How One Of TWU’s Most Decorated Deans Went From Star To Sunset (Mars' Hill Article)
**This article was originally published by Carter Sawatzky in the student newspaper, Mars' Hill. This blog post is a re-post of that article for One TWU audiences. Writers of any background/point-of-view are welcome (within reason) to post on One TWU's blog.
by Carter Sawatzky
March 23, 2022
“It was a hard decision to leave, but for me, it became clear that there was a direction that the university wanted to go. And it wasn’t the direction that I was going… There's been a change in style of leadership. And I think that it's time for me to go.”
Why would a well-loved, accomplished professor (and former Dean of Education) have the sudden instinct to leave Trinity Western University (TWU)?
Dr. Allyson Jule recalls her “happy memories” working at TWU. She started with sessional work for the English department in 1993 and continued with some part-time contracts for English and Communications and the TESOL certificate programme over the years (always part-time). Dr. Jule then moved to the U.K. in 1998 to complete her Ph.D. She worked in the U.K. until 2008, returning to the Lower Mainland where TWU hired her full-time in the School of Education.
In 2016, Dr. Jule was named one of Canada’s top 10 professors and was awarded the prestigious 3M Teaching Fellowship for excellence in teaching and leadership––the first TWU professor to win the honour.
On this award, Dr. Eve Stringham, then TWU’s Vice Provost of Research and Graduate Studies said in a TWU announcement, “Dr. Jule embodies everything we desire to see in a faculty member at TWU, including innovative teaching and exemplary scholarship. As a teacher, Dr. Jule’s dedication to her students is second to none. She is a credit to the School of Education, the Gender Studies Institute, and the university at large.”
In 2008, Dr. Jule co-founded the Gender Studies Institute along with other notable faculty including Dr. Robynne Healey (History), Dr. Holly Nelson (English), and Dr. Alma Barranco-Mendoza (Computer Science). In 2011, Dr. Jule and the co-founders introduced the gender studies minor at TWU, and, in 2012, she introduced an innovative course on gender in education—the only undergraduate course of its kind in the country.
From being advertised on TWU’s social media for positive credibility during the Supreme Court Trials, to holding vibrant events and discussions on campus with varying points of view, no one could have foreseen what was to come.
In interviewing Dr. Jule, it became clear that her November 2019 appearance at a UBC event, “Faith and Family: Navigating SOGI Inclusion in Schools,” was highly influential in shaping the circumstances she now finds herself in—leaving a place she deeply loves.
SOGI (pronounced so-jee) stands for Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity. Despite the controversy in evangelical circles, SOGI-123 at its core is, according to the BC Ministry of Education, “a resource that supports educators in addressing [gender identity and sexual orientation] topics in the provincial curriculum.”
“I've moved quite quickly past what I would call a misunderstanding of what my comments were,” she said. At the conference, someone had roughly transcribed her comments “about the difficulties at Trinity regarding SOGI-123,” which Dr. Jule believes were fair given the public spotlight on TWU’s treatment of LGBTQIA2S+ students during its fight for a law school.
Yet the university, Dr. Jule claims, interpreted her participation in the event and demarcating herself as an “ally” to LGBTQIA2S+ people as misrepresenting TWU’s position (against) same-sex marriage.
According to Dr. Jule, TWU administration was made aware of her comments after Kari Simpson, the founder of an anti-SOGI organization Culture Guard, sent letters to Christian schools and parents in the Langley area informing them of one Dean of Education’s “sex activist agenda” at TWU. Simpson also published an episode of her e-series “Culture Watch” on the matter shortly after. The episode has since been taken down from Vimeo, but Mars’ Hill was able to obtain a copy downloaded by a viewer at the time, concerned with the remarks about Dr. Jule.
Simpson continues to advocate on social media and right-wing media channels, in line with socially conservative values, against Provincial Health Orders and access to public spaces for LGBTQIA2S+ individuals (to name a few). More recently Simpson was part of a “freedom rally” that closed the Pacific Highway border crossing. In the same video where she criticized Dr. Jule, she referred to One TWU, a support group at TWU for queer students and alumni, as “sex activists.”
But perhaps most alarming was the way Simpson concluded her commentary: “I don’t think Trinity is going to have any remedy available to itself but to ensure Allyson Jule is put in a place where she can no longer affect the children, the students, and the future teachers of Trinity Western,” she said.
