My statement on Dr. Dennis E. Hensley
July 12, 2018
Dear friends in the writing community,
I am grateful for Taylor University and the opportunity it gave me to teach writing for 15 years to some of the most amazing and talented students. The Taylor Professional Writers Program is simply the best, and it was indeed an honor to serve.
I am also grateful for Dr. Dennis E. Hensley, who not only gave me the privilege to teach, but opened up so many doors in publishing and academia for me and hundreds of others. He was simply the best writing teacher and mentor.
So it was with great disappointment that I read this official statement from Taylor University regarding serious sexual misbehavior by Dr. Hensley.
Jul 12, 2018 3:15 PM
While it is Taylor University’s policy generally not to comment on personnel matters, we are making an exception in this instance. Fourteen years ago (2004), a complaint was filed against Dr. Dennis Hensley by a student. Although the investigation at that time yielded conflicting stories, Hensley was disciplined and cautioned. During the next 14 years, two potential conduct concerns came to the university’s attention, neither of which involved students or were related to the 2004 complaint. Hensley was confronted in both of these situations and disciplined.
Recently we were made aware of significant and credible allegations of serious misconduct by Hensley. Although these allegations did not involve Taylor students or employees, we promptly commenced an investigation, which included interviews and statements from those involved, and subsequently informed Hensley that he was suspended with immediate effect while the investigation was ongoing. On the same day that he was notified of his suspension, Hensley offered an unsolicited and unconditional resignation from Taylor University, which we accepted.
As a Christian institution of higher education, guided by biblical principles of truth, justice and grace, Taylor is grieved by any instance of predatory behavior or abuse of power. We hold accountable each member of our community with the expectation they adhere to the highest ethical, behavioral, and moral standards. We are committed to providing an environment of dignity, respect and safety for all members of our community.
I have personally talked with administrators, and I believe they carried out a very difficult task comprehensively and compassionately both for Dr. Hensley and his accusers.
I have also personally talked with many of his victims including a student and many at writers’ conferences. My heart breaks for these women and the serious sexual misconduct they have endured.
Because of this:
• Dr. Hensley’s academic career is over.
• Dr. Hensley’s teaching career is over. (He was uninvited to virtually all his 2018 engagements.)
• Dr. Hensley’s online teaching is over. (He has also been removed from his online teaching duties with writers’ groups.)
• Dr. Hensley’s publishing career is over. (His books are being removed from publishers’ websites.)
Many have argued on social media that this is not enough punishment for over 30 years of sexual misconduct.
Here’s my dilemma: Balancing justice and mercy is a delicate task—perhaps something that only God can accomplish. Jesus told those wanting to stone the woman caught in adultery, “Let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!” He also commanded the adulterer to “Go and sin no more.” (John 8:7)
So, I will allow God to make the final judgment, as I pray for those on both sides of the scale.
James N. Watkins
Update: September 30, 2018
When three authors and conference directors and I began hearing stories of women being sexually harassed and assaulted by speakers at writers conferences, we began collecting and corroborating stories from over 20 women from across the United States who described everything from sexual propositions to attempted rape. We were careful to keep the names of the accusers and the accused private. (I encouraged a woman who had just been sexually assaulted to contact police as it rose to the level of a felony, but she didn’t as she felt she wouldn’t be believed. Victims were either unwilling to report to authorities or statutes of limitations had expired.) We shared our findings with writers’ conference directors to make sure these sexual predators never used conferences as their hunting grounds again. In the case of Taylor University, we shared our findings with the academic dean and assistant to the president.
We never intended to make the names public. Then a student, who had been involuntarily hugged and kissed by Dr. Hensley went to the Fort Wayne newspapers and television stations. Taylor University was forced to go public with Hensley’s dismissal. That was followed with an article in Publishers Weekly that revealed the names of the men we had identified.
To my horror, only I was named as one of those helping with the investigation.
Jim Watkins, a friend of Hensley and former director of the St. David’s Christian Writers Conference, investigated sexual harassment claims against Hensley on behalf of Taylor University.
We never intended that our names become public. I appreciate that Taylor University carefully kept our involvement and those making accusations completely confidential. We simply wanted to protect women and do everything in our power to prevent any predators from prowling at conferences and the classroom.