Calvin’s policies against same-sex marriage a motivator in split with Center for Social Research, sources say


Harm Venhuizen

Calvin’s split with the Center for Social Research was in part due to the provost’s office learning of a CSR employee in a same-sex marriage, sources say. Same-sex relationships are explicitly prohibited by the university’s staff handbook.

Calvin is parting ways with its longstanding Center for Social Research in part because of disagreements over the university’s policies for LGBTQ+ employees, sources told Chimes.

The abrupt split took place after the provost’s office learned of a CSR employee in a same-sex marriage, according to five people close to the situation who spoke with Chimes reporters on the condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal.

Calvin’s staff handbook prohibits non-heterosexual romantic relationships, labeling them as sexual misconduct.

Rather than firing the employee in question or asking them to voluntarily resign, CSR Director Neil Carlson and Provost Noah Toly initiated the process of separating the research institute from Calvin, sources said. The employee in question declined to comment.

It is unclear what other options the provost and CSR leadership considered in their meetings. All parties present declined to comment on what was discussed.

The university’s narrative surrounding the CSR’s departure showed no mention of a disagreement over policies for LGBTQ+ employees and marriage.

Instead, public communications emphasized new opportunities for growth.

The first public announcement of the split came on Feb. 8 in an official news release, which cited the center’s need for greater freedom and access to funding as key motivators—all issues the CSR had indeed been dealing with, sources confirmed. But the news was abrupt, catching applicants for research positions and the faculty members who rely on the CSR’s work by surprise.

All members of Calvin University are expected to live by the Christian Reformed Church’s understanding of a biblical sexual ethic

A week later, at a Faculty Senate meeting on Feb. 15, employees raised their concerns about the CSR’s departure.

“This was sudden. I’d like to know, did it go through the typical institute channels and such? How was this decided?” said psychology professor Marjorie Gunnoe, later asking, “Were you kicked out? I mean, are you okay?”

Both Toly and Carlson reassured attendees that the split was about increasing the center’s ability to operate freely, but Carlson noted that the idea of a split as a near-future possibility hadn’t seriously entered his mind until about a month prior.

“It quickly became clear that both Noah and Neil were choosing their words carefully,” Gunnoe later told Chimes. “I presume that they were both trying to act in the best interest of the institution and staff for which they are directly responsible.”

The next day, in an interview with Chimes on Feb. 16, the CSR director further alluded to the reasons behind the abrupt nature of the split, saying: “This is a little sudden from everyone’s perspective, including ours. And yeah, there was a kind of mini crisis. That’s not necessarily over, but I just shouldn’t talk about it.”

Those policies do not allow us knowingly to hire or continue the employment of someone who is in a same-sex marriage

He later added that, among the dozens of little causes that had been adding up to prompt a change, “There’s a policy matter that has to be resolved – a kind of basic administrative incompatibility… but the cause, the question of why, is overdetermined.”

Carlson didn’t elaborate on the policy in question. But sources told Chimes the incompatibility resulted from the university’s stance on human sexuality, which is spelled out in the staff handbook. It reads:

“Though it is the university’s policy to assure equal opportunity in its hiring, personnel practices and admissions without regard to marital status or sexual orientation, sexual relations outside of marriage are proscribed (See e.g., Handbook for Teaching Faculty – Section 6.1.2). Marriage is understood by the university and the Christian Reformed Church, with which it is affiliated, to be a covenantal union between a man and a woman.”

When asked if an employee could be fired for being in a same-sex marriage, Director of Human Resources Andy George said, “Employees who identify as LGBTQ+ cannot be dismissed based on their sexual orientation. However, all members of Calvin University are expected to live by the Christian Reformed Church’s understanding of a biblical sexual ethic.”

“Those policies do not allow us knowingly to hire or continue the employment of someone who is in a same-sex marriage,” Toly said of the CRC’s understanding of a biblical sexual ethic.

University President Michael Le Roy did not respond to repeated requests for comment about university policies and the decision to part ways with the CSR.

After a Chimes article on Feb. 20 summarized the financial and organizational issues leading to the split, Carlson stopped speaking with reporters, declining to comment when asked if policies against same-sex marriage played a role.

When asked the same question, Toly said that the decision was mutual and based on previously identified pressures and opportunities for growth, adding: “CSR was an integral part of the university for a very long time, and we hope that the CSR mission, organization, and community will flourish in new ways as it enjoys some strategic business advantages of independence from the institution, including access to capital, possible colocation with partner organizations, agility, and the workforce diversity they believe necessary for their entrepreneurial community engagement and partnerships.”

As a matter of policy, Calvin’s administration does not comment on personnel issues at any level, and Toly declined to offer specific details regarding any CSR employees involved in the split.

The CSR plans to become independent by April 30, according to a joint email Toly and Carlson sent to faculty, and has initiated a temporary hiring freeze for student workers because of the split.


This is a developing story. Chimes will continue to cover the CSR’s departure from Calvin and conversations about policies for LGBTQ+ employees in future articles.


Chimes’ Hadassa Ribeiro and Jocelyn Nuñez-Colón contributed to this report.