.  Up until recently I was an Associate Professor of Theology at Grand Canyon University.

On Jun 27th of this year my dean at the College of Theology of GCU, Jason Hiles, fired me over the phone.  He asked if I had met with a newly hired faculty member, and I said that my family met with her at a cafĂ© to show her hospitality and help her as she moves into the Phoenix area.  My wife and I have done this with multiple other new faculty hires over the years, so much so that I was praised for it in my annual review.  So this was nothing new.  In that phone call with my dean, immediately after I confirmed that I had met with her, he told me that my employment at GCU was terminated and my contract for the 2017-2018 academic year was rescinded.  He then stonewalled me for about 30 minutes as I begged for my job and begged for the real explanation.  He refused to give me either.

My family and I were devastated.

During my time at GCU I worked very hard to serve my students well.  I care for my students I already miss them dearly.  I have positive student evaluations and my annual reviews are strong.  There were no previous warnings that my job performance was unacceptable or that my job was in danger.  I signed the 2017-2018 teaching contract back in April.  Just this past spring I was promoted to Associate Professor of Theology with strong endorsement from my dean, colleagues, and students.  On the surface of it, my firing simply made no sense at all.

The truth of the matter is that I was fired for my concern for genuine diversity in our faculty, for my advocacy for racial justice, and for my affiliation with Black Lives Matter.  I pressed for racial justice with colleagues, my deans, administrators, and students—both in and out of the classroom.  My efforts were met with a culture of hostility in my department, a culture in which a violent statement against black lives was never publicly condemned and only acknowledged and dealt with when it became a PR issue.  Dr. Jennings comments deeply upset me.  I regret not speaking out about it sooner, but I feared retaliation if I did.

One particular aspect of this is worth mentioning.  I was the faculty advisor for a social justice student group on campus.  Not long before I was fired, I told my dean Jason Hiles that I was going to invite a speaker from Black Lives Matter to share at an event about racial justice that we were planning for the fall.  I was seeking his advice on how to execute that well in a place like GCU where I’ve found that such topics are often met with resistance.  He became visibly uncomfortable, and after an awkward silence, suggested that our group should stick to justice topics were everyone agrees, like combating sex trafficking.  I replied that while of course that is an important cause, if people had taken that approach in the 50’s and 60’s we never would have had a civil rights movement.  He communicated that political unrest, protests, and controversy on campus were to be avoided.  I replied that I understood that, but I wanted to support the prophetic voice of my students.  He quickly ended the conversation.  Shortly after that I was fired.

There was a sustained pattern of resistance and animosity towards my efforts to pursue racial justice and bring real diversity.  I’ll give a few additional examples.  First, in the spring of this year my dean forcefully told me that I need to back off with my push for racial diversity in the faculty, that these hiring decisions were his alone to make, and that he was convinced our next hire might need to be a white male, so as to avoid legal liability.  I replied that made no sense to me, but that I understood that he was the dean and my boss.  Second, on another occasion I said to the associate dean of the college of theology that we need more women and people of color in our department in order to better serve our students.  Her defensive and threatening response was, “So are you going to give up your job so we can hire someone like that?”  Only when pressured by the Association of Theological Schools for accrediting the seminary did I see any real discussions about diversity in our department, and accreditation was the motivating factor.  These are just a few examples of the hostility I received for my advocacy for racial justice in the theology department.  In the department, the culture is to minimize, dismiss, or ignore racial issues.

I am confident that if I had been less vocal about these matters, I would still have my job.  But I can never be less vocal about these matters.  Above all things I am a Christian.  It is a simple gospel truth that Black Lives Matter.  So here me say it now:  BLACK LIVES MATTER.  Even if it costs me my job, I will say BLACK LIVES MATTER.  Even if it costs me my reputation, my comfort, my security, my privilege, and even my life, I will say BLACK LIVES MATTER.  I will stand with you, and I will fight for you.