Popular writing professor Kent Gramm recently resigned because he didn’t want to share details about his divorce with college administrators. Since the story broke, it has been picked up by media outlets all over the area. Here’s my original story.
English professor resigns
Editor in Chief
Pulitzer Prize-nominated English professor Kent Gramm has resigned from his position and will leave Wheaton at the end of the spring semester.
Gramm and his wife are in the process of obtaining a divorce.
Wheaton’s faculty handbook states that “employee[s] (or applicants), where divorce or divorce and remarriage are involved, will be carefully evaluated regarding final divorce circumstances, resulting attitudes regarding the high biblical expectation and potential for positive ministry as an employee of Wheaton College.
“The College … will consider for retention or employment divorced, and divorced and remarried individuals when there is reasonable evidence that the circumstances that led to the final dissolution of the marriage related to desertion or adultery on the part of the other partner.”
Gramm said in an e-mail that he did not file an appeal with the college.
“Exceptions … necessitate discussing one’s personal life with one’s employer,” Gramm said. “I would in fact consider this whole matter too personal to discuss, but I have told the reason for my leaving to my students … because I think that students tend to graduate with an idea that they should conform to an imaginary picture of the Christian life that professors seem to ‘model.’
“But in fact many students come from divorced households, and probably half of them will go through divorce themselves. I want them to know that God does not abandon you when your life does not turn out the way you always used to think it should.”
Provost Stan Jones said Wheaton’s divorce policy is meant to ensure that faculty are strong spiritual mentors for students.
“The college is concerned not just about people’s professional expertise. We don’t just say ‘does the custodian clean the bathrooms well?’ ‘does the professor deliver good material?’ but we ask if the person contributes to the whole-person development of the Wheaton student.”
Jones said the college usually deals with two or three cases yearly of divorced applicants for college positions and once or twice a year with faculty or staff divorces.
“Many churches are responding to divorce by saying that it’s too messy, this is not our business, we’ll just be redemptive. This response is problematic because you’re basically declaring divorce not to be a moral issue. It doesn’t seem that Scripture gives us that latitude,” he said. “We’re inextricably in an extremely messy situation when we try to live out this policy.”
There is no option for an employee who chooses not to discuss the issue with the administration, Jones said. “We have to abide by our policy, which calls for a decision based on the circumstances of the divorce,” he said.
Jones said that the administration considers divorce issues on a case-by-case basis, and the specifics of who initiated the divorce are not as important as the reason for divorce.
“We have retained people who initiated the divorce and people who were not the initiators; the question is the grounds for the divorce,” Jones said in a follow-up e-mail.
“Dr. Gramm is recognized widely as a very talented, distinguished writer, so it’s a tragedy to lose him,” Jones said.
Gramm has been on faculty at Wheaton since 1988 and received tenure in 1992.
“I liked the feel of the place when I visited here once, and I stayed because of the students here and because Harvard seems to have misplaced my résumé,” he said in an e-mail. “This college has been my career.”
While at Wheaton, Gramm has worked with the Wheaton in England program, as overseer of the Lowell-Grabill Creative Writing Contest and as a Kodon adviser.
Chair of the English department Sharon Coolidge said Gramm has been helpful in the English department. “He has been instrumental in helping us start the writing concentration and a huge anchor for that.”
Gramm was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in 2002 for his book, “November: Lincoln’s Elegy at Gettysburg.” Gramm is the only member of the English department to have been nominated for a Pulitzer, according to Coolidge.
Coolidge is currently reassigning writing classes that Gramm was scheduled to teach next year. For the fall semester, English professor Nicole Mazzarella will be teaching fiction writing, and professor Jeff Davis will be teaching the English department’s senior seminar.
Gramm is still deciding what to do next. “I plan to live happily ever after,” he said. “The next time someone says to you, ‘Hello, welcome to Walmart,’ be nice to him. I already have clothing with a W on it.”