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Diversity and Sanity: How an AAUP Chapter Helps PDF-NOTE: Internet Explorer Users, right click the PDF Icon and choose [save target as] if you are experiencing problems with clicking. Print

Mark Lewis Taylor, Princeton University

Mark Lewis Taylor is the Maxwell M. Upson professor of theology and culture and Chair of religion and society at Princeton Theological Seminary. His latest book is The Theological and the Political: On the Weight of the World (forthcoming January 2011, Fortress Press).

We panelists [at the 2009 Montréal Annual Meeting] are invited to reflect on what makes for balanced living and “sanity” among faculty at our institutions, and I will comment on the formation of an AAUP chapter in relation to the question of promoting and preserving “diversity” in faculty appointments. How might an AAUP chapter aid serve this goal? Is “diversity” even a banner worth waving? In responding to these questions, I stress that the thinking here is my own, and not necessarily that of my colleagues in our local AAUP chapter or, certainly, of my faculty colleagues as a whole.

Some two years ago, a series of events occurred at my institution resulting in the formation of a chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP). It is one of a very few such chapters in the history of theological education in the United States, though religion and theology professors have certainly been, and are today, members of the AAUP individually and severally. When AAUP chapters form among faculty in theological education, it is one important way for theological institutions to join the oft-unmentioned — but long and distinguished — history of U.S. religious participation in efforts of organized labor.1

The AAUP chapter that emerged at my institution was made up of nearly all the tenured faculty, and overall, a full thirty members of a fifty-some member theological faculty. More than triple the number required for a quorum prevailed at our monthly meetings of 2008–2009. This academic year (2009–2010), we remain at about twenty-five members, with meeting attendance also high. There are two kinds of chapters in the AAUP: “advocacy/support chapters” and “collective bargaining” chapters. We are of the former kind.

Beyond the catalyzing events that brought us into being, the chapter has developed an organizational habitus focused on many other issues, which regularly occasion faculty caucusing beyond established faculty and committee meetings. These have concerned largely three themes, all of which are traditional concerns of the AAUP: academic freedom, shared governance, and diversity. In this paper, I am here addressing just the question of “diversity,” and will share how it is that an AAUP chapter relates to that goal.

What is “Diversity”?

I am not alone in having been committed, for years, to a critique of “diversity,” when proposed as the major way of organizing paradigms for thinking about difference in higher education, whether this implies differentiation in the ranks of faculty, student body, or administrative posts. What is the problem? In simplest terms, the problem is that a commitment to diversity-language rarely goes beyond admitting a few representatives of minoritized groups, and when they do, it is rarely under conditions that empower them in their institutions. What David Theo Goldberg says about Western racialized state power in his book The Racial State,2 we might also say about institutions that circulate the rhetoric of diversity but don’t really diversify; i.e., that institutions do not just exclude, rendering scholars of color (men and women) invisible, they also “include” in ways that still maintain the pattern of exclusion within the institution and society. That kind of “inclusion” can, in terms of power, often create yet another kind of absence and invisibility. This internalization of “exclusion” is marked especially by a marginalization process within the school that preserves an absence of equality for minoritized groups. Just one mark of this inequality is the tendency of members of marginalized groups to bear disproportionately heavy workloads, as they find it necessary to give continual counsel and life support, for example, to students of color, women, and others who make special requests of them. This is in addition to the extra burdens borne within the discriminatory, often repressive, wider society. Bearing such a workload often makes it difficult to “keep up” and manifest marks of “excellence” that are usually propagated by others who do not have the additional burdens that attend marginalized status.
“Diversity” usually names little more than an announced commitment to be open to plurality and difference, and as a policy it usually is an ad hoc and frequently shifting, waxing and waning effort, which includes the often excluded but in ways and at times that do not threaten to change pervasive patterns of exclusion and inequality. In this way, both patterns of the white Herrenvolk society and of hegemonic masculinity can sustain themselves not just through blatant exclusion, but through selective inclusion.3 Within such a paradigm, it is not so much that there are “minorities” — a deservedly much-criticized term — as that systems maintain processes of minoritization. Such processes, made up of patterns of inclusion/exclusion, actually often produce and maintain “minoritized groups.” This latter phrase I will use throughout this essay to refer to all those groups which — through processes of historical repression, stereotyping, and stigmatization and so on — find their gifts, their flourishing, and their influence still curtailed, overlooked, or devalued within higher education in the United States.4

So, what is missing from the talk of diversity? What is all too rarely performed is the proactive planning for full and varied representation of underrepresented groups in ways that make likely their achieving equality of empowerment in the institution. This would be to move into an empowerment paradigm. A key and motivating understanding of the empowerment paradigm, for thinking about difference in our institutions, is that proactive planning for effective diversity is not only sought for the sake of minoritized groups. The empowerment is for those groups, but also, especially, for the strengthening of the entire institutional life. Thus, empowering diversity should not be seen as only a grand and “sensitive” effort toward minoritized groups by institutional authorities and power-holders. Instead, the efforts for empowerment are ways to enliven the polycultural and multiperspectival lineaments that strengthen the entire institution’s teaching, research, and common life. 

Achieving something like this would mean making sure that there is not just a token scholar of color, or a token woman of any background, in each of the departments. There would be careful planning toward numeric density of representation among women faculty and among faculty of color who represent the major minoritized constituencies in the United States. It also means that women and scholars of color would be included at the ranks of both the tenured and untenured, and also, that among the tenured, they would be present at the levels of both associate and full professor. (Unfortunately, it is a standard pattern of theological education that when it diversifies, it does so largely at the positions and ranks of least power for influencing the whole institution.5) Moreover, undertaking all that I have mentioned in this paragraph requires maintaining an environment that is hospitable and equally empowering for all groups, students, faculty, administrators, staff, especially traditionally minoritized members in those groups. My own faculty has a special challenge because, barring unforeseen circumstances, our nine-plus member theology department, traditionally a very important one at my Protestant theological institution, will by next year be staffed by all white tenured scholars.

In pressing for all these changes, I have also learned that one needs to proactively guard the gains in diverse empowerment that have already been made in our institutions. All too often, when planning to improve diversity, by struggling for new hires, or moving towards diverse recruitment, institutions seem to retrench somewhere else in their system, letting previously recruited scholars and students of color go or be neglected. Previous gains are lost as new ones are attained.…The result, then, is another case of “change” that keeps the old imbalance of power in place.

In sum, I would differentiate between two paradigms for approaching difference and equality in faculty hiring and appointment. There is, first, a Diversity Paradigm that is mainly an ad hoc policy of accommodating difference, of including — often with good intentions — but in ways that do not challenge the disbursement of power marked by patterned exclusion in the wider society. Second, and the preferred one, is what I would call an Empowerment Paradigm. It is marked by a defense of any diversity already attained, and then pressing toward proactive planning to set goals that seek to change numerical and positional power in the institution toward an equalizing of power for scholars of color, both men and women.6


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