Capacious Inclusion


I’ve got a question for the child in you before it leaves

Are you tough enough to be kind?

Do you know your heart has it’s own mind?

Darkness gathers around the light

Hold on, hold on — U2, 13 (There is a Light)

I glanced through the window of the classroom door and took a deep breath. I was just out of graduate school and this was my first day of teaching. Inside were 60 students tightly crammed into a room that comfortably held 40. The course was Jesus and the Gospels, standard religious education fare at Adventist colleges, but still my favorite of all the classes I have taught in the intervening 37 years.

I did not have a detailed lesson plan for the day beyond talking about the requirements of the course. I hoped that we could open up together about who Jesus was for us and what the Gospels meant to us. So I drew an inverted pyramid on the board with the widest side above and the narrowest point below.

“What is the most general category you could identify with as a person?,” I asked. “Where would you begin?”

If we teach as we were taught, then I was channeling teachers who had radically challenged my worldview since middle school. They assumed a wideness to the intellectual horizon before us that lifted my imagination and tilted my perspective. While I could not equal their breadth of knowledge I could at least match their enthusiasm for the subject.

And so I asked again, sensing how difficult it would be for someone to break that first-day silence. “Who are we, really?” I was realizing that posing good questions is harder than it seems. “This is not a trick question.”

At last one person raised his hand. “We are humans?” It was more a question than a statement, but it would do. It seemed a good place to start a religion class, with that which unites us in the most general and inclusive way possible. From there we stair-stepped our way down, from general to particular, from inclusive to exclusive, shifting categories up and down the column as we fine-tuned our choices.

We were playing out in practice the theory that S. I. Hayakawa, former semanticist and English professor at San Francisco State University—and later a U.S. senator from California—had proposed for understanding how words and labels affect our thinking and speaking. In public speaking, suggested Hayakawa, the specific is preferred to the general. His “ladder of abstraction” had, as its lowest rung, the general (Human) and its highest rung the particular (Annie). Abstractions can confuse and bore our audiences, he said, details focus their attention and imaginations.

True enough in a certain context, but turning the ladder upside down gave us a whole new perspective. As the students worked it out, we are humans first, male and female second, and from there the discussion flared out with many possibilities. Ethnicity next? Language? Citizenship?

At this point I suggested a swerve: what about religion? Where does that fit in? After some sifting and defining and a lot of back and forth, the class arrived at a line of descent that ran in Western history from the apostolic community to the Catholic Church through the Protestant Reformation, and then to the fracturing into denominational and sectarian fragments, of which Adventism, whose origin in 19th-century American millenarianism, was one. Adventism, then, was inserted at the bottom, the sharpest point, the narrowest passage to anything that might follow.

S. I. Hayakawa and his “ladder of abstraction” helps us understand the gradations of meaning between abstract and specific terms as part of clear communication. I was interested in how our moral and theological vision would change if we turned the ladder of abstraction upside down, began with the most inclusive category, and thought of ourselves first as members of the human race.

This may seem obvious to many, especially those who regard the human race to have evolved from simple life forms, a la Darwinism and evolutionary theory. But growing up in a religious community with a distinctive form of creationism, we were taught that humans were created in the image of God, fell into sin through a tragic error, and are now living with the consequences of that original willful misstep. It takes an act of God, the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, to restore humanity to the crowning act of creation, and the shortest route to that goal is to belong to a religious tradition with clear and certain beliefs that are founded on Scriptural and theological truth. Believing the right ideas and behaving according to the rules is how one proceeds through life. Thus, it is a matter of supreme importance, one that has eternal consequences, to belong to the right religious body. If you grow up in this way you identify as an Adventist first and everything else after that.

Or an orthodox Jew or a deeply observant Muslim or, for that matter, a political ideologue committed to the Party above all. What all these religious and political bodies offer is a framework within which our personal identities can be developed—nurtured even—and ultimately compressed into similar forms. There is stability, consistency, a reliable level of expectation, and a sense of belonging to a movement that can put things right. But resentment and envy can grow where contractual obligations stand in the place of the risk of faith.

Our identity is built up over a lifetime, but begins with an irritant like a grain of sand: Who am I? What am I to do? Whether it becomes a pearl or a festering sore is largely the result of a myriad of decisions, some imposed upon us as children and others carved out of our own experience as we gauge the distance from where we are to the sunlit clearing up ahead where we think we want to be.

