Diversity and Sanity: How an AAUP Chapter Helps 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

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.