Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Response to a Scurrilous Accusation

Thus far I have remained out of the controversy that has come upon the college where I teach in the Biblical & Theological Studies Department. If interested in the controversy, find a number of documents here. If you read the documents on that page, I urge you also to read documents that are linked. Be fair and even-handed in your reading of the material. Render your own judgments carefully, prudently, and thoughtfully. Do not rashly make judgments.

My intention is not to enter into the conflict that envelopes our college, so I am not about to affix a comment on the Christianity Today article, "Northwestern Tempest" where someone who is variously self-identified as Christianprof and Christianprof3 has posted comments that stand in need of correction. I leave the first three comments posted by Christianprof without responses. I offer the following response only to the last comment posted on the page, a comment posted by Christianprof3. Here is the portion of the comment to which I offer a reply.

I'm pointing to facts, not doctrine: NWC last year had 7% non-white full-time faculty, half the MN average; of 21 private colleges in MN, NWC ranks 16th, despite doubling its non-white faculty since 2003. Again, NWC is 18th of 21 MN colleges in hiring full-time women (35.7%; MN avg is 46%). None are in BTS [sic B&TS] at NWC. Is it possible to believe that only white men are qualified to work full-time on the main campus in the Bible department at NWC? Remember: BTS itself is the gatekeeper.

As I respond to these comments I will leave unaddressed the general make-up of our college. I will address only the make-up of our department, the Biblical & Theological Studies Department. My focus will be upon the latter portion of the comments: "None are in BTS at NWC. Is it possible to believe that only white men are qualified to work full-time on the main campus in the Bible department at NWC? Remember: BTS itself is the gatekeeper."

Recently I returned from attending three major professional conferences hosted by three professional societies for academicians who work in and teach in areas of biblical studies and Christian theology. For many years the three societies have coordinated their annual meetings to occur within the span of a week and within the same general vicinity, allowing for maximum attendance by those who choose to attempt to attend all three.

The three societies span a wide range with the ETS being the most distinctively evangelical, the IBR being evangelical but patterned more after the British evangelical model, and the SBL spanning the full range of biblical scholars--evangelical to liberal, Protestant to Catholic, Christian to Jew, etc. I have been a member of all three professional societies for the duration of my professional teaching career.

Let's consider Christianprof3's claims. Clearly Christianprof3 has inside information to which only an upper level administrator would have access. However much the statistics Christianprof3 cites may be troubling to any of you readers, what ought to be far more troubling is Christianprof3's abuse and exploitation of statistics to draw the wrongful, entirely unwarranted, and prejudicial conclusion in the form of a rhetorical question: "Is it possible to believe that only white men are qualified to work full-time on the main campus in the Bible department at NWC? Remember: BTS itself is the gatekeeper."

Christianprof3 has wrongfully concluded that the B&TS Department has purposefully excluded all others except white males when filling vacated professorial positions. Worse than that, Christianprof3 exploits a racially charged and racially coded word, "gatekeeper," to construct a poorly fabricated subterfuge for retreat into plausible deniability if charged with race-baiting or sex-baiting by any perceptive reader. Let me state the matter plainly. Whoever Christianprof3 may be, the individual who wrote the comment exploits and manipulates statistics to draw the entirely prejudiced and scurrilous conclusion that the B&TS Department is filled with white males who are bigots, both with regard to sex and race, who have made for themselves a "white males only club." Unfortunately, Christianprof3 seems to have little understanding of the constituent participants within the guild of biblical studies, that the guild happily includes females and non-white males but that the vastly disproportionately smaller numbers of these individual members has nothing to do with a "gatekeeper" whose unspoken mission is to exclude women and minorities.

The fact of the matter is that the thousands of individuals who attend the three conferences that I have identified above give a clear portrayal of the field of potential candidates for faculty appointments at colleges and universities across America in departments of Religion and of Biblical & Theological Studies. Who attends these three conferences? Undergraduates students, graduate students, pastors, and academics who research and who teach of undergraduate and graduate institutions, ranging from small colleges to universities and from small denominational seminaries to large interdenominational seminaries. Females and males attend all three conferences. Whites and non-whites attend. Individuals from the U.S. and from around the world attend.

Males significantly outnumber females at all three conferences. White males outnumber both females and non-whites by considerable proportions. Do "gatekeepers" prevent women and non-whites from entering SBL? Of course not! As a matter of fact women and non-whites receive preferential treatment in SBL. SBL even has a special web page for women, Status of Women in the Profession Committee. Actually, women receive preferential treatment such as a complimentary breakfast. (Any free food is very helpful for academics who have quite limited professional expense accounts.) Likewise, SBL is thoroughly devoted to "multiculturalism and diversity" as is evident in the title of this link, Underrepresented Racial and Ethnic Minorities in the Profession Committee. As with females, non-whites receive preferential handling and treatment.

