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

I begin with an important qualification. My preference for the empowerment paradigm does not mean that the diversity paradigm should be simply ignored. From the perspective of mobilizing action toward empowerment, we cannot live off a binary that pits empowerment against diversity paradigms; or better said, we need to keep alive a fruitful antithesis between the two, simultaneously affirming a “both/and” approach. The way to do this is to work the resources of the diversity paradigm, since their conventions and discourses already exist in many of our institutions, and press them toward a more radical restructuring that can realize empowerment. Institutional talk about diversity, even though it often leaves unrealized an effective empowerment of minoritized members, can occasion efforts toward greater proactivity and empowerment. This critical interplay means that, in this paper, I will often write of “diversity and empowerment” when naming the goals of redressing present inequalities and marginalization of minoritized groups in higher education. This is where the AAUP chapter comes in. What precisely does an AAUP chapter enable? How does it help?

I’m going to identify briefly five contributions. But all of them are aspects of a basic and pervasive contribution: offering a mobilizing community for faculty grievances and faculty hopes for transformation. The AAUP chapter can be an organizing force simply for greater justice, but also for greater sanity and balance. Even if desired outcomes in changing faculty conditions do not come about quickly, or at all, the fact that one has a mobilizing community working on such problems fosters sanity.

In using the notion of “sanity,” I am of course invoking a term used by the organizers of the AAR panel at which this paper was originally presented. Allow me here, in this context, to say what I would mean by sanity. I suggest that sanity is feeling and believing, in the company of at least several others, that one is living now in consonance with his or her deepest ideals for oneself, but especially for others and the world. For me, these ideals cluster in a set that I would call “integral liberation.” The phrase, especially as developed in post-Vatican II liberation theology by Gustavo Gutiérrez, has a number of rich connotations. I still find it a helpful phrase, though I would render it in my own terms here, realizing that much more needs to be said elsewhere. The ideals of “integral liberation” are marked by freedom of self in relation to others’ freedom, a freedom that attends to dynamics internal and external to the self, thus both individual and also, even more, to social, economic, biopolitical, and planetary structures and processes, which are the matrix of all living. The aim is for a freedom in which both body and mind dwell in relation, as do rest and solitude together with will and action. All of these are aspects of an integral liberation that I would call a realization of “spirit.”7 Crucial to achieving all this are equally empowered human beings making up the differentiated matrix of my living. I may never see such ideals realized in my lifetime. My living may now be characterized by conflict, struggle, and contradiction, an inability to be moving toward those ideals, either because of my own personal failures or because of structures and powers of structural oppression that pervade the most intricate and intimate of socialities — my own and those of others. But being able to intend ideals of integral liberation, to work toward them with at least a few others — well, I suggest that is what breeds sanity. I like to call all this not just sanity, but the stuff of dignity, which as Vaclav Havel put it — perhaps somewhat grandiosely — is to be “living the truth.”8 In contrast to integral liberation, insanity and indignity would be, for me, marked by experiences of being atomized, isolated, and in that process, ground down by oppressive forces of patterned inequality.

Thus the basic and pervasive contribution of an AAUP chapter is that it offers a way to connect — to create a bridge — between one’s ideals that make for sanity, justice, and dignity on the one hand, and a working-in-community with others toward those ideals on the other. Let me now identify briefly the five other, more specific contributions:

  1. The AAUP chapter facilitates a new kind of social belonging for faculty. It puts scholars side-by-side in interaction in ways that are not defined by institutional rank, committee, or departmental structure. Various social events facilitate this alternative kind of belonging. Our chapter has experimented with new patterns of conviviality, reaching out, for example, to emeriti faculty who are rarely included in the social gatherings of regular faculty. Plans are also to link up across the adjunct faculty/regular faculty divide, and maybe the doctoral student/faculty divide as well. Amid this new social belonging, we need not think, naively, that institutional definitions completely drop away from interaction with one another. Indeed, institutional patterns of minoritization can even be reproduced in the functioning of an AAUP chapter. But there is a healthy interruption of institutional patterning, which opens up at least some small space for a different kind of belonging one to another, a kind that differs from those roles already given to the faculty within the institution. Even so, the AAUP chapter at my institution has always understood itself as supportive of the standing committee structure and institutional governance mechanisms of the seminary.9
  2. The AAUP chapter facilitates a social context for hearing narratives of what minoritized faculty experience in the institution. Members of minoritized groups often report that they hesitate to raise their concerns and share their stories in routine and established meetings. Doing so often tends to render their minoritization all the more apparent and isolates them further. The AAUP chapter can offer more time, and being informal and unofficial, it can be a more comfortable place for sharing those narratives. The sharing of minoritized groups’ stories can enable organizing to bring needed changes to official institutional structures and patterns. Our chapter, for example, has begun to discuss the different pay scales for women as distinct from men, differences that are clearly evident from AAUP published data in the Chronicle of Higher Education. We have also begun to wonder about whether pay scales vary in terms of racial/ethnic identity as well.
  3. Already in its first year and a half, the AAUP chapter has provided a clearing house for faculty deliberation on how to respond constructively and collectively to incidents that are publicly demeaning to minoritized groups. Some two years ago an anonymously circulated newsletter on campus demeaned certain faculty, using hurtful stereotypes of gender, race, sexuality, and political stance. At a regularly scheduled official chapter meeting, we were able to take advantage of the gathering to discuss at length, informally, a collective statement from the faculty (but not an official AAUP chapter pronouncement), which was released to the community to address that tense and public crisis moment. The administration also responded with constructive statements and various committees to develop action plans for restoring the damage done to the institution’s common life.
  4. The AAUP chapter provides a standing caucus group that formally, or especially informally, gives rise to various initiatives and efforts, which later can be worked through the standing committee structures and governance mechanisms of the institution. Early initiatives and efforts of this sort have happened very informally around the edges of our chapter meetings. One initiative arose from the fact that our faculty did not have representation on the institution’s Board of Trustees. Consequently, without having been made an explicit agenda item of the AAUP chapter, conversation developed among chapter members, and nonchapter members too, about a proposal for faculty representation on some of the Board’s committees — with voice, but still no vote. This proposal, later ratified by a majority of faculty, was taken to the Board by our administrators and faculty now has representatives on several Board committees. This is historic progress for us, even if it is the Board that selects which faculty can serve in this way. Without some form of this representation, though, it is difficult for faculty to engage Board members about diversity and empowerment in faculty ranks and institutional life generally.
  5. Perhaps most important to the question of diversity, the AAUP chapter connects faculty struggling with minoritization in its theological institution to longer and larger histories of struggle against minoritization by many others in higher education and social life in the United States. Theological institutions are embedded in a state apparatus that includes/excludes, creating and often exacerbating the plights of minoritized groups. The AAUP, coming out of this broader American context, has been a key player for many colleges and universities in formulating guidelines for faculty seeking to protect the rights of, and to realize opportunities for, scholars of color in higher education for both men and women.10 This is particularly important for theological institutions, because American theological educators still tend to privilege scholarship done by European thinkers or by U.S. scholars who align themselves with traditional white and male subject-positions of European discourse.11