Of the many quotes from Ellen White, one of the founders of the Adventist church, that my generation took in as youth, the one that moved me the most and has remained a touchstone for me as a teacher is, “It is the work of true education to develop this power, to train the youth to be thinkers, and not mere reflectors of other men’s thoughts,” from the book, Education.

Adopted as a general principle of education this idea has a quietly revolutionary power to it. It suggests first, that thinking is not incidental, but is the goal of true education; that no matter what the content of the course, the primary outcome should be the training of the mind for independent thinking. Second, that thoughtful reflection within a religious context is not an adjunct to religious rules and practices but is the grammar and language of one’s spiritual expression. And finally, that for all the knowledge one might gain from others, there is no substitute for personal experience.

At no other time in history have we had the capacity to know so much about other religions, cultures, mindsets, and philosophies of life. Yet, on all sides we see not openness and capaciousness, but fearfulness and divisiveness and retreat. This is not the first time in history for such a reaction, and it most certainly will not be the last, but neither is it the worst expression of this debilitating exclusivity. But we must take responsibility for our own ignorance and fear. A good start is to think of ourselves as belonging to the human family.

I remember an afternoon spent in a open-air market in Bali, when two young Balinese men and I began a conversation near a memorial to the bombing in 2002 which took the lives of over 200 people from 22 nations and injured hundreds more. A granite slab with the names of the victims now stands where the pub that was the initial target was incinerated in the blast. The two had been teenagers when the bombing occurred and knew some of the Balinese victims. They taught me some Indonesian words and I taught them some English. We talked about Hinduism, Islam, and Christianity. They talked about their families; I talked about mine. They spoke of their hopes for a university education and I shared my love of teaching with them. Nothing earthshaking, no headlines, but simply three people overcoming numerous barriers to communication for the joy of understanding another person, another culture.

Looking back over a lifetime of teaching and learning, my willingness to be open to different ideas and experiences has varied in proportion to my confidence that I am always on the road to Emmaus, and whoever my companion of the moment may be there is, as Eliot wrote, ”a third who walks always beside” us.

Having begun my teaching life in an Adventist college, with every intention of staying there, I smile to find myself through circumstance, temperament, and opportunity, one semester from completing that trajectory in a Catholic women’s college serving students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

“What you must realize, what you must even come to praise, is the fact that there is no right way that is going to become apparent to you once and for all. . . Wisdom is accepting the truth of this. Courage is persisting with life in spite of it. And faith is finding yourself, in the deepest part of your soul, in the very heart of who you are, moved to praise it.” — Christian Wiman, My Bright Abyss.

Photo: Ben White,

Practicing Conversation


“It is not enough to relate our experiences: we must weigh them and group them; we must also have digested them and distilled them so as to draw out the reasons and conclusions they comport.” — Michel Montaigne, The Art of Friendship

“This is only my opinion, but. . . .”  Lately, whenever I hear that in the classroom, in a conference, in a faculty meeting, or in casual conversation, I want to tear off all my clothes and start screaming. Since that is against most social norms and my better judgment, I signal my displeasure by the merest arching of an eyebrow.

How did we come to this point in common discourse? Why is it that when we edge ever closer to subjects of significance and weight, points that ought to be argued, elements of life that divide and conquer people, we retreat with a disarming smile into a cloud of unknowing?

The rules of engagement in these battles are followed to the letter. First, the disclaimer: “This is only my opinion. . . . “ Translation: I’m sorry if you take offense at anything I say, but everyone has the right to their own opinion.” This is followed by the actual opinion, which varies in its relevance to the discussion, but usually reflects the unconscious prejudices of the opinionator. Finally, there is the idemnification clause, intended to protect against the disagreeable opinions of others fired at point-blank range: “You may disagree, that’s okay—everyone is entitled to their own opinion—but I’m just saying. . . .” Then the speaker usually lapses into passivity, content to have said his piece, but uninterested in any extension of the argument unless it challenges his right to express his opinion.

