Diversity Trouble at Duke Divinity

The interior of Goodson Chapel at the Duke Divinity School. Photo courtesy of Creative Commons

Reports of the resignation of Paul Griffiths, a professor of Catholic theology at Duke Divinity School, relate his departure to a disagreement with a dean over diversity training.

But there’s a bigger story behind the story at Duke Divinity.

Many of its black students are troubled by what they called, in an April 19 letter to Duke’s provost, their experience of “continual inequity” at the divinity school. They expressed concerns about grading, internship placements and the treatment of black faculty and staff, among other issues.

It’s the important backdrop to the friction between Griffiths and Elaine Heath, dean of the divinity school. Their differences became public after Heath recently invited all divinity school faculty to participate in two days of racial equity training.

Griffiths responded with a series of emails sent to faculty that refuted the merits of the training, blasted it as a challenge to academic freedom and implored others to sit the course out.

“I exhort you not to attend this training,” Griffiths wrote. “Don’t lay waste your time by doing so. It’ll be, I predict with confidence, intellectually flaccid: there’ll be bromides, cliches, and amen-corner rah-rahs in plenty. When (if) it gets beyond that, its illiberal roots and totalitarian tendencies will show. Events of this sort are definitively anti-intellectual.”

Heath condemned Griffiths’ emails and requested a meeting with him, which reportedly never took place. Then The American Conservative website published his emails.

Griffiths said his subsequent decision to resign was about academic freedom.

But his departure doesn’t bridge the divide that led black students to request diversity training and other changes in their April letter to Duke Provost Sally Kornbluth.

“As Black students at Duke Divinity School, we have been subjected to systematic discrepancies that have deeply affected our learning environment,” the letter states. “Our experience is one of continual inequity that occurs in grading, discrimination and insensitive environments in classrooms, internship placements in field education sites that are not conducive to black students’ professional development, attrition of black faculty, among a host of other institutional factors.”

As for the students’ concerns about black faculty and staff:

“During our time at Duke Divinity, we have witnessed other faculty discredit their presence and scholarship,” the letter states.

In addition to mandatory anti-racism training for preceptors, black divinity students requested more support for the Office of Black Church Studies, the hiring of black faculty and the implementation of a blind grading system to address alleged bias.

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SOURCE: Religion News Service
Carl W. Kenney

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