The Yale-Berkeley agreement is signed by Yale’s Richard Levin, second from left, and Berkeley’s Christian Sonne while Frederick Borsch, Berkeley’s new acting dean, and Rebecca Chopp, Yale Divinity dean, look on.

Photograph by
Michael Marsland

The board of trustees of Berkeley Divinity School and Yale University have agreed to renew their thirty-year-old collaboration--an agreement that came at a cost. It was reached only after allegations of fiscal mismanagement led to the resignation of Berkeley's dean, the dismissal of a Yale finance director, the announcement of an investigation by the Connecticut attorney general and a stack of newspaper stories.

Founded as an Episcopal seminary in 1854 in Middletown, Connecticut, and relocated to New Haven in 1928, Berkeley operated an independent graduate theological program until 1971, when declining enrollment and resources led it to seek affiliation with Yale Divinity School. Out of those negotiations emerged an unusual partnership in which Berkeley sold its campus to Yale (providing the land for today's Yale School of Management), disbanded its faculty, and reduced its degrees to a "Diploma in Anglican Studies." Episcopal theological students, including candidates for the priesthood, enrolled at YDS while Berkeley supplied a center and spiritual formation for them and other students interested in Anglican spiritual and theological perspectives. A small Berkeley administrative and governance structure remained in place, led by a dean selected by the Berkeley board (and ratified by Yale). It was quartered in an old mansion across the street from Sterling Quadrangle where Yale Divinity School is located. Berkeley continued to be accredited by the Association of Theological Schools as a full-fledged graduate theological school and maintained a modest endowment fund, for which its board is ultimately responsible.

As the conflicted leadership of former Yale Divinity Dean Richard Wood drew to a close in spring of 2001, Berkeley Dean R. William Franklin was able to look back over his first three years at the helm with a certain measure of satisfaction. Episcopal enrollment at Yale Divinity School had held steady at just under a third of the student body. Franklin and his Berkeley board had been increasingly influential in exercising their modest independent clout in support of YDS's continuing to educate students for ministry as well as for lives of scholarship. Invited to become more tightly integrated into the Yale Divinity operations by taking up space in the reconfigured and renovated quadrangle, Franklin had led Berkeley supporters in raising $2.4 million in contributions and pledges to pay for the Berkeley space and the construction of an Episcopal chapel on the Yale Divinity campus. 

Then began the Yale administrators' examination of the operations of Berkeley and Yale Divinity School preparatory to the once-a-decade renewal of the affiliation agreement. By mid-August it had become clear to Franklin and his staff that this had ceased being a routine procedure. The examiners uncovered a financial management system far too informal for their taste, and expenditures they didn't understand or felt improper. They also apparently developed an unsympathetic view of Berkeley's semi-independence and its relationship to the Episcopal Church. 

Berkeley board chair Christian Sonne convened a special meeting of the trustees September 18 to review the examiners' report, a document that has never been made public. Richard Levin, Yale's president, attended the meeting, and, said Rowan Greer, a retired YDS professor who was present, demanded that the board fire Franklin. 

Franklin declined to discuss the events that led to his resignation from Berkeley, but referred In Trust to others--including Greer--who he said would.

Meantime the university summarily dismissed Judy Stebbins, the YDS director of administration and finance, who had worked for Yale for thirty years and was much loved by many divinity school faculty members. A quarter of Stebbins's time was devoted to Berkeley matters. A major issue for the examiners--which Sonne characterized as an unstoppable and undeflectable "administrative army"--was their discovery that Stebbins had maintained a bank account for Berkeley that was outside the purview of the university's central financial system, and through which substantial amounts of money flowed.  

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"Judy Stebbins had a strange way of handling money that did not involve a lot of paper trails," Sonne said.

Confronted by the report and Levin's intervention at the September meeting, Greer said, the Berkeley board voted to create a committee to study the details and prepare a response; it also hired an outside auditing firm to examine Berkeley's finances. But it declined to request Franklin's resignation, a response Greer said Levin called "unacceptable." 

In October the board convened again, according to Greer, who this time was not present but who learned the details of the gathering from others who were. He described the board constituting itself as a sort of court, which adopted a motion exonerating Franklin of any improprieties--although some abstained and the vote was not unanimous.

Despite the board action, however, said Greer, members understood informally that it would be best if Franklin resigned, and friends said Franklin was saying privately he wasn't sure that the Yale he was now discovering was the sort of place he wanted to work.

Under particularly difficult pressure were three Berkeley board members seated as Yale representatives: YDS Dean Rebecca Chopp; Diana Kleiner, Yale's vice provost; and the Right Reverend Victoria Matthews, Anglican bishop of Edmonton, Alberta, a member of the Yale Corporation.

By mid-December the Episcopal Diocese of New York, the city where Franklin had continued to live (and where his wife was a professor at Columbia University), had created the unpaid position of "Bishop's Scholar-in-Residence" for him and he was preparing to announce his resignation from Berkeley to accept the post. 

But someone leaked a copy of the still confidential report to the Hartford Courant newspaper. On December 18 it blazoned on its front page "Yale Dean Expected To Resign." The first paragraph proclaimed that a confidential audit ostensibly "revealed" that Franklin "had mismanaged tens of thousands of dollars and used some to pay for his daughter's Harvard education." The Yale student newspaper later referred to a "crime" having being disclosed.

The report has never been made public but private conflict quickly became public scandal. Retired Episcopal Bishop of Los Angeles Frederick H. Borsch replaced Franklin as Berkeley's dean in March. He was an observer a few days later at the signing of the new agreement which, like its predecessors, is for a term of ten years. For the first time, it grants Yale the explicit authority to terminate the employment of the Berkeley dean.

[YDS Dean Rebecca Chopp, a member of the Berkeley board, said she did not share Rowan Greer's interpretations of events of the autumn, but declined to provide any other information about the investigation on the grounds that it was confidential. She became a board member of In Trust Inc., in January 2002.]

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