This signals the death of dialogue and the throttling of democracy, which relies on the free exchange of ideas. But how can ideas freely circulate when they come walled about with petulant assertions designed to shore up fragile egos? We have lost the art of “conversation,” a word which can be traced back to its Latin roots in the idea of living in company with others, literally, ‘to turn about with.’ Another ancient root, a scriptural meaning, relates conversation to a ‘manner of life,’ or a way of being, never merely as a means of communication. It signifies a willingness to trust one another, to extend to others the means of grace whereby genuine learning can take place. It assumes that conversation takes time, that it evolves, and that it is so much more than mere assertion.

Robert Grudin places this squarely in the realm of liberty and calls these conversational skills the ‘arts of freedom.’ In a fascinating meditation entitled On Dialogue, Grudin says, “Once gained, moreover, the arts of freedom must be kept fresh by thought and action, taught to the young, bequeathed down generations.” Otherwise, he warns, the posturing demagogue and the ravenous mass-marketer “will turn liberty into its own caricature, a barbarous fool driven by fear and greed.”

It might seem a long leap from a classroom discussion to the foundations of democracy. We must also be wary of blaming the end of civilization on the young and restless. But Grudin, a professor of English at the University of Oregon, believes that these arts can and should be taught. “The operative pedagogical philosophy is that skill in these arts will enable people to make decisions and follow courses of action beneficial to themselves and society. In other words, people can learn freedom. Freedom is useless without a rational and emotional instrumentation that gives it substance.”

What I often see in classroom discussions is more a clash of egos than an exchange of ideas. Many times those who speak up are so eager to claim their point of view as theirs that the point—if there even was one—is lost.

Teachers don’t help much either. When I worked in faculty development I saw many syllabi which laid out elaborate rules for classroom discussions. I was struck by the pervasive fear which ran through the assumptions behind these rules. Students had to be protected from the sharp edges of differences between them: once you entered the classroom there were no races, genders, or cultures. Reference to these social categories was taboo: each person was simultaneously an individual so autonomous that she perceived reality in exclusively personal terms and she was a member of a massive, amorphous, egalitarian lump. No doubt the intentions were that no student should feel discriminated against—something no one should have to suffer—but the effect was to limit discussion to the confident few who wielded their vorpal swords for sport. These parts of our identity help make us who we are and we ignore them at our peril. They come back as labels and epithets if we don’t take their influence into consideration.

We learn with each other: that’s what conversation is. We are social beings, which is to say we find out who we are through interaction with others as well as reflection by ourselves. Self-awareness and self-reflection, though, are learned behaviors, brought about through practice in hearing about ourselves from other people as we dialogue. When we don’t practice at listening before we speak we panic when spoken to. Our desire to be known for ourselves rises up and before we know it we are chanting the mantra of the blindingly obvious: “Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. . . .” Whereupon we deliver our opinion as a verdict rather than an invitation.

I once went to a conference for men held at a large hall in downtown Washington, D.C. It was led by Robert Bly, a poet and self-styled men’s mentor, who had just published a book entitled Iron John. It was a manifesto on being a real man without becoming a slack-jawed, brutish jerk. During the course of his presentation he gave some time for statements and questions from the floor, but placed some conditions on the speakers.  They had to keep their contributions to three sentences in the interest of time and they could ask questions—but any sentence that was not a question had to be a simple, declarative sentence. It was issued as a challenge: say what’s on your heart without hedging it about with qualifiers. I took it as a request for open, sincere, and rugged conversation.

Nobody could do it.

Virtually everyone who spoke danced about their subjects, adding implied questions, footnotes, self-referential phrasing, and jargon. Bly was disgusted and berated us for our narcissism.

I have often thought of that experience for it revealed some principles I’d like to live by. We need to think before we speak; we need to listen to others; we need to give each other grace so that we have a space in which to learn from each other. That’s not my opinion, that’s my invitation.

Photo: William Stitt,

We Are What We Think


Oh East is East and West is West, and never the twain shall meet. . . — Rudyard Kipling

We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts we make the world. — The Dhammapada

The world is orderly and simple.

The world changes constantly and is immensely complex.

These two ways of thinking have shaped human behavior and culture for millenia—and lately they have been tested in the laboratories of cultural psychology.

Richard Nisbett’s book, The Geography of Thought, builds the case that Westerners and Easterners differ in their fundamental beliefs about the world. As one of his graduate students from China said to him, “You know, the difference between you and me is that I think the world is a circle, and you think it’s a line.” Nisbett, a distinguished professor of psychology at the University of Michigan, was skeptical but intrigued. He’d always thought of himself as a universalist, someone who believed humans perceive and reason in the same way. While their cultural practices may vary widely, he thought, their ways of perceiving the world are generally similar.

