In Dec. 2015, the Council of Presidents of the Claremont colleges authorized the addition of full-time Muslim and Protestant chaplain positions to the McAlister Center for Religous Activities. However, some faculty members and students have recently raised concerns regarding the search process for the new chaplains.
“The CUC (Claremont University Consortium) has not been forthcoming about this process,” wrote Ken Wolf, professor of history and classics at Pomona College, in an email to TSL. Wolf chaired the chaplaincy review committee last spring. “The chaplains and CORA (Committee of Religious Affairs) have been largely left out of the decisions on such matters.”
CORA is comprised of faculty and students from the 5Cs, and, according to Wolf, plays a pivotal role in religious life on campus through its “long-standing relationship” with McAlister. David Vosburg, associate professor of chemistry at Harvey Mudd College and a member of CORA, said that he has not been invited to serve on the chaplaincy advisory board or the search committee.
Umar Farooq CM ’17, another member of CORA, echoed Wolf’s statements about the opacity of the search.
“I’ve been very disappointed with communication and transparency regarding the search process,” Farooq wrote in an email to TSL. “The CUC made an announcement last summer about its commitment to hiring a new Protestant and Muslim chaplain, but they have yet to come forward with an announcement or search committee, a prospective timeline, or approach members of the Muslim Students Association to serve on the committee.”
Denise Hayes, vice president for Student Affairs at the CUC, wrote in an email to TSL that the CUC plans to “complete [the chaplaincy’s] job description” and to “finalize the search committee” by the end of February. The finalists are expected to be named by April.
Students will also have a chance to participate in the search process, according to Hayes.
“In addition to having students on the search committee, we will likely have approximately three finalists for each chaplain [position] invited to campus to provide a public talk,” Hayes wrote. “Students, faculty, and staff members will be invited to attend and provide written feedback.”
In addition to the approval of new appointments for the chaplaincy, the Council of the Presidents also commissioned the formation of a new advisory committee.
According to Hayes, the committee will be comprised of student nominated by the Student Deans Committee and faculty nominated by the Academic Deans Committee.
Although there will be overlaps in membership, Hayes said that the chaplain advisory committee and the search committee are separate entities.
However, others, such as Wolf, have expressed stronger sentiments regarding the formation of the advisory board.
“CORA is a long-standing faculty committee with a long relationship with McAlister. When the presidents approved a new ‘advisory committee’ for the chaplaincy last December, they said nothing about CORA,” Wolf wrