Turmoil At St. Herman’s: Board Member Protests +Nikolai’s Action
A letter from a Board member of St. Herman’s Seminary in Kodiak, Alaska, to other Board members, made public today, strongly protests the recent firing of St. Herman’s Associate Dean of Academics, Paul Sidebottom, by Bishop Nikolai; bemoans the continuing loss of faculty and staff under Bishop Nikolai; and suggests one reason for the school’s Rector, and Chancellor of the Diocese, Archimandrite Isidore’s (Brittain) current leave of absence. The letter, from Ben Ardinger, a noted Kodiak businessman and major contributor to both Holy Resurrection Cathedral in Kodiak and St. Herman’s for years, reads:
“July 25, 2007
Dear Fellow Board Members,
It has come to my attention that Mr. Paul Sidebottom has received an e-mail notifying him that his position as Academic Dean has been terminated on the advice of the “Executive Committee” of the Board.
I wish to express my opposition to this action! The Seminary has no Dean, Academic Dean, no Librarian, no music instructor, and its “Rector” whatever his function or duties may be, is in some sort of rehabilitation treatment. Thus the Seminary appears to be without any authority on-campus. I strongly object to this action!
It is detrimental not only to the seven students who are still on campus and its image.
I was not contacted as a Board Member and wish to express my strong objection and would recommend that Mr. Sidebottom be reinstated immediately! If you agree with me please express that agreement in writing not only to myself, but to Bishop Nikolai as well.
At the center of this new controversy is Paul Sidebottom, a well-liked and respected member of the seminary community, whose sudden firing remained unexplained until yesterday. According to the Orthodox Christian Mission Center (OCMC), which continues to list Sidebottom as one of its missionaries:
“Paul Sidebottom is originally from western Kansas. In 1994, still as a high school student, he converted to the Orthodox Christian Faith from Anglicanism. His home parish has remained All Saints Orthodox Christian Church in Salina, Kansas. In 1999 Paul obtained his BA in history from Kent State University in Ohio. Education has been the focus of Paul’s work experience. He has held teaching and administrative assistant positions at high schools and a community college. After graduating from university, Paul lived briefly in Greece. The purpose of his going was to see Orthodox culture in its context.
Paul returned to the States, having decided to enter seminary. He has studied at both St. Vladimir’s and St. Tikhon’s seminaries. Upon his graduation with the M.Div. from St. Tikhon’s Orthodox Theological Seminary in 2004, he made pilgrimage to Mt. Athos. But before leaving, Paul made the two-year commitment to serve as a missionary in Alaska. His ministry there is unique. In Alaska, Paul’s missionary efforts commence in a historically Orthodox Christian community of North America, directly under the protection of St. Herman, whose relics reside in Kodiak.
Paul will serve as associate dean of academics and instructor at St. Herman Seminary. Aside from his teaching responsibilities, Paul’s administrative goal is for the Seminary to obtain state accreditation.”
OCANews.org contacted Sidebottom in Kodiak, but he declined comment, at this time, beyond the following:
“For the present I must attend to my former students and then, my personal belongings.”
As Ardinger points out, it has been a difficult year for St. Herman’s:
• Shortly after Bishop Nikolai appointed his diocesan Chancellor, Archmandrite Isidore (Brittain) to be the new Rector of the Seminary, Fr. Isidore took a sudden leave of absence, on Ascension Day, May 17th, and according to Ardinger, left for a substance abuse treatment program in the lower 48. OCANews.org has confirmed this.
• The former Dean, Fr. Chad Hatfield, left St. Herman’s this year to become the new Chancellor of St. Vladimir’s Seminary in New York. The search for a new Dean has been unsuccessful “due to a lack of qualified applicants”. The search, which was to close in April 2007, remains ongoing.
• The Librarian, Mark Harrison was terminated in March by Bishop Nikolai. Harrison was fired because he wrote to OCANews.org. He is now pursuing graduate studies in Seattle.
• The Associate Dean of Academics, Paul Sidebottom has also been terminated by Bishop Nikolai. Yesterday, after several days delay, the Bishop informed the whole Board that the reason for the unexpected firing was because of previously unannounced “budget cuts”.
The shrinking of the seminary staff and faculty is paralleled by the decreasing number of Board members.
Neither the seminary website nor the diocesan website lists the current Board of Trustees. According to a report issued to the 2005 All American Council there were 13 members of the board in 2005. In May 2006 the following ten were listed: Mr. Cliff Argue (a Seattle businessman) Subdeacon Simeon Heckman, Archpriest Chad Hatfield, Bishop Nikolai, Archimandrite Isidore, Benjamin Ardinger, Elizabeth Slanta (Director of Illiasi, the Seminary fund-raising organization, from Alexandria, Virginia), Minadora Jacobs (Assistant to Bishop Nikolai), Matushka Mary Buletza and Margaret Pysarchyk (a laywoman for Lorain Ohio). Since that time, Matushuka Mary Buletza has resigned as well. The Bishop has designated four of the remaining members to compose an “Executive Committee”; that is, himself, Archimandrite Isidore (his chancellor), Minadora Jacobs (his assistant) and Mr. Argue.
The turmoil at St. Herman’s has not escaped notice by the wider Kodiak community. Mike Rostad, a writer for the Kodiak Daily Mirror, offered this comment on the Orthodox Forum today in response to the news of Sidebottom’s firing:
“My name is Mike Rostad. I have lived in Kodiak since 1978. From1982-1995 I held various positions at the seminary, including instructor of English and Reading, Oral Life and Study Skills,bookstore manager, PR man and cook. This past school year I taught composition to freshman students at the behest of former dean, Fr. Chad Hatfield. I worked with Paul Sidebottom and was impressed with his commitment to the seminary, the students and Orthodoxy.
It was a pleasure working with him. I was dismayed to hear that he was “released” from the seminary. But I must say I was not surprised in light of what is going on in the diocese. Paul has been the link to Fr. Chad, who brought the school back into good standing after its awful mismanagement wrought by deans in the Bishop Innocent administration. It appears that, unless something drastic is done to correct the course, the seminary will once again be like a rudderless ship, going nowhere.”
In this, St. Herman’s does not seem to be unique.