He summarizes this tradition in four general principles. First, everyone has the same basic thinking processes when it comes to memory, categorization, inference, and causal analysis. Second, when people from different cultures have different beliefs it’s because they have been exposed to different aspects of the world, not because they actually think differently. Third, reasoning rests upon logic: a proposition can’t be both true and false. And fourth, our reasoning is separate from what we are reasoning about. You can think about a thing many different ways—and you can use your reasoning to come up with wildly different results. Such was the tradition that could be traced back through the Enlightenment to the Greeks. Surely everybody thought in the same way.

But that turns out not to be the case at all.

In test after test, Western subjects focused on the objects in the foreground of a video while Eastern subjects took in the whole background. That’s consistent with another finding that Westerners regard objects as most important and Easterners emphasize relationships. Following Greek thought, Westerners think of themselves above all as free agents, individuals who act upon the environment around them, changing their circumstances to match their ambitions. Easterners, following Confucian thought, see themselves as part of a harmonious whole, experiencing the links between people and their environment as continuous. One does not so much wrest control away from Nature as align oneself with it.

Independence, practically a virtue in Western societies, begins at an early age as we teach our children to “stand on their own two feet,” “think for themselves,” and “grow up.” Interdependence, the way of many in Eastern cultures, helps children to understand the reactions of others. One of Nisbett’s research partners, a 6 ft. 2 inch football-playing graduate student from Japan, was dismayed to discover, at his first American football game, that University of Michigan football fans thought nothing of blocking his view of the game by standing up in front of him. “We would never do anything to impair the enjoyment of others at a public function like that,” he said to Nisbett. It seems that compared to the Japanese wide-angle view Americans have tunnel vision.

Sensitivity to others’ emotions provides Easterners with a different set of assumptions about communication also. Whereas Westerners take responsibility for speaking directly and clearly, a “transmitter” orientation, Easterners adopt a “receiver” orientation in which it’s the hearer’s responsibility to make sure the message is understood. Nisbett notes that Americans sometimes find Asians hard to read because Asians make their points indirectly; Asians, on the other hand, may find Americans direct to the point of rudeness.

The differences extend to how we think about causality and how we deal with historical events. Japanese teachers, says historian Masako Watanabe, begin a history lecture by setting the context. They then proceed chronologically through the events, linking each one to the proceeding event. Students are encouraged to put themselves in the mental and emotional states of the historical figures being studied and to draw analogies to their own lives. Students are regarded as thinking historically when they are able to see the events from the point of view of the other, even Japan’s enemies. Questions of “how” are asked about twice as much as in American classrooms.

By contrast, American teachers usually begin with the outcomes and ask why this result was produced. The pedagogical process often has the effect of destroying historical continuity and reversing the flow to effect-cause. This reflects the Greek heritage of the West in which we have the liberty to find our goals and define the means to attain them.

“Easterners,” says Nisbett, “are almost surely closer to the truth than Westerners in their belief that the world is a highly complicated place and Westerners are undoubtedly often far too simple-minded in their explicit models of the world. . . . But Aristotle has testable propositions about the world while the Chinese did not. . . . The Chinese may have understood the principle of action at a distance, but they had no means of proving it.”

No one is making value judgements about these varying perspectives. They are different ways of being in the world and viewing the world. But if this research is true or even close, we should pay attention to it for it could change how we communicate with millions and millions of people.

Occasionally in life we stumble across something that opens a window into our own interior castles. That is the experience I had reading The Geography of Thought. Time and again, as I followed the tests scattered throughout the book, I was taken aback at my unconscious affinity for Eastern thought. More often than not, when I was absolutely honest with myself, I realized how often they are my default positions.

That might explain why I found it so difficult to be the ‘answer man’ when working in faculty development at a research university. While some thought I should provide techniques that would work in every classroom—universals, in effect—my tendency was to see each teacher and each classroom as distinct. Instead of developing objectives for all to reach my thought was to develop each teacher’s own style to fit their context. Context and background instead of rules and foreground. At the time I lacked the analogies to talk about it, although pushing against that instinctual feeling made me feel off balance much of the time.