Indeed, of the three societies, even though SBL, the most broadly based of the three societies, spends the most money and energy toward developing female and non-white professors in biblical studies, the proportions of women and non-whites to men and to white members, respectively, in the society are quite disproportionate and constant. Is this the fault of white males? Are white males standing at the gate, blocking non-whites and females from entering into the society? Given the presuppositions and assumptions of Christianprof3, it must be so. But, of course, such a notion could hardly be more ludicrous. Within SBL, as in American society, deference clearly goes to females and non-whites. Even so, their numbers remain disproportionately small in relation to white males. Clearly, neither sexism nor racism account for this. Rather, other factors, particularly career choices determine the disparate proportionas.

As one sits in meeting rooms during the IBR conference one sees both females and non-whites. Yet, the disproportions are greater than in the SBL. Why? It is not as anyone such as Christianprof3 might presume. No "gatekeeper" excludes women or non-whites. IBR has a doctrinal basis for membership; SBL does not. Add a doctrinal basis to any society, and that alone becomes restrictive, not, of course, on the basis of race or sex but on the basis of shared beliefs. Thus, IBR is much smaller than is SBL. Because SBL has no doctrinal basis for membership, Christians and Jews are members, liberals and conservatives are members, believers and non-believers are members, etc. Not so with IBR, for affirmation of faith and endorsement of the Christian doctrinal basis are requisite for membership in IBR. This excludes vast numbers of those who are members of SBL. One other requisite for full membership in IBR is having a PhD in biblical studies. This renders IBR much smaller than ETS. Other levels of membership are available in IBR to those who do not possess the requisite PhD.

As with SBL female members of IBR also receive deferential promotion. Though males far outnumber females in IBR, males give deference to females among. Regularly women are asked to present papers to the society. I do not have at hand the statistics to show the numbers of either females or non-whites who are members of IBR, nor are the exact numbers crucial to make any warranted point. It is a fact of life that males dominate the area of biblical studies, not by force but by personal choices that males and females make. It is also a fact of life that whites, both female and male, dominate the area of biblical studies, again, not by force by by personal choices that whites, whether male or female, make in comparison to non-whites in American institutions of higher education.

What about the Evangelical Theological Society? Does a "gatekeeper" stand at the entrance to block women and non-whites from becoming members? Of course not! Yet, one might observe that as with attendance of the IBR meetings, proportionately fewer women and fewer non-whites attend the ETS annual conference than attend the SBL meetings. Why is this? Keep in mind that SBL, IBR, and ETS are all voluntary associations or societies. Individuals voluntarily join. Each society has its respective academic standards. Unlike SBL, IBR and ETS both require endorsement of its respective doctrinal basis for membership. As with the other societies, ETS offers various levels of membership in the society. Academically speaking, ETS has the lowest standard for full membership. One must attain the equivalent of the ThM (Master of Theology Degree). For IBR and SBL full membership requires a PhD in biblical studies--OT, NT, ancient biblical languages, or ancillary studies such as second temple literature. Though females and non-whites do enter into these fields of study, they are significantly outnumbered by white males, whether Jewish or Gentile, whether Jewish or Christian, whether Catholic or Protestant, whether Liberal or Evangelical, etc.

Consequently, while none of the three major societies have ever given any thought to posting "gatekeepers" to block women and non-whites from entering, far fewer women and non-whites enter into biblical and theological studies than do white males. Is this inherently racist or racialist? Multiculturalists insist that it is due to either racism or racialism, for they cannot fathom any other explanation, even though the explanation stares them in the face, namely, self-selection. Racism and sexism has nothing whatsoever to do with the statistics of membership in any of the three societies.

As a member of SBL, IBR, and ETS, I can say that we gladly welcome both females and non-whites into all three societies. Yet, facts are stubborn and relentless. Not one of the three societies is a "white men's" club. Not one of the three societies excludes women or non-whites. Not one of the three societies has adopted an intimidating posture that refuses to "welcome" women or non-whites. Such a notion is contrary to the truth. We could all wish that more women and non-whites would enter into the field of biblical and theological studies. We can even make significant efforts to see it happen, as has been done. Yet, for all the effots, such as those made by SBL and IBR, the fact is that women and non-whites remain vastly outnumbered by white males.

A stubborn and relentless fact is that neither women nor non-whites choose biblical studies and theology as careers at anything close to the same proportions as do white males. Why? Any number of factors undoubtedly play roles. However, the most obvious fact is that individuals make career choices, and females and non-whites in America do not choose academic careers in biblical and theological studies nearly as frequently as do white males. It is a fact of life even after societies such as SBL have targeted women and non-whites for recruitment into the fields of study.

Now let's turn our attention back to the focal point of Christianprof3's comments, namely the constituent full-time membership of the B&TS Department at our institution. Despite protests to the contrary, such as voiced by Christianprof3, neither the Chair of the B&TS Department nor any other member of the department at Northwestern College stands as "gatekeeper" to block entrance into the department by females or non-whites. Though Christianprof3 believes differently, prejudicial exploitation of statistics provides no support whatsoever. Quite apart from any racial or sexual bias entering in to faculty appointments in the B&TS Department at our college are factors that are far beyond the control of the department or any member of the department.

