A professor was locked out of his classes and email account without warning in apparent retaliation for criticizing his Christian university’s use of “diversity” and “equity” as criteria for selecting its new president, he and several witnesses told The Federalist.
The Rev. Dr. Greg Schulz was immediately and indefinitely suspended from his classes at Concordia University Wisconsin and banned from campus by interim college President William Cario on Feb. 18, a Friday. That was not formally conveyed to Schulz, however, until his lawyer obtained the suspension letter on Feb. 22, Schulz’s Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty attorney Dan Lennington told The Federalist.
“They told him to ‘recant’ in a memo that they never gave him,” Lennington said in a phone call. Lennington also noted his public interest law firm, which won a high-profile 2016 academic freedom case in Wisconsin’s Supreme Court, has “never heard of something like this” swift ejection of a professor from campus for publicly expressing his views.
Schulz found out about his suspension and campus ban from colleagues after he couldn’t log into his work email on the weekend, said Schulz and his department chair, Dr. Angus Menuge. Menuge said Schulz’s suspension meant that colleagues, several already teaching double courseloads amid a hiring freeze, had to suddenly pick up all of Schulz’s classes.
“I have since contacted the president and asked him to reconsider and I have received no response whatsoever,” Menuge told The Federalist by phone on March 4. Menuge described the suspension as “extraordinarily draconian” and “Kafka-esque” because of not only the reasons Schulz was suspended but also how it was managed.
“Are we being told that you have to mute your Christianity so that it conforms to these ideologies of niceness and all of it? If so, that has a chilling effect on not only academic freedom but also on the Christian conscience,” Menuge said. Especially in a time when many Christians are feeling increasing pressure from cultural Marxism, and amid current efforts to encourage Concordia faculty to stay bold in their Christian scholarship, he said, “This is such an own goal, it really sets us back.”
Christians Not Happy About Their Institution Endorsing Racism
Concordia Wisconsin is a university of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, one of the United States’s largest Christian denominations, with approximately 1.8 million U.S. members. It has approximately 8,000 students, the majority of whom are not Lutherans. The university is located in Mequon, Wis., an upscale suburb of Milwaukee.
The institution with a $107 million annual budget gets significant income from federal student loans. Accepting those loans requires accreditation, which mandates racial policies at odds with Christian teachings about the equal and priceless value of all humans, who are created in God’s image.
Concordia Wisconsin has come under fire from many of its own pastors and members after instituting a Black Student Union and hiring a “director of multicultural engagement” in 2019. The Office of Multicultural Engagement that diversity officer oversees “strives to advance Concordia’s efforts to embed diversity as a transformational force,” according to its web page. That page also states the office trains faculty, staff, and students in “social identities, microaggressions, and implicit bias” and in being “culturally competent.”
The university’s Black Student Union recommends the fact-challenged and racially biased 1619 Project to students, as well as making purchases based on a vendor’s skin color. It also recommended author Ibram X. Kendi’s work. Kendi has stated, “The only remedy to racist discrimination is antiracist discrimination. The only remedy to past discrimination is present discrimination. The only remedy to present discrimination is future discrimination.”
Following Schulz’s suspension, a local Lutheran congregation held a service praying and calling for repentance for the university’s departure from Christian teaching about racial equality.
A public petition to university leaders to reinstate Schulz and repent of publicly endorsing the “diversity, equity, and inclusion” ideology that encourages racial segregation had garnered more than 5,500 signatures as of March 6. Students also delivered their own petition of support for Schulz to Cario, although some are concerned that expressing such support could get them blacklisted and ostracized, Menuge said.
Free Speech Advocates With Lawyers Are Watching
Schulz’s suspension also prompted letters of support from the Academic Freedom Alliance on Feb. 28 and, on March 4, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. Both organizations, which raise funds and pursue lawsuits on behalf of free speech in higher education, called for the university to reinstate Schulz immediately.
“For Concordia University Wisconsin to punish Professor Schulz for engaging in a public discussion of matters of church principles and university governance would have a profound chilling effect on open discourse by professors on this campus and through the Concordia University system,” wrote Princeton University professor Keith Whittington in the AFA letter.
“CUW’s apparent suspension of Schulz without any semblance of due process violates university policy and the terms of Schulz’s contract. FIRE accordingly calls on CUW to immediately reinstate Schulz and ensure any misconduct investigation adheres to CUW’s binding commitments to due process and academic freedom,” wrote FIRE’s Aaron Terr, requesting a response from Cario by March 11.
Controversy Flares Amid Presidential Search
Schulz is a retired U.S. Air Force lieutenant colonel who has two PhDs and teaches for a seminary PhD program. Awarded for his teaching prowess, Schulz has also presented his academic work in universities from England to Hong Kong. The 40th anniversary of his ordination as a minister, he said, will occur this coming summer.
“It’s a wonderful responsibility teaching immortal souls in this age group,” he told The Federalist of his work at Concordia.
Schulz was selected as one of 11 candidates the synod gave Concordia Wisconsin from which to pick a new president. The synod is the ultimate authority over the university. Yet the university’s board of regents decided to dump the synod’s candidate list and start a new search, adding social justice commitments.
