AFSC fires Director of Friends Relations following public criticism of restructuring plan

Lucy Duncan leading bystander intervention training session in New York. Photo: Lori Fernald Khamala / AFSC. Photo originally used for Duncan’s August 2018 FJ article, “Civility Can Be Dangerous.”

On Saturday, December 18, 2021, Western Friend published an open letter written by AFSC Director of Friends Relations Lucy Duncan and five coauthors who are criticizing a restructuring plan Duncan claims was first proposed by American Friends Service Committee leadership in an April 2021 memo. The letter is titled “AFSC Is at a Perilous Crossroads.”

The letter, posted along with two “background documents” (one of which references additional source documents), asserts that AFSC is at a “perilous crossroads” due to “a dramatic re-engineering of the organizational structure of AFSC proposed by management and Board leadership that will alter the Quaker character of the organization.”

Duncan, who has worked in Friends relations for AFSC since 2011, says she was placed on administrative leave beginning Monday, December 20. She was terminated by AFSC two weeks later, on January 3, for violating the organization’s “code of conduct and public communication policy,” according to Duncan. AFSC has not responded to our requests to confirm the details of Duncan’s termination.

Of particular concern to Duncan and the other authors (a mix of former AFSC staff or board members and current members of the AFSC Corporation, the 100+ member Quaker body legally responsible for AFSC) was that the proposed restructuring plan “invests . . . $500,000 per year into a commitment to fund six additional middle management positions while adding no resources into the programs on the ground.”

“Will AFSC adopt a top-down NGO, grant and donor centered approach, or will it build on a powerful history by committing even more deeply to a grassroots, community-led approach that builds strategy and campaigns from the bottom up?” the letter asks.

The AFSC Leadership Team responded to the issues raised in the “Perilous Crossroads” letter with their own letter posted by Western Friend on January 7. Their response noted that their initial proposals “include strengthening local advisory boards and community input in local programs and activities.” The leadership team stated that they “are not seeking to hire additional ‘middle managers,’ but to create new positions that provide solid support to all our programs” and that they “are committed to the consultative decision-making processes grounded in our Quaker tradition.”

The original letter and its responses have drawn broad attention from both the AFSC and Quaker communities. An open Zoom call about the issues raised was hosted by Western Friend on January 6 and drew 290 participants. A private Facebook group was formed to continue that conversation and has over 120 members.

Duncan has filed a wrongful termination grievance with American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) District Council 47, the union that represents her.

AFSC was founded by American Quakers in 1917 to help conscientious objectors perform civic duties in place of military service. In 1947 it received the Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of American Friends. Currently it has more than 300 employees worldwide. Concerns about its “Quaker character” have been raised in the pages of Friends Journal since at least the 1970s.

Correction: January 24, 2022. A previous version of this news story incorrectly stated that AFSC was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. In fact, it received the prize on behalf of American Friends. The relevant sentence has been updated accordingly.

FJ News Editors

Erik Hanson and Windy Cooler are the news editors for Friends Journal. They contributed to the reporting of this story. Do you know about any Quaker news stories Friends Journal should be covering? Send us tips at news@friendsjournal.org.

1 thought on “AFSC fires Director of Friends Relations following public criticism of restructuring plan

  1. Thank you to Erik Hanson and Windy Cooler for your article on AFSC and the firing of Lucy Duncan, which exemplifies your commitment to speaking truth to power.

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