I have been a member of the B&TS Department for seventeen years. The pool of individuals from which our department may draw candidates for faculty appointments has remained quite constant. Throughout these seventeen years membership proportions of females and non-whites in SBL, IBR, and ETS have changed very little. To this day, relatively few females and even fewer non-whites, particularly blacks, pursue and obtain PhD degrees in theology or in biblical studies. Why? It is because they choose to pursue other degrees in much larger proportions. Consequently, the field of potential female and non-white candidates for any given faculty opening at our college or any other institution of higher learning is very slim.

Besides this factor what are some other factors that reduce the field of potential female and non-white candidates for faculty appointments at our college as they open?

One leading factor is the doctrinal statement that each and every faculty member, regardless the academic department, must heartily and unequivocally endorse annually. Our college's doctrinal basis is more restrictive than that of the Evangelical Theological Society. The doctrinal statement, thus, excludes vast numbers of acquaintances and friends, both male and female, white and non-white. Given our college's doctrinal statement, the make-up of full-time faculty members in the B&TS Department is consistent with colleges that have similar doctrinal statements.

Another leading factor is the salary offered. The field of potential female and non-white candidates is rendered even slimmer because institutions that are willing to pay much higher salaries than evangelical colleges and universities pay snag those available candidates, whether female or non-white.

Another significant factor that plays a role in whether institutions such as ours can successfully attract either females or non-whites into the B&TS Department is prestige. Why would female or non-white evangelical candidates purposefully choose to apply for a position at our institution when they can apply for positions at more prestigious evangelical colleges, such as Wheaton, Westmont, or Taylor?

Yet, one could ask a related question. Why would female or non-white candidates, even if evangelical, apply for positions at evangelical colleges and universities when they can apply at public or private institutions, including private liberal institutions, that are heavily endowed and are willing to pay huge salaries so that they can increase the numbers of their female and/or non-white faculty counts as they aggressively pursue diversity for diversity's sake? Such institutions offer powerfully attractive packages for females and non-whites, including reduced teaching loads, enhanced research opportunities, frequent sabbaticals, funded assistants, travel and research expense accounts, etc. It is extremely difficult for institutions like ours to compete for either female or non-white qualified candidates, given the high demand for them by colleges and universities that recruit them with highly competitive and attractive faculty appointments. I personally know individuals, both females and non-whites, who have taken positions at such institutions, purposely by-passing smaller private evangelical institutions, whether graduate or undergraduate.

Though I could continue, I must draw this to a close. Another factor that significantly reduces the field of potential female and non-white candidates for filling vacant faculty positions at our college and others like ours is the attractiveness of graduate schools over undergraduate institutions. Compare graduate schools to our college. Generally graduate schools offer potential faculty greater opportunities to teach within the narrow range of their academic and research strengths. They tend to provide more sabbaticals on much shorter rotations. Many award a term for sabbatical study after six teaching terms. Ours does so only after six teaching years, and then only if funds are available. Annually, our college awards on average around six sabbatical leaves. This is very poor given the six teaching year requirement and the size of the faculty. Graduate schools tend to provide higher salaries than colleges such as ours. Furthermore, they tend to support scholarship and research with greater funds for research assistants and for release time. All these and more factors have significantly reduced the number of potential candidates to fill vacant faculty slots in the B&TS Department at our college, whether the candidates are females, non-whites, or even white males.

When we do have openings and advertise widely--including within all three societies (SBL, IBR, ETS)--we have yet to receive any application from a non-white candidate and the one female applicant whom we did interview, proved to be unambiguously out of step with our college's doctrinal statement. Neither the current members of the B&TS Department nor those at any time throughout my tenure at our college drafted the doctrinal statement. This is not to suggest that the statement should be altered. Rather, the point is that the Board of Trustees and the administrators determine the contents of the doctrinal statement.

I have personally requested curriculum vitae from non-white candidates for potential vacancies in our B&TS Department. I know that other members of our department have done the same. Unfortunately, those I have invited have never followed through. I do not know the specific reasons. Any number of factors, including those that I have addressed, may have led them to choose not to apply. All of those of whom I speak are gainfully employed elsewhere, evidently more well-suited to their interests.

As our department looks to fill any possible new position with the most qualified and best suited candidate, the candidates always include all who apply, whether female, non-white, or white male. Christianprof3 is wrong, entirely wrong to pose the rhetorical question with the presumption that the B&TS Department at our college engages in sexism and racism. It is cowardly for Christianprof3 to hide behind the cloak of anonymity to launch his slanderous and scurrilous accusations. But, of course, darkness is the fitting place of origin for such vile and invidious accusations. It is slanderous and defamatory for Christianprof3 to declare, "Is it possible to believe that only white men are qualified to work full-time on the main campus in the Bible department at NWC? Remember: BTS itself is the gatekeeper." Christianprof3's rhetorical question and judgment are rash, foolish, scurrilous, and frankly, evil.

For an insightful essay that addresses the charge of sexism in the fields of science, engineering, and mathematics see "Feminizing Science: The Alchemy of Title IX" by Patricia Hausman. As Hausman well states, "Perceived is the operative word. What is perceived and what is real are often worlds apart."

1 comment:

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