Dean of Theology and Christian Ministry Allegedly Fired Leaving Faculty, Community Members Shocked and Upset

Photo credit to Roman Eugeniusz on Wikimedia Commons.

Mark Maddix, Point Loma Nazarene University’s Dean of Theology and Christian Ministry, who was on sabbatical this semester, told several colleagues Wednesday evening that he had been fired.

According to three professors who requested anonymity, April 5 was the first day his departure was brought up in meetings. The Point attempted to attend these meetings but was not allowed in. As of April 5, the professors said they had not received formal communication from Kerry Fulcher, Provost and Chief Academic Officer, regarding Maddix’s alleged firing. 

“There’s been no official conversation. Something has transpired without assistance,” a professor said. 

The Point received initial word on April 5 that Maddix was allegedly fired from a professor who requested anonymity. However, Maddix was said to be fired three weeks earlier on March 15 by Fulcher, according to email communications sent out by Lauren Cazares, PLNU alum and founder of the Loma LGBTQIA+ Alumni & Allies Coalition. 

According to Cazares’ email, Fulcher fired Maddix for “insubordination for disclosing information about an employee to other employees.” 

The employee referenced in Cazares’ email was a PLNU alum and previously an adjunct professor, Melissa Tucker. 

Cazares’ email said that in a meeting between Maddix and Fulcher earlier in the year, Fulcher said Tucker would not be allowed to return to PLNU as an adjunct based on her affirmation of the LGBTQ+ community. 

Tucker has been teaching as an adjunct at PLNU since 2015. In 2021, she decided to relinquish her Nazarene ordination credentials.

“I relinquished my ordination credentials to be able to live more fully into a sense of personal and professional integrity and to accept a pastoral position at Normal Heights United Methodist Church, an open and affirming church,” according to a statement published on her personal website, Tierra Spiritual Care

She said she believed herself to be in “excellent standing” with the university until January of 2023 when she was told that she would no longer be invited back to teach because of her “progressive views on human sexuality,” according to her statement. 

“I was deeply disappointed,” Tucker wrote. “What I agreed to as an adjunct per my contract was to ‘respect and support’ the covenant of the school, which contains a statement rejecting sexual relationships outside of heterosexual marriage. I upheld this contract with full integrity; I did so by not explicitly sharing my views with my students in the classroom setting, which is consistent with my pedagogical practice regardless of subject matter.”

Cazares’ email further said, “Maddix did not feel he could express dissent… Maddix later defended Tucker in an email to faculty of the School of Theology and Christian Ministry… Maddix stated that he disagreed with Provost’ decision, but felt that it was not up for negotiation.” Cazares’ email stated Maddix was fired for these reasons. 

Tucker’s statement said, “Mark Maddix has now been fired from PLNU as a result of his involvement in my dismissal from the adjunct pool. There is so much loss to grieve.”

Feelings of distress and dismay are what two professors described as their reactions when hearing of the alleged firing.

“For me, this relationship goes back a long time. It’s going to take a bit to rest with it,” a professor said.

Karl Martin, PLNU professor and chair of the faculty council, is the point person between administration and faculty and has been in discussions with faculty regarding Maddix. 

“My role as faculty council chair is to try to listen to the concerns of the faculty and try to help the administration understand that,” Martin said.

In his position, he said, to his understanding, there was no communication regarding Maddix’s employment given to faculty members until April 6 when Fulcher sent an email to all full time faculty members. In that email, Fulcher used the term “suspended” rather than “fired.” The Point received a copy of Fulcher’s email sent to faculty.

The email states: 

“Good afternoon. As you might be aware of, a decision was made to suspend Dr. Mark Maddix from the School of Theology. It is PLNU’s practice to not publicly announce disciplinary actions against any staff or faculty member. However, with media outlets and social media platforms spreading vastly different renditions of what took place, I wanted you to hear from me directly.