Thus we live and learn and discover coves and bays along our spiritual shoreline we did not know were there until we put out to sea.

Photo: Rendiahsyah Nugroho on

Cutting the Branches at WAU

A short post on the dubious reading of Scripture to justify faculty cuts and layoffs . . .

Washington Adventist Community

Weymouth Spence writes a half-page column each month in the Visitor, the primary publication of the Columbia Union Conference. His column for July 2014, entitled “Partnering for Fruitfulness,” drew our attention here at WAC (Washington Adventist Community) for several reasons. We’ll look at what it suggests about his management style in this post and leave the rest for another time.

He points out that external stakeholders have grown increasingly interested in the academic performance of colleges and universities, calling for more accountability and more assurance that graduates can perform at the levels these institutions claim they can. The tools employed to gather this evidence are numerous: enrollment patterns, retention, completion, and graduation percentages, job placement rates, graduate school admissions, and more. In the business of higher education these approaches go by the names of evidence-based or competence-based outcomes. Gathering this data and crunching the numbers reveals, in President Spence’s words, “whether the institution’s…

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Thresholds and Endings at WAU

Saying goodbye to WAU’s 2014 departees . . .

Washington Adventist Community

There are liminal moments in the history of an institution in which a threshold is crossed.  One such threshold has arrived for WAU: for the first time in recent months we are hearing from people whose judgment we respect worrying out loud about the demise of Washington Adventist University. Years of misguided decisions and instability in academic leadership at the Cabinet level have taken their toll on departments across the campus. Programs have been reduced, suspended or scheduled for closure, departments have been cut and faculty members dismissed. That has inevitably had an effect on student retention.

Just as worrisome is the apparent lack of concern on the part of the board for the direction of the university. A majority of the board are conference presidents, some of whom would be just as happy to see WAU close—and have privately said as much. The fact that there is little, if any, inquiry…

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How WAU Can Win (Back) Friends and Influence People

Washington Adventist Community

None of us want to see WAU close. That includes us here at WAC. Although we’ve been accused of being an “evil” website trying to bring down the university, that is far from our intention. What we want is what many others want: a healthy, financially stable educational institution, with a clear sense of purpose, that is dedicated to helping students learn how to learn and how to transform their world into part of the kingdom of God. That’s not too much to ask, is it?

But you can’t achieve good ends by shifty means. You can’t build on sand and you can’t cut corners in the construction of “present truth.” What we’re looking for from the administration of Dr. Spence, Provost Kisunzu, and VP Farley first, is transparency. There are tough problems right now at WAU, and bunkering down behind false promises and self-interest isn’t going to help. We’re all…

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Down the Rabbit Hole

Washington Adventist Community

One of the purposes for which Washington Adventist Community, aka WAC, exists is to raise questions about the actions of the administration at Washington Adventist University, aka WAU. And there is no end to the questions that come to mind. In fact, trying to figure out the logic behind their actions can consume more time than any of us should spend. Nevertheless, we here at WAC do it so that you don’t have to. However, a word of caution: if you should plunge headlong down the rabbit hole into this alternate reality don’t expect to find your way back to the light without considerable effort. With that in mind, we’ll begin.

Despite almost seven years of contradictory evidence we continue to look for a clear plan for this university. We’re not talking about “The Plan,” the prosaically-named revision of the strategic plan of the early part of the century. We’re…

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Why Adjuncts Can’t Replace Full-Time Faculty

We knew this day would come: Washington Adventist University (WAU) is trying to fill the gaps in their faculty ranks with adjuncts—lots of them. The NAD Employment site is filled with listings for openings at WAU. In fact, there is an Adjunct Faculty Career Fair coming up on June 4 on campus in which prospective adjuncts can meet with representatives of various departments to discover “what it’s like to teach at WAU” (see a copy of the Email with more information here: WAU_Today’s News (05.28.2014).

“We are currently seeking to expand our pool of qualified adjunct faculty,” says the announcement, “and to fill several openings in key discipline areas, such as English, Math, Business, Computer Studies, Nursing, Biology, and Chemistry.” (Full details are also on the WAU website)

We here at WAC thought those were “key discipline areas” too. And we thought that those areas were being covered pretty well by the full-time faculty who not only taught in their disciplines with expertise, insight, and dedication, but advised, served on committees, participated in research, coordinated on-campus and off-campus events, found internships for students, led out in worship and spiritual events, were available to students during office hours and more, and generally provided not only information but experience and wisdom to students year after year.