Schulz’s article that preceded his suspension focused on the university’s use of racially charged language in its criteria for a new president. That article, which came out in Christian News four days before Schulz’s suspension and was cited in his suspension letter, criticizes the university’s Board of Regents for “publicly announcing their determination to have a president who exhibits a ‘demonstrated belief in and commitment to equity and inclusion’ and who promotes racialized ‘diversity in all its myriad forms.'” These criteria are in the university’s “Presidential Prospectus.”
“While there is no systemic racism at Concordia because we are committed to Christ incarnate and His universal justification of all human beings without exception, there certainly is systemic Woke-ism,” Schulz writes in the article.
In the Feb. 18 letter to Schulz suspending him, obtained by The Federalist, Cario accuses Schulz of “Insubordination; lying to administration about actions taken,” “Conduct unbecoming a Christian,” and “Not following faculty grievance or dispute process.” The letter also refers to “several complaints from students and at least one from a faculty member” apparently through the university’s bias and harassment reporting system.
Bias Reports Instead of Repentance
While Cario declined through a university spokeswoman Federalist requests for comment, he wrote of the situation to students and faculty on Feb. 24: “Despite my effort to meet with the individual outside of class time to discuss the situation using biblical principles as outlined in Matthew 18, my request was rejected.”
Menuge and Schulz said this, and claims Schulz did not bring his concerns to the administration before his Christian News article, are false. It was amid his attempts to schedule a meeting with Cario to discuss the article that Schulz was suddenly suspended, Schulz and Menuge said. Menuge said he was copied on multiple emails verifying this.
Schulz said he also offered several times — via verifiable emails — to meet with the university’s Board of Regents and with Cario to discuss his concerns about the university’s dive into “woke” policies and language. He said these attempts were ignored. So, because his university’s endorsement of racism has been public, Schulz said, his criticism has also been public, in line with the Bible’s command in 1 Timothy 5.
“You don’t practice woke procedures against people who are bringing up issues of urgent discussion,” Schulz said. “I suppose that maybe to make a point what I should have done was just kept entering complaints on that God-awful bias reporting system on the website. But that’s not the way real people should operate.”
The Reconciliation That Wasn’t
Schulz and Cario attended a Feb. 25 “reconciliation” meeting moderated by the most immediate church authority over the situation, Rev. Dr. John Wille. At the meeting, “There was no engagement with scripture nor was there any engagement with the arguments in my essay. In fact there was no discussion at all except this discussion of privileging and hurt feelings,” Schulz said.
Rev. Dr. Peter Scaer, a seminary professor who attended as Schulz’s witness, told The Federalist that while the meeting did not resolve the conflict, it “clarified things for me. It became patently obvious that the charges against Schulz are ridiculous. And by the end of the meeting I said, ‘Is this all you guys got? I’m not angry about these things, but when the church sees this, nobody’s going to take this seriously.'”
Scaer described the charges against Schulz as “petty,” based on “feelings,” and most importantly ignoring the core issue of Concordia’s apparent indulgence of anti-Christian racial separatism.
“Our goal is to make every effort to encourage and gain repentance from the other side,” Schulz said. “I don’t accept this notion that everybody is at fault. That’s a patronizing notion at this point. I don’t think that I’ve done anything wrong. I’m still willing to accept correction if somebody can point something out scripturally, but I don’t think that’s going to be forthcoming.”
A ‘Dispute Resolution Process’ Nobody Can Find
The university administration and leaders of its Board of Regents declined to comment to The Federalist for this article, referring inquiries to Lisa Liljegren, the university’s assistant vice president for communications. Liljegren sent this statement: “Regarding the suspension of Rev. Dr. Greg Schulz, Concordia University is currently abiding by the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod dispute resolution process, under the direction of Rev. Dr. John Wille, president of the South Wisconsin District of the LCMS. In conformity with the dispute resolution process, we can share no more information at this time.”
Asked for further details about that “process,” Liljegren could not provide any information, instead referring The Federalist to the LCMS. Two LCMS spokesmen contacted last week referred The Federalist back to the university and Wille. A voicemail requesting comment left on Wille’s cell phone last week was not returned.
LCMS President Rev. Matthew Harrison “is well aware of the challenges the ‘woke’ culture poses to the church’s very valuable institutions. He is deeply committed to the fact that CUW belongs to the congregations of the Synod, and these congregations have entrusted theological supervision of the Universities to the President of the Synod,” an LCMS spokesman wrote in a Friday email to The Federalist. “This controversy erupted when the Board of Regents rejected the very capable, theologically competent candidates given to it by the Prior Approval committee. Under Harrison’s leadership, the Church has elected similar, highly competent, theologically astute leaders at many of our beloved Concordias, and he intends to see the same at CUW.”
None of these entities responsible for the university’s governance provided any information about the next steps for resolving Schulz’s suspension. So far, a lawsuit has not been filed.
“I hope they figure it out soon because everybody’s thinking if that’s all it takes — to disagree with the direction of the university — to suspend somebody, then academic freedom means nothing because you can’t use it to robustly disagree when you think there’s a problem,” Menuge said.
This article has been corrected since publication.