What do you do when you receive a termination notice for “financial reasons” from the Christian college where you’ve been teaching for the last 26 years?
If you’re Gary Yamasaki, first you can’t believe the termination is happening at all, especially since you’re being given notice just 2 1/2 weeks before Christmas. As you begin recovering from the shock, you mourn greatly with sighs too deep for words. You work at settling your personal situation. You look to your family, colleagues, friends, church, and others for support. You find ways to honour your years in ministry. You work at reconciliation. And you set about trying to make things better so no one else will have to experience the same kind of painful process.
The journey from disbelief to constructive response has been long and arduous, saturated in both prayer and pain. Six months after the termination meeting, both the termination and the way it was communicated and carried out still hurt, but instead of simply walking away, Gary has chosen to remain connected and to work toward positive change and reconciliation. This may not be possible with everyone or in every situation, but here are some of the positive outcomes so far:
His church denomination that is part-owner of the College has acknowledged Gary’s years of faithful service with a formal thank you at its annual meeting, complete with a standing ovation–the first of several standing ovations that he has received in the last few months.
Faculty, staff, and students honoured him at the final chapel service of the year with tributes for his creativity, commitment, humility, integrity, and thoughtfulness evident in his relationships on campus, his scholarship, teaching, and impact on the lives of thousands of students.
The College has honoured his years of faithful service “exhibited by his creative teaching and his commitment to biblical scholarship” by naming him Professor Emeritus. He will also remain associated with the College as a scholar and writer-in-residence for the next two years, with office space provided as part of the College library.
The College President has apologized for the timing of the termination notice and some aspects of the process that he now realizes were not handled well and added undue pressure.
The Board Chair initiated a meeting with Gary to hear his experience and acknowledge the pain caused by the termination decision and the way it was communicated and carried out.
The Association of Biblical Higher Education, which is the accrediting body for the College, has been informed of the concerns around the termination and process. In response, the ABHE is now requiring the College to develop a clear grievance procedure, as well as a faculty handbook clarifying policies and procedures.
In light of his experience, Gary is also asking for a number of additions to College policy including the following:
- No employment termination notices for financial reasons shall be given in the month of December so that employees may celebrate the Christmas season without the added stress of a termination.
- The faculty rep shall be informed prior to any faculty termination and shall be present at the termination meeting as a support to the faculty member.
- A minimum of three weeks shall be given for the employee to decide on any settlement offer. (In the U.S. this time frame is required for workers over the age of 40, which allows a reasonable time for discernment. Reference: Older Workers Benefits Protection Act, which is part of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act).
- In any termination process, all settlement communications shall take place in good faith. Any confidentiality requirement on settlement terms shall be mutually binding both on the College and the employee facing termination. College confidentiality shall extend as needed to those required as part of the administration. Employee confidentiality shall extend as needed to immediate family members, professional advisors, faculty rep, and trusted spiritual friends at the employee’s discretion, so the employee is not cut off from the support of Christian community during the stressful time of termination.
- In any termination, the College shall respect all Canadian human rights provisions. These provisions provide protection against discrimination, and all employers need to be aware that this includes age as well as race, gender, and other protections for employees.
- The College “shall provide a fair and reasonable process and exercise Christian charity. . . . In taking dismissal action, institutions shall demonstrate Christian love to the individual” (from the Association of Biblical Higher Education, Commission on Accreditation Manual).
Gary is thankful for the many people who have expressed concern for him personally, who pray for God to open an even better door or window for him. He too holds on to hope for what God may have in store for him. But his greater concern is for institutional change, that the College and other Christian organizations might improve the ethics and practice of personnel. To that end, Gary has submitted his list of recommendations to the College Board, and is now waiting for their response whether any of the policy changes listed above will be adopted or even considered.
Does your church or Christian organization already have similar provisions in place? What’s missing? Can this article contribute to a positive conversation in your setting? Please scroll down to share this article or leave a reply. Due to the sensitive nature of employment matters, all comments will be moderated before appearing on this site.
Some may wonder whether it’s appropriate to share any of this in a public blog. Most personnel matters are confidential for good reason, for the sake of both employee and employer. Speaking up feels risky. But since Gary’s job termination for financial reasons was announced publicly, there seems good reason for some public accountability while also respecting any confidential information.
Too often, such situations are left to fester instead of working toward positive change and reconciliation–sadly ironic for an Anabaptist context where we say that “reconciliation is the centre of our work.” This is the work of reconciliation in the church–difficult and painful and slower than we might hope, perhaps not well understood or welcomed by all, but part of our conviction as followers of Jesus. So with Gary’s permission, I share this part of his story, and continue to pray for more positive outcomes.
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