In an interview with Rebel News, for a September 17, 2021 story entitled “Unvaccinated university students risk losing everything in B.C.” commenting on TWU, Simpson echoed her sentiments: “There are some very good people on the Board of Governors. There are some really excellent teachers. But I also know that there are some very bad teachers. Some of the professors, some of the ideologies, that are infecting, and I’ll use that word because it’s like a bad disease. [Those professors] need to be eradicated, surgically removed.”
Nevertheless, according to Dr. Jule, community members and some TWU donors had contacted President Husbands with the concerns raised by Simpson in “Culture Watch” shortly after her appearance at UBC was politicized.
Although Dr. Jule had spoken at the same conference the year prior, “without incident,” her comments in Fall 2019 provoked a strong reaction from senior leadership, with a newly-minted President Husbands and Board Chair Fred Fleming at the helm. “The thing that had changed wasn’t me. I hadn’t changed. The President had changed… He came with a more authoritative way.” To Dr. Jule, it was “his way or the highway.”
Suffice to say, senior leadership was “a bit more disappointed” about her comments than Dr. Jule expected. “It did feel like not everybody was supportive of gender studies. And the new leadership, in particular, was uncomfortable with it… I thought the university would defend me since I've been at TWU for years and they knew my scholarship [in gender] well and had supported me and my scholarship in the past,” she said. “So I was surprised when that wasn't the attitude.”
Looking back now, however, she said she “shouldn't have been surprised.” Dr. Jule recounts being called into a meeting with the Provost, Dr. Bob Wood, after her appearance at UBC and Simpson’s “Culture Watch” had gone live: “Culture Guard had made [the President’s Office] aware of the event… and had contacted them with some pretty inflammatory comments about a ‘gay agenda.’”
She claims that the Provost reviewed both the comments Culture Guard had made and, apparently, a significant number of comments, which were made to the President’s Office. In terms of the presentation she had given at UBC, Dr. Jule recalls the Provost saying (she paraphrases), “…You know, that was not the right thing to say or do and we don’t think it’s best for you to continue as Dean.”
She recounts: “I said, No, I wanted more conversation perhaps. And I didn’t want to leave the deanship over it.”
Dr. Jule did propose, however, to take the Spring 2020 semester off.
But something did not quite sit right with her about the exchange with Dr. Wood, a long-time friend and colleague. “It was so weird because to me, the Provost––the actual person, like Bob Wood himself––I have known him for years to be a very thoughtful, gentle person who seems to have encouraged me all along and seemed very affirming of how I was with the School of Education. So then there was this kind of awkward conversation with him that sort of seemed like he wasn't him. I just had the feeling that he was representing, perhaps, someone else's views.”
Kari Simpson, in her episode of “Culture Watch,” admitted she hoped her views on Dr. Jule’s comments would be represented: “The good news is that TWU is under new leadership. And I guess this will be a test for the new president there… Mark Husbands, to see what transpires.”
In her time off, Dr. Jule, still blindsided by the reaction, decided to secure an employment lawyer to review her experience because “it was a very odd conversation and it was going in a very strange direction.” Her employment lawyer stated that the resignation proposal was an “overreach” of leadership and “there would be employment policies that would have given a different response.” It was Dr. Jule’s understanding that there would need to be due process, certain procedures, and employment policies carried out before a Dean is told to return to a faculty position.
With that legal advice in hand, she returned––countering the suggestion that she should resign because of Culture Guard (and others’) reaction to her comments––and continued as Dean. “And then by the time I came off, came back, it was COVID. So it was like, the story had just come and gone.”
The reality is, it hadn’t.
Fast forward to early 2021, and it was time for an end-of-term review, something that all Deans face when they are near five years into their terms.
Dr. Jule had received glowing reviews by her fellow faculty, within her department and beyond, and, as mentioned earlier, was recognized nationally for her pedagogical and relational skills in the classroom. However, this did not preclude the administration from raising some concerns.
“In the process of renewing my term as Dean,” Dr. Jule said, “it became clearer and clearer that the leadership at Trinity felt that, to quote them, ‘…[my] desire to show care to all persons, including LGBTQIA2S+ persons, appears to make it difficult [for me] to model an institutional perspective as Dean.’ And the fact that this was a ‘problem,’ well that kind of, for me, changed everything.”
