Open Letter of Resignation

PLEASE NOTE:  Many readers have stumbled across this post while searching for example letters of resignation.  I am not suggesting the below resignation as a template or model if you are considering resigning from your workplace for similar issues.  Please be aware that there are repercussions for resigning publicly, and for calling people on their crap if they have more institutional power than you do.  One of the ways you can protect yourself from retaliation is to give your boss a letter of resignation that does not implicate or accuse them or wrong-doing.  Unlike the below.

Below is the letter of resignation I just sent.  I was doing anti-violence work under an executive director who has her entire staff terrified and purges the organization of all employees who show anything other than submissive assent to her.  Why does she bully her employees?  According to some recent peer-reviewed research in social psychology, it’s because she feels both incompetent AND empowered.  Scary combination, and completely unacceptable and inappropriate anywhere — let alone within the context of anti-violence and social justice work!

UPDATE (9/21):  The SATF Executive Director’s response is included, below.

UPDATE (9/24):  Another follow up from the Executive Director, which includes a message that Eva Kutas, Board President, sent to the SATF staff (but not the listservs).

UPDATE (10/7):  A follow up that came through RAINN, entitled “Just What Are We Afraid Of?”

September 21, 2009

To Whom It May Concern,

It is with a heavy heart that I hereby submit my resignation as Prevention Specialist of the Oregon Attorney General’s Sexual Assault Task Force.

I ask that people consider my resignation in light of the fact that I am the fourth of seven total employees to be compelled through hostile circumstance to leave the Task Force since the beginning of the year.

I love my job at the Task Force. I also care about and respect my coworkers, the Task Force membership and the committee membership with whom I have had the immense honor of working.  However, I have to weigh these positive factors against the negative personal-, organizational- and movement-level effects of working in and accepting a hostile office environment that is fundamentally antithetical to the social change that the Task Force seeks to create across the state of Oregon.

I have an ethical duty to pursue and complete my job responsibilities in an efficient and effective manner.  I also have a moral obligation to avoid being another bystander when I see disrespectful or abusive behavior unfold toward others around me or toward me directly. Unfortunately, neither of the above-mentioned responsibilities are tenable as long as I continue to work in the office of the Task Force, which in its current state, demands submissive silence in the face of incompetent and hostile leadership.

I am the second-to-lowest employee within the Task Force’s bureaucratic hierarchy.  As such, I am unable and henceforth refuse to make any further attempt to correct, compensate or apologize for the behavior of an Executive Director that is consistently antithetical to the mission of the Task Force and the spirit of collaboration and interpersonal respect we seek to embody.

Sexual violence prevention work is, at its core, about individual, group, institutional and societal attitudes and beliefs about interpersonal respect, boundaries, healthy sexuality, and many other factors.  Although I will be gone from the Task Force, I plan to continue striving for the change necessary to end sexual violence in Oregon, through whatever means are available to me.

I hope that my public resignation from the Task Force will ultimately do more good for the organization and efforts to advance sexual violence prevention in the state of Oregon than will my continued employment at the organization.  I stand in full support of all current and remaining Task Force program staff.  They are, in my experience, exceedingly professional, competent and dedicated, in addition to being wonderful people.

I thank you for your time and consideration in reading this letter.  If you wish to contact me further, you can reach me via e-mail: DELETED

Sincerely,

Ethan Young
former Prevention Specialist

———————————————————————

Dear Task Force Members,

I am sorry to be writing to you on such a topic, but find that we have a rather unusual situation on our hands.

As is to be expected any time there is significant change, over the past year the SATF office team has undergone an incredible amount of adjustments, some of which have been very difficult, yet much of which is moving us forward to a positive new place.

I have just learned by contacts from some of you that Ethan has sent a resignation message to many, if not all, of our SATF listserv groups.  I was offsite at our Annual Advocate Training, and did not receive any of these messages. Once I was alerted by another person, I immediately came back into the office.  I apologize for the inappropriate use of your email for an individual’s personal distress, as well as the unprofessional airing of issues that are clearly of an internal personnel nature.

Please rest assured that any personnel matters are being addressed through the appropriate coordination between myself and the Board, and that any ongoing issues related to the significant change in our structure are also in the process of being worked through.  I believe we will have a stronger team as we move forward, and appreciate all of your ongoing support.

Christine Herrman

Executive Director

Attorney General’s Sexual Assault Task Force

859 Liberty St. NE

Salem OR 97301

office (503)990-6541

fax (503)990-6547

cell DELETED

www.oregonsatf.org

—————————————————————-

Task Force Members,

Please see the email from Eva Kutas, Board President, below, which was sent to the Task Force staff. We wanted you to know that, in spite of the unsubstantiated allegations in the resignation letter you all received, the Task Force staff and board are united and will of course continue our important work.

As you all surely know, there are certain personnel matters that I am not at liberty to discuss. However, please do not hesitate to ask if you have any questions or concerns, and I will do my best to address them.

We all appreciate your outpouring of support, and look forward to focusing on our ongoing efforts.

Christine Herrman

Executive Director

Attorney General’s Sexual Assault Task Force

859 Liberty St. NE

Salem OR 97301

office (503)990-6541

fax (503)990-6547

cell DELETED

www.oregonsatf.org

********************************

Dear Task Force Staff,

I am writing on behalf of the SATF Board of Directors on the heels of the very unfortunate and inappropriate public posting of a resignation letter. I personally found the mass email to be unprofessional, unethical and destructive. Be that as it may, we wanted to assure you that the board is supportive of Christine and all of the task force staff and the work that you do.