While I cannot provide more specific details on personnel issues, especially with the threat of potential litigation, I can say that the decision to suspend Mark’s employment was not based on anything related to the LGBTQIA+ community. I understand that this single statement is not enough and it won’t answer the questions that you might have. I sincerely apologize that I cannot say more to dispute the narrative that has been spread.

I’m sorry if this situation has caused you any distress or uncertainty about how PLNU employees are valued and treated. Please know that we do not suspect or terminate individuals unless there is due process and cause. Although I won’t be able to provide more details about the situation with Dr. Maddix, please feel free to contact me if you’d like to talk.”

According to a 2016 faculty handbook pdf found online, in the section regarding suspension, a written warning must be issued by the provost if the provost has evidence that a faculty member is demonstrating continued serious neglect “of professional standards, duties, and/or responsibilities as stated in that person’s contract or the Faculty Handbook.” 

Sanctions such as reassignment of teaching duties can then be made if the two written warnings are not followed. 

In the section regarding dismissals, dismissals can be issued for multiple reasons, including “conduct or teaching inconsistent with the educational and religious values of the University.” Additionally, the handbook stated, “the president may, if circumstances justify, suspend a faculty member at any time during a dismissal action following (III.H.6). A suspension which is intended to be final will be treated as a dismissal.”

As part of the procedure, the handbook additionally states faculty members may request a joint meeting with the provost and the president.

Martin said that he is not aware of an exit interview occurring between Maddix, Fulcher and President Bob Brower. 

Although Martin said that Maddix is an at-will administrator, meaning he can be removed by the provost at any time, Martin said he felt the lack of communication was concerning. 

“I am troubled by the removal of an administrator over an academic unit without conversation with the faculty in that academic unit,” Martin said. “That’s what I’m responsible for monitoring. That’s what the faculty is concerned with. I know if I were a member of the School of Theology and Christian Ministry, and I found out that an administrator I admired and respected was being removed from his position, I’d be concerned that that move was done without asking me what I thought about how that administrator was doing.”

Community members and fellow colleagues in Christian higher education likewise have expressed their concerns on social media since the news of the alleged firing became known. Thomas Jay Oord, Director at the Center for Open and Relational Theology at Northwind Theological Seminary, posted on Facebook. Oord outlined his frustrations. As of 1:18 p.m. April 7, the post has garnered 423 reactions, 174 comments and 35 shares. 

The Point reached out to Maddix via email. Maddix responded, “I am not at liberty to say anything other than I was fired and I hired an attorney.”

According to Cazares’ email, Maddix has not signed a release/non-disclosure agreement, which would bar him from talking to the media. However, Martin said that he could still be bound by the faculty handbook procedure.

Martin said faculty in the School of Theology and Christian Ministry are under unique pressure from the administration because of their department’s connection to and affiliation with the university’s sponsoring denomination — the Church of the Nazarene. 

“They’re just in a really different place than the rest of the faculty,” Martin said. “So, they are, rightly or wrongly, scrutinized in ways that the rest of the faculty are not. Because of that, any position that they take that the administration believes could be a point of tension with the sponsoring denomination is going to be especially problematic.”

However, issues between Maddix and Fulcher are not new, according to Martin. 

“I know of one situation that was an issue, but I also know that there’s a long history between the two administrators,” Martin said. 

The Point attempted to reach Fulcher at his office, by phone, email, LinkedIn and Facebook on April 5 and 6 and received no response. PLNU is currently on Easter recess from April 6 to April 10.  

The Point contacted the former dean of the School of Theology and Christian Ministry, Ron Benefiel. Benefiel declined to comment.

“At this early stage, what we hope for is communication, faculty care and accountability,” a professor said.

Community members and alum are taking action too. Cazares created a joint statement on April 6 which expresses frustration about the university’s decision and calls for “the resignation of Kerry Fulcher from Point Loma Nazarene University,” according to the statement. As of April 7, the statement has 364 signatures.  

Statement from Lauren Cazares’ Instagram.

As information continues to surface, follow The Point on Instagram (@thepointweekly) and to stay up to date on developments.

Written By Sarah Gleason and Lainie Alfaro