When asked if the TWU administration was reprimanding her because she is an [LGBTQIA2S+] ally, she said, “Well, that's yeah, I think that that's a worry.”
She describes how the comments made by members of TWU’s Executive Leadership Team indicated a “lingering issue of doubt in my Christian commitment” because of her inclusive attitude towards LGBTQIA2S+ persons. As to whether the Provost, Dr. Wood, was suggesting she would resign (again) from her role as Dean, Dr. Jule said it was communicated that she could return to a faculty position, but that senior leadership in the university remained uncomfortable with her continuing as Dean, especially in her area of study—in some ways, fulfilling Kari Simpson’s prophecy.
In speaking with Dr. Jule, it became clear that she is not the only recent departure of a high profile female faculty member of the university. Dr. Adrienne Castellon, Dr. Kimberly Franklin, and Dr. Eve Stringham have also left TWU. Wondering if there were implications for the working environment at TWU, Mars’ Hill reached out to the Office of the Provost for comment on how senior leadership views this predicament.
“As a senior administrator,” Dr. Sonya Grypma, Vice Provost, responded, “I grieve the departure of anyone who I’ve come to admire and respect, who I enjoy working with, and whose contributions to TWU are meaningful and impactful… including the four you’ve mentioned. The opportunity to work shoulder to shoulder towards a common purpose, and the relationships (and deep friendships) that are built out of collaborative problem-solving is, in my view, part of what attracts, and keeps, women academics at TWU.”
The Provost, Dr. Bob Wood added, “It is of course discouraging when gifted female leaders move on from their roles at TWU, regardless of the reason.”
On how TWU seeks to fairly treat faculty of diverse views, Dr. Wood commented: “An important foundation for achieving better representation of women and minority groups in the University is the personal and organizational awareness of biases and structures that create barriers.”
Dr. Wood said he was “privileged to be part of a group of six individuals who facilitated the conversation on hospitality several years ago that ultimately led to the establishment of the Practicing Christian Hospitality Core Value.”
Dr. Grypma calls TWU’s hospitality statement “a beautiful expression of one of TWU’s core values. In the context of equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI), it calls us to receptive humility, reflective commitment, and imaginative empathy… Practicing Christian hospitality is required of everyone. The expression of hospitality is not gendered––it should not be practiced only or mainly by women. Men in our community are also expected to genuinely include and consistently care for all individuals––including (and certainly not only) individuals who identify as gender and sexual minorities.”
Additionally, Dr. Wood said he is encouraged by “the commitment of President Husbands to advance these initiatives” by creating the role of VP Inclusive Excellence, hiring Jennifer Adkins, and “providing a deep theological framework for the work of faith-informed inclusivity.”
These values, however, did not translate to Dr. Jule’s own experience. When asked what was the “straw that broke the camel’s back” in her decision to depart the place she loved, she responded, “I was just very disappointed and I felt unsupported. In who I am, who I have been, and the kind of relationship I've had with Trinity and the administration in my own role as leader here.”
She said the leadership has gone a bit more “autocratic,” and has “moved into more competition than relationship––and that, I think, is too bad.”
Feeling her position of leadership was undermined, Dr. Jule was “not going to continue as Dean” especially if TWU had expressed doubts in her position because of her allyship. “I felt like I was flourishing––for many years I was flourishing at Trinity––and then the mood kind of changed,” she said.
“I went into my own process of discernment. You know, ‘Is it time for me to move on?’ Which is what I decided to do. And so it was time for me to go.”
Even before the last two years, Dr. Jule admits she saw something emerging within evangelical Christianity itself. The “deep theological framework,” one of Dr. Husbands’ initiatives, is something she factored into her decision to leave.
“I [noticed] a real division and a privileging of the right-wing conservative view on social issues at the expense of more progressive views,” she said. “And that seems to be going on in Christianity, in North America, everywhere––not just at Trinity.” She believes the President and the Chairman of the Board were more concerned with “certainty and clarity” against queer-affirming views rather than “a university culture of inquiry.”
“I think there’s a discomfort in general within the evangelical Christian community about gender issues. Full stop,” she said. “Women in positions of leadership, sexuality, egalitarian versus complementarian, marriages, purity and chastity, and LGBTQIA2S+ issues. And I think there's a discomfort in evangelical Christianity on those social issues anyway.”