But now those classes will be covered by adjuncts. Covering the instructional material is all an adjunct can generally do. One of us here at WAC is a full-time adjunct. Whereas some adjuncts have steady jobs from 9 – 5 and teach in the evenings, many of us do this full-time.

Nationwide, adjunct faculty now make up 76% of college instructors. They make on average $20,000 to $27,000 per year, with no benefits (NPR, Feb. 3, 2014) . This trend began in the 1970s when adjuncts were few, but usually professionals who wanted to share their expertise with students and pick up some extra money on the side. They brought their “real-world” experience to the classroom in business, criminal justice, health care, vocational, and social work.

The difference now is that most of the part-time instructors are of two types: either they were cut from full-time teaching or they are just out of graduate school and hoping to hang on long enough for a full-time position to open up.

That almost never happens.

As long as administrators can hire a competent instructor for less than a third of what they would have to pay an associate or full professor—and no costly medical or retirement benefits—they have no incentive to change.

Colleges and universities have differing attitudes toward adjuncts. Some go out of their way to make them feel part of the campus by offering orientation sessions at the beginning of each school year, parking privileges, access to the library, recreational and dining facilities, and invitations to campus events.

Other colleges are late with contracts, don’t provide information about schedules, important dates, access to copy machines, or remedial services on campus that a teacher might refer students to. Information that the teacher needs is difficult to find or is contradictory or is simply not available, all of which is frustrating for someone on a schedule that is sometimes calculated down to the minute.

Adjuncting full-time means juggling schedules on two, sometimes three or four campuses, with five to seven different preparations for classes that can begin at 8 am on a campus an hour away and conclude that night at 10 pm on another campus—usually with two to three other classes in between on yet another campus.

When you’re racing from one campus to another there isn’t much time for face-to-face advising with students, even if you can find a place on campus that offers some privacy. Advising must be done through email, throughout the day, between classes on one’s phone or at the end of the day after hours of preparation, teaching, driving, and grading.

The reason why most full-time adjuncts teach overloads is because most campuses will not give an adjunct more than two classes a semester, lest they have to pay them benefits. So in order to make a living wage one has to teach as many courses as possible. I know adjuncts who not only teach three or four courses a week, but have another job as well.

When you read the comments after articles or podcasts about the grind of adjunct teaching, it’s clear that many people have no idea what teaching is really about. They can’t understand why anyone would work so hard for such low wages. “Get another job!” they say. “Nobody needs your sacrifice.” The full-time adjuncts I know live with these conditions because as stressful as it can be at times, all of that usually fades away once we step into the classroom. There’s an excitement and anticipation that just can’t be found in a lot of other jobs.

But this is not an ideal situation for anyone but the financial officers of a campus. No matter how dedicated and innovative an adjunct may be, they can rarely replace a full-time faculty member who has more resources, more time, better facilities, and a fuller sense of the mission of the college.

As WAU tries to fill these positions they will quickly find that there are precious few qualified Adventist instructors who are willing and able to meet the schedules and to work for the wages that WAU offers. They may be hiring people who are content experts in their respective fields, but who will be unfamiliar with the unique culture and ethos of an Adventist campus. Fitting into that culture will not only take explaining but coaching. Given the fact that most faculty at WAU are already overworked, not much time and attention can be given to adjunct faculty beyond basic instruction.

Fasten your seat belts and lower your expectations. This could be a bumpy flight come September.

What is Shared Governance?

As the Washington Adventist University campus prepares for Graduation weekend there remains among faculty, students, and alumni a palpable sense of distrust in the statements released by the university on the loss of accreditation by the Nursing Department, the reasons for the laying off of four full-time faculty, and the financial state of the university.

So it’s interesting to note that Washington Adventist University was the subject of a dissertation, A Qualitative Assessment of the Meaning of Shared Governance at a Parochial University (2012) by Shaton Monique Glover-Alves, a doctoral candidate in education at Northeastern University in Boston. The author gathered data through surveys and interviews with administrators, faculty leaders, and even a student leader, to determine the meaning of shared governance on campus. Not surprisingly, she discovered that it had different meanings to various groups on campus, but that the diversity of perceptions could lead to misunderstandings and miscommunication. While the official statements in the bylaws and regulations defined shared governance, the actual practices in interactions between faculty and administration often diverged widely from the required processes.

