The following open letter has been signed by 500+ Wheaton alum since Friday evening, and you can sign it as well here.
Dear Wheaton Presidential Selection Committee,
As an academic institution and as a Christian community, Wheaton recognizes the importance of diversity and has acted successfully on it. The selection committee, chosen to help select the next Wheaton president, also recognizes the importance of diversity and includes this as part of its “Commitment” section in the concise “qualifications desired”:
To champion ethnic, economic, and gender diversityCompared to other academic institutions, the percentage of white and male Christian college presidents in the CCCU is much higher than in their secular counterparts (currently there are no minority CCCU presidents and only 2% female, compared to 12.8% and 21.1% respectively in all national institutions). Wheaton College has had seven presidents over the course of its 150 year history and Litfin began his tenure as Wheaton College’s seventh white male president in 1993. We should acknowledge that our historical prejudices would probably not have allowed it otherwise, but a lot has changed in the 17 years since Wheaton last had the chance to select a president.
We strongly encourage the committee to search diligently for a female or minority candidate to be in the final pool of candidates. It is not enough to hope that qualified women and minorities will present themselves. Wheaton should make diversity of primary importance in considering the leader of this great academic institution for Christ and His Kingdom.
The Selection Committees deadline for applications is next week (Nov. 1st) and so we are trying to gather signatures as quickly as possible. The hope is that this letter will serve as an accountability check on the process, recognizing that diversity isn’t something we just pay lip service to, but that we actively have to work against some of the systemic discrimination that exist in the system.
After posting this letter on my own facebook page and sending a note out to all my fellow Wheaton alum, I received a rather negative comment about this sort of “affirmative action” being “racist” and discriminatory. It was a pretty harsh critique, but seeing as the letter had already garnered several signatures in a couple hours, I felt I wasn’t alone in my beliefs. Before I had time to respond to the comment another friend, Indie, gave this brilliant response that I’ll include below. I think this comment is a great summary as to why a letter like the above is so important to keeping our “christian” institutions accountable.
That depends on your definition of qualified. “Qualified” has traditionally been defined in a way that excludes the experience of women and minorities. For example, if unpaid volunteer experience is considered to be less than paid experience then by and large women are being excluded because they tend to spend a large amount of their time not working in order to serve others. As a Christian institution, Wheaton should be recruiting leaders based on Christian values. Giving up your income to serve others is very Christlike, but it seldom wins you any fans on the types of boards that choose presidents of universities.
Another thing that might be looked at is where a candidate did his or her course work. Will the committee take into consideration that some candidates were excluded from even attending many schools in the past (including many Christian schools) due to their race?
The biblical precedent for this sort of thing is jubilee. Those who had failed and missed out in the past (due to injustice or their parents or whatever) were given another chance, an equal playing ground. We need to really clearly understand that women and minorities have not been given an equal playing ground and take that into consideration.
The letter simply asks that a minority or woman be in the final pool of candidates. That is not too much to ask. If 50 percent of the final pool is not female, the leaders at Wheaton should be asking themselves long hard questions about the fairness of the system to begin with. Unless they truly believe that women are inferior. In that case they should be upfront about it. Likewise, minorities should be represented in proportion at least to their existence within the Christian community. The fact that we have to be so intentional to make this so points to the systemic unfairness of the system in the first place rather than the unfairness of the request for equal representation.
Please consider signing the letter and passing it on to your friends and fellow Wheaton grads and students to sign as well.