Some of us have represented our chapter at New Jersey state and national AAUP levels. There we encounter this long rich tradition of the AAUP and other collective organizations that provide support for worker movements of many sorts: their mobilizations, struggles, conviviality, song, and arts. The walls of the Labor Education Center where the New Jersey state AAUP meets are adorned with photos of many workers for change in academe and society, across many contexts. I recall awaiting one meeting of the New Jersey AAUP while standing near a photo of Sojourner Truth, as well as of many others. That proximity symbolizes, perhaps, the American traditions of engaged scholarship in which our AAUP chapter enables our faculty to participate. And, for me at least, it symbolizes also the way AAUP involvement can create “sanity” — a bridge-place where one can grow from the incompleteness, limits, and conflicts of one’s respected place of employment, toward the ideals of integral liberation that so often elude us.


1 van Voss, Lex Heerma, Patrick Pasture, Jan De Maeyer, eds. Between Cross and Class: Comparative Histories of Christian Labor in Europe 1840–2000. International Institute of Social History, Amsterdam. Bern: Peter Lang, 2005. For a biography of a Christian involved in labor movements, see Burgess, David S. Fighting for Social Justice: The Life Story of David Burgess. Detroit, MI: Wayne State University Press, 2000.
2 Goldberg, David Theo. The Racial State. New York: Wiley Blackwell, 2002: 28.
3 The notion of the white “Herrenvolk society” is developed by historian Alexander Saxton in his The Rise and Fall of the White Republic: Class Politics and Mass Culture in Nineteenth Century America. New York and London: Verso, 2003. For the notion of “hegemonic masculinity,” see Connell, R. W. Gender and Power. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1987; and Sabo, Don, et al., eds. Prison Masculinities. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press, 2001: 3–17.
4 On the notion of “minoritized groups,” see Bailey, Randall C., Tat-siong Benny Liew, and Fernando F. Segovia, eds. They Were All Together in One Place?: Toward Minority Biblical Criticism. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2009: 3–4.
5 On the difficulties faced by faculty of minoritized groups in transitioning from nontenured to tenured ranks, see Association of Theological Schools, Diversity in Theological Education — A Folio. Especially its section “How Racial/Ethnic Faculty Often Experience Rank, Promotion, and Tenure Decisions in ATS Institutions.”
6 For an institution with a faculty and Board that proactively set specific goals for diversification and empowerment of minoritized groups, see the case of Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, again in the folio on Diversity in Theological Education — A Folio; this time in the section “Case: Preparing the Ground — Institutional Change” by Joanna Dewey and Joan M. Martin.
7 These statements capture, in brief, my notion of “prophetic spirit,” developed by me in Religion, Politics, and the Christian Right: Post-9/11 Powers and American Empire. Fortress Press, 2005.
8 Havel, Vaclav. “The Power of the Powerless,” in Vaclav Havel: Open Letters — Selected Prose 1965–1990. Paul Wilson, ed. London: Faber and Faber, Ltd, 1991: 148–153.
9 In fact, the national AAUP encourages chapters to work with its administrators and notes that administrators are normally welcoming of this new dimension of collegiality. See the national AAUP website.
10 As one sample of the AAUP’s writings on the issues of “diversity,” click here. On the Eurocentric bias generally, see Serequeberhan, Tsenay. Contested Memory: Icons of the Occidental Tradition. Trenton: Africa World Press, 2008.
11 On the slowness of attaining equal status for scholars of color in the United States, see Turner, Caroline Sotello Viernes, Edwin I. Hernándes, Milagros Peña, and Juan Carlos Gonzáles. “New Voices in the Struggle: Toward Increasing Latina/o Faculty in Theological Education.” Journal of Hispanic Higher Education 7, no. 4 (October 2008): 321–335, especially pages 321–322.


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