When asked to define ‘shared governance’ both administrators and faculty leaders interviewed said ‘it all depends.’ This led the author to coin the term ‘situational shared governance,’ meaning that while there were official descriptions of the role of shared governance on campus, the changing situation often dictated how that was interpreted. In other words, due process was often not followed.

The faculty interviewed all said that the many committees on campus had a ‘voice but not a vote,’ that they functioned merely in an advisory capacity, and that their recommendations were often vetoed by the administration. Committees appeared to make a decision, but the real decisions were made elsewhere at another level. Administrators readily agreed that this was the case and one interviewee, referred to as ‘Shane’ (described as the chairman of the Board of Trustees), took care to reiterate that faculty did not have a vote in major decisions.

Faculty have served on search committees in which they spend countless hours recruiting candidates for positions on campus, vetting them, conducting extensive interviews with them, and then making their recommendations on the best candidate, only to have the President summarily appoint someone else. Their disappointment and frustration suggests that in practice, at least, they have a different perspective on their role as a search committee than does the President. One example of this was the appointment by the President of a person to develop a program in Homeland Security. Neither the program nor the position nor the instructor went through any faculty committee or Academic Council. As it enters into its third year on the budget at an estimated cost of over $100,000 per year, the program still has no students. While it was touted as a full four-year degree it is currently advertised as a six-month certificate training program.

The researcher noted that “When faced with questions and definitions about collegiality, “Paul” [a pseudonym for one of the administrators] reported that the governance structure supported the collegial model, and that faculty, staff and cabinet got together to engage in the strategic planning process to discuss mission, vision, and goals. Both Frank and Holly [pseudonyms for top-level administrators] describe collegiality in terms of faculty power and reported that faculty committees only had advisory power, but the administrator had veto power (71).”

The response given by “Paul” is a non-answer. It is a demonstration of his mastery of the sidestep in which the goal is diversion. However, the researcher was not fooled.

Trust was the second major theme that emerged in the study. There was a strong emotional connotation to the idea of trust among the faculty interviewees. The researcher described an interview in which a faculty leader struggled to control his tears as he talked about the humiliation he experienced in actions taken by administrators. Trust was equated with transparency about financial matters, academic decisions, and the goals and visions for the university. While benevolence, competency, and reliability were highly desired by the faculty interviewed, none of those dimensions mattered without trust.

“Paul” noted that “trust takes a long time.” Other administrators talked of “deferred trust” and “delayed trust.”  While some of the faculty interviewed felt that they were trusted to do their job by the administrators, they still had deep reservations about the consistency of care exhibited by administration. In a carefully nuanced statement the author commented, “Researcher reflection suggested that without the formation of a relationship, and a sensitivity to the corresponding emotions, there would be little basis for the success of situational shared governance.”

So when President Spence insists that he operates from a position of shared governance, he means something quite different from what faculty actually experience. He thinks if committees gather, discuss, and talk about an issue that shared governance has taken place. He is then free to disregard or veto the committee’s recommendations. Thus, faculty and administration operate with decidedly different expectations and goals about shared governance. The result is miscommunication, misunderstanding, and constant inefficiency.

The author offers three recommendations:

1. Campus leaders should assess the level of trust in the leader. “There may be a need to build trust before shared governance can be fully effective.”
2. It is wise to periodically “review all documents that describe shared governance to bring them into greater reality with practices on campus.”
3. Campus leaders should “engage in discussions on shared governance to clarify campus meanings before embarking on project which require shared governance.”

The research was done to discover the meaning of “shared governance” at a religiously-based university. It resulted in more questions about the nature of Seventh-day Adventist higher education. The dissertation concludes with this sentence: “If the institution is academic, then shared governance will flourish; if it is not, then market-driven, corporative, non-input and handed-down decision will be the order of the day.”

The provost and the president have made it clear in videos, written statements, and public forums that their decisions are market-driven, data-based, and handed down. They have consistently resisted input from faculty and alumni and have couched their language in corporative terms. If we take the findings of this research seriously we can only conclude that shared governance, however defined, no longer flourishes at Washington Adventist University.