Dr. Eve Stringham, the former Vice Provost of Research and Graduate Studies, agrees. When asked about the variety of gender issues in evangelical communities and the privileging of the right-wing conservative view on social issues at the expense of more progressive views at TWU, she said, “Unfortunately I think Dr. Jule is correct.”
“One of the things I liked about TWU,” Dr. Stringham said, “was that––unlike some other Christian colleges––TWU employs an open enrolment system. Students don’t have to be Christian to attend. To me, this meant that TWU had a vibrant intellectual culture for a faith-based institution.”
“When I started at TWU back in 1996, creation vs. evolution was the big issue facing evangelical Christians. I held a theistic evolutionist perspective while other colleagues held different views,” she continued. “At times there was external pressure to conform to a particular view but somehow as an institution we managed to defend academic freedom within a faith-based context. Now it would seem to be the LGBTQIA2S+ issue that is causing problems for the evangelical churches.”
“There is no consensus among Christians on this subject,” Dr. Stringham said. “I’m an Anglican and… within the worldwide Anglican communion, there are differences of opinion with respect to same-sex marriage. It’s allowed in the Anglican Church of Canada but not in England, for example. So given that there are differences of opinion within a single denomination, why would we expect a Christian university with faculty, staff, and students from a variety of Christian denominations to hold exactly the same view? Goodness, if you can’t have healthy conversations about these matters at TWU, where can you?”
“The academic freedom policy should ensure that people at TWU can have varying opinions and discuss these things with collegiality, without it [being] treated as a faith test,” she continued.
Regarding the climate at TWU towards women faculty who support feminist perspectives, and gender and sexual minorities, she said, “In my last year at TWU (2019-20) it was clear that President Husbands was reverting to a tokenism and hand picking approach to appointments instead of adopting best practices regarding equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI).”
Dr. Robynne Healey, Professor of History and Co-director of the Gender Studies Institute, also spoke to Dr. Jule’s concern. “There’s a lot of backlash against those who interrogate issues of gender that some evangelicals find uncomfortable,” she said. “Christian scholars experience this. Historians Kristin Kobes Du Mez at Calvin University and Beth Allison Barr at Baylor University have been vilified on social media by evangelicals who dislike the conclusions presented in their recent books Jesus and John Wayne and The Making of Biblical Womanhood. In some cases, Du Mez and Barr have been purposefully misrepresented to generate further backlash and attacks against them.”
“Most recently,” Dr. Healey said, “in the Canadian context, we are just learning that an independent investigation found evidence of sexual misconduct by Bruxy Cavey, lead pastor of the Toronto megachurch The Meeting House. Danielle Strickland, another pastor in the church, has resigned in solidarity with the victim. Issues of power are at play in all of these cases. As Christian scholars, we must engage in these conversations. Shying away from them perpetuates a culture where the abuse of power goes unchecked.”
Despite these discouragements, in her famously generous tone, Dr. Jule still believes “Trinity has a lot to offer.”
Following her career at TWU, Dr. Jule will assume the role of Dean for the Faculty of Education, Community, and Human Development at University of the Fraser Valley, effective July 1, 2022. “I’ve had a wonderful time at Trinity and I'm moving to the next chapter and that's the story… There's been more pain and disappointment than it needed to have.”
Amidst everything, Dr. Jule maintains the students have been the “biggest blessings” of her life and the “students never let me down” throughout her time at the university.
“The students at Trinity are exceptional,” she said, “and many of them I remain in touch with over the years. I hope that their experiences at Trinity are very affirming and that they sense a real joy and enthusiasm about their lives and what they have to offer the world. I feel incredibly privileged to have been part of that for years and years.”
During the interview, it was clear Dr. Jule felt torn between sharing her experience and the possibility for it to implicate the wider TWU community.
Ultimately, she believes her mistreatment centers on a handful of individuals––including the “change of leadership in both the President and the Board Chair” and the criticisms leveled in the Provost’s Dean review. Dr. Jule concluded that “the hospitality many [faculty] were encouraging was being silenced.”
“You know, maybe this story is just my story,” she said. “And this was my own journey. And these are the moments that happened to me on my journey. But do they represent the larger story?”
Only time will tell.