The Seattle area is home to many different universities including the University of Washington, Seattle Pacific University, and Seattle University. One of these universities has recently been in the spotlight for its decision regarding the hiring process. Seattle Pacific University (SPU) is a private Christian University that has been making headlines after they refused to hire an interim professor. It all started when professor Jeaux Rinedahl filed a lawsuit against the University. Rinedahl was an adjunct professor that was hoping to be hired as a full-time professor.
At the beginning of this year, Rinedahl filed a lawsuit against the school for discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. He believes that even though he was qualified for the position, he was denied on the basis of his sexuality. In an article written by SPU’s newspaper, Rinedahl’s account of what happened was discussed. He states that he received a phone call from one of the school’s deans. This dean then explained to him “that to be a full-time faculty member you have to sign an agreement that you are a heterosexual, there was an allusion to that… she didn’t reference any policy or anything, I was just told that I didn’t qualify because I was not heterosexual.” (The Falcon) Discrimination on the basis of sexuality has been considered unlawful since 2019 when sexual orientation was added to the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Within a week of the lawsuit being filed, SPU announced its position in the lawsuit. SPU released a statement commenting on the many factors that are involved in the situation. The University states that “Mr. Rinedahl’s lawsuit raises questions of Christian practice which are being debated vigorously throughout the global church.” They close their first statement on the topic with the statement that “Since our founding, we have accepted students who desire a quality private education that is student-centered and shaped by our Christian faith, regardless of their beliefs, backgrounds, or identities.” (SPU) According to the Falcon, a similar version of this statement had been previously made by the school, which had been removed, which states that “The university does not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation but does have religious-based conduct expectations for regular faculty and staff positions.” (The Falcon)
As the lawsuit became more public, students and faculty have shown their support to Rinedahl’s lawsuit by hosting on-campus protests, a demonstration in front of the administration’s home, and vigils. The students and faculty have taken a position in the controversy and have been repeatedly calling on SPU’s Board of Trustees to alter or remove the school’s statement of sexuality. Faculty and students have written many letters to the Board of Trustees stating that their statement on human sexuality is discriminatory, some go as far as to say that the statement is a different practice than the Christianity that they preach. Even with students, alumni, staff, and faculty united, SPU’s Board of Trustees failed to deny the request for the removal of their human sexuality statement. An executive of SPU sent out an email to the university’s population stating that the statement would remain in place “… the Board of Trustees Chair Cedric Davis informed faculty and staff of the board’s recent decision to keep in place certain conduct expectations for faculty and staff related to human sexuality.” (The Falcon) This statement in the interview was followed by religious resources that may be able to help the students during this time of confusion within the school.
This resulted in the student body and a coalition of faculty and staff fighting the board’s decision to keep their statement of human sexuality. Meetings were held and a decision was made, between student groups and the coalition, that if the statement is not removed by May 1st, 2021, then there would be actions taken against the University. Many students and teachers are hurt by the fact that SPU’s statement didn’t explain why the statement of human sexuality must remain in place or why it is important that it remains in place. This sparked faculty members to create a “vote of no confidence” stating that they are not in support of the policy and/or the people upholding it. SPU responded to this “vote of no confidence” by stating that “The Board did not arrive at its decision quickly or lightly, and the board is not changing the University’s employment policy related to human sexuality. However, the Board will be convening with a goal of working out a process for dialogue with the community.” (The Falcon).
The students and the faculty have been commenting on SPU’s history of discriminatory policies. A writer from the Seattle Times gives his account of the school’s policies during his time at the university during the 1980s. At the end of his article, he states that “yet in 2021, the SPU Board of Trustees demands that the school continue a charade of living in a false world, the spiritual malpractice of silencing sexuality behind Cheshire smiles, and the destruction of souls with policy borne of perverse biblical interpretation.” (The Seattle Times) Lansing Laws, a student at the university thinks that since the board hasn’t offered a serious explanation that they’re afraid that SPU “will try and brush it under the rug.” Another student doesn’t think that much will change, “especially since they need the majority to agree on the change, which doesn’t seem feasible [at this point].” When the students are asked about how they think the lawsuit will go, there are many mixed feelings. Some think that Rinedahl has the grounds to win the lawsuit, but that SPU “will settle it out of court.” Others think that because SPU is a private religious institution, it will win on the basis of religious freedom.
As of the beginning of May, the lawsuit and the story are still developing, but faculty, alumni, and students are adamant about making the board change their statements and their policies. Lots of support is going to Jeaux Rinedahl and his family from the SPU community. Ultimately, people have their eyes on the Seattle Pacific University and how they will handle the future developments of this situation.