As you know, the board has been engaged in the annual executive director evaluation process and completed it last week. We received considerable constructive input from staff, task force members and community partners that will be helpful in moving the work of the executive director and our larger organization forward. Please know that the board is working closely with Christine and relying on her, as well as each of you, to grow and build the staff in a positive direction. We believe this will best support and advance the work of the organization as a whole.

Once again, I want to thank all of the task force staff for your dedication to achieving our mission and goals.

Eva Kutas, Chair

Board of Directors
Attorney General’s Sexual Assault Task Force

————————————————

To: the RAINNet community
From: Alice Vachss

Like all of you, there are stacks of urgent work on my desk. The last thing I expected to be doing on a peaceful Sunday afternoon was writing a heartfelt message to a listserv. But I don’t think this issue should wait.

For those of you to whom I am a stranger, I ran the Special Victims Bureau in the Queens (New York City) district attorney’s office way back in the ’80s, got fired, published an account of my experiences, and have spent a good portion of my professional career since advocating for accountability from prosecutors. Back when I started virtually all rape crisis was done by volunteers and I would like to think that we all got along better but (remembering the implosions of our early national coalition) that would be rose colored glasses. Even the bitterness, though, was an open discussion.

Now, too often, it’s not. Perhaps because we are so often so embattled, what I’ve seen developing is a kind of only-I-know-the-truth rigidity within some of the people and agencies doing the work that I think is offputting to all our potential allies and dangerous to our ability to grow.

This morning a message I attempted to post to a listserv I subscribe to was rejected on the grounds of topic matter. Ironically, my post was about censorship. I think the topic is important enough that I am posting the entire exchange of emails here.

This was my rejected post:

The message from Ethan Young came as a surprise to me. But I felt that it clearly identified itself as one person’s opinion, and that in the writer’s view, he was responsibly sharing his experience with people who have an interest in the SATF.

Nothing Ethan Young said, however, disturbed me half as much as the subsequent postings, first by Ms. Herrman, and then by Ms. Kutas through Ms. Herrman, accusing him of unprofessionalism and impropriety for his post. Whether or not you agree with Mr. Young, in my view he certainly had the right, and perhaps the ethical obligation, to post what he did. The SATF is supposed to be a ground-up organization that takes its wisdom from all our collective experience. It needs divergent opinion.

Alice Vachss

The entire history follows in chronological order:
[NOTE: see preceding e-mails]

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9 Responses to Open Letter of Resignation

  1. Ethan,

    This sounds like such a finely worded letter of resignation. Its apparent, you are a thoughtful, intelligent and serious minded person. Its also apparent that there is someone within this organization that is not as interested as you are, in furthering the goals of the task force, but rather with only maintaining their own level of personal power in a work place situation, to the detriment of the task force.

    As I learned in my “Ethical Leadership” class as PSU, sometimes when indivuals have little power in their personal lives, they compensate for that lack of balance in their professional lives and make coworkers lives unbearable, until such time that situations like this arise.

    Good for you for publishing this letter and for being open and honest about a difficult situation. You have my support and respect, though I don’t know the specific details of what you’re going through, I’ve been in similar situations and so can imagine and certaly empathize.

    Its apparent from the thoughtful lanuage in the letter that you are not a flippant person and that you take matters like this quite seriously.

    I wish you the best of luck in your new employment search and also for deciding to remain involved in such a noble fight; the prevention of sexual violence.

    Good for you and best regards!!

    Sincerely,

    Mrs. Therresa kennedy

  2. ozob says:

    Hi Therresa,

    thank you so much for writing and for your support! what hope do we have for social change if we are treating one-another like crap? how can we effectively seek social change when leaders are abusing power within the movement?

    the “ethical leadership” class sounds great — was that graduate level, or new? i don’t ever remember seeing something like that for undergrads!

    ethan

  3. orizabafarm says:

    Your Exec. Director’s response smacks to me of the same inability of management to openly address and confront problems with their employees that I dealt with at Fairview Gardens. The expectation of maintaining employee secrecy during periods of difficulty is the same culture that prevents conflict resolution and protects the abusive power dynamics you are experiencing (and that I also experienced).

    Or perhaps your Exec. Director somehow sees “3 out of 7” as a positive approval rating of her job performance.

  4. ozob says:

    haha, “43%….not bad!”

  5. Joan says:

    My sadness for you as I know you had great hopes to help incite important social change. Yet the knowledge, energy and ability to follow through was sucked out of you by a person who does not understand what organizational leadership really means.

  6. Thom says:

    What’s going on with Eva Kutas’ reply? I’m curious what she considers to be the “constructive input” she received from all the staff members who have resigned or been fired due to Christine?

  7. So the woman in question is named Christine? Like that movie about the possessed car?

    Sad is it not, that some people, this ‘Christine’ is more interested in power and throwing her weight around then in real progress and the bettering of people through important social issues/work etc.

    Its been my experience, people like this Christine ALWAYS get their eventual comeuppance. She will, in time be revealed for the destructive person that she is and then SHE will be toast. In time, it always happens. Like the old expression goes, “good things come to those who wait”. :)

  8. Ethan,

    I’m sorry, I forgot to mention the class was undergrad. I’m a grad student now though. Hope you’re doing well. It looks like you’ve gone on to bigger and better things. Best to leave the Christine’s of the world in the pig muck they squirm in. :)

  9. ozob says:

    hey Therresa — sorry, just saw your comments! thanks so much for the follow up and support! i am definitely trying to move on — i feel like i’ve said my piece by publicly exposing the real reasons why people have been resigning, and why the organization is undergoing so much hardship right now. it’s up to others to decide if they want to do something about it or bury their heads in the sand…

    Thom — i have no clue! the Board was completely opaque and unavailable to staff. yet another problem with the organization…

    ethan

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