Amid faculty and student requests for a new part-time Muslim chaplain last fall, the Claremont University Consortium (CUC) requested that its budget allocation remain the same for the McAlister Center, which facilitates religious services and support groups for members of the Claremont Colleges community. This is not the first time religious services in Claremont have run into money problems, as McAlister has experienced several budget cuts in the last four decades.
As a service whose budget falls under the purview of the CUC rather than an individual college, McAlister’s funding is determined by a committee comprised of the student deans and approved by the consortium presidents. McAlister has three chaplains: one Catholic, one Jewish and one Protestant. The Protestant chaplain position is currently vacant.
Last semester, the chaplains and the Committee on Religious Activities (CORA), which is comprised of 7C faculty members, proposed that a part-time Muslim chaplain be added to McAlister’s staff. According to members of the committee, CUC denied the request for budgetary reasons. A request for a Muslim chaplain from 5C students this March was put on hold, pending a review of the chaplaincy to be conducted this fall.
Committee members Pitzer professor Judy Grabiner and Claremont Graduate University professor Tammi Schneider said that in fall 2014, CUC officials informed CORA that next year's budget for the chaplaincy had been frozen.
This semester, the 7C Presidents' Council convened a committee to review the chaplaincy and consider other models that the colleges could adopt. According to Pomona history professor Kenneth Wolf, the chair of the committee, there are two strong opinions being voiced by committee members, one of which supports instituting an unaffiliated director of religious life and the other in favor of keeping the current model. In its review, the committee has looked at McAlister's budget in recent years.
According to CUC budget forms, the chaplaincy was allotted $518,616 for the 2014-15 school year, a 0.7 percent increase from the 2013-14 school year. Of this sum, a total of $415,670 was allocated to salaries for McAlister employees, a decrease from the previous year’s allotment of $418,810.
“The Chaplains’ budget has had a modest increase over the past 5 years,” CUC CEO Stig Lanesskog wrote in an email to TSL.
Archival documents show that after the McAlister budget was lowered in 1969, the amount of money allotted to the center didn't surpass the 1968 budget provision in real terms for 25 years. The budget was approximately $75,000 in 1968, which equates to nearly $500,000 in today’s dollars.
In 1993, the year before a substantial CUC-wide budget cut, the total budget after adjusting for inflation was $415,114. CORA documents from the time period indicate that the committee members considered these cuts a “threat” to the chaplaincy's existence.
Although McAlister maintained its current model after the budget cuts, funding for some services was cut. The length of the chaplains’ contracts was also reduced from 12 months to 10 months.
Some students, faculty and community members believe that even with the budget in real terms currently surpassing what it was in 1968, more funds are necessary for McAlister to more fully meet the needs of members of the Claremont community.
“When you need something, do you say, ‘Well I can’t buy it because even though this is really important, you have to use the same exact amount of money?’” Grabiner said. “My view is that the chaplaincy is an extremely valuable resource, and we should be expanding it to include a Muslim chaplain.”
During the 2013-14 school year, McAlister made a total of 25,088 student contacts, which are defined as the number of times that individuals of a particular faith come into the McAlister offices or attend services through the center.
Attendees of Catholic services at McAlister were the most common, accounting for 42 percent of the student contacts, followed by Jewish students at 35 percent and Protestants at 9 percent.
Other common faiths were Hindus at 4 percent, Buddhists at 3 percent and Muslims at 2 percent, although McAlister does not have designated chaplains for these faiths.
One model under the review committee's consideration would replace the chaplains with a Director of Religious Life who would facilitate religious activities for students, faculty and staff but would not lead worship services for any particular faith.
“Their charge is to consider the following question: ‘How best can the Claremont Colleges support the spiritual and religious needs of all students, faculty and staff?’” Lanesskog wrote. “The primary stakeholder group they are to consider is students of The Claremont Colleges.”
Students once participated on CORA along with faculty and chaplains, but according to Grabiner and Schneider, the committee is currently comprised solely of faculty members. The chaplaincy review committee includes student representatives of various faiths.
According to Schneider, who has served on CORA since her arrival at the Claremont Colleges 23 years ago, the changes in the governance of McAlister were gradual over the course of several years.
“It happened in little bits,” she said. “So it wasn’t as though one day they said, now we are having a whole new way of looking at the chaplaincy and the chaplains now are X, Y and Z and report to P, Q and R. It was like, ‘The chaplains don’t work in the summer anymore,’ or ‘The chaplains now don’t report to the presidents; they report to the deans of students.”
Grabiner maintained that McAlister’s structure should be preserved regardless of financial considerations.
“I think we have something very precious here, and I think we need to preserve it,” Grabiner said. “We’re lucky that it works well. I don’t want to come off like a hidebound conservative here, but if you get something that works very well, you should be very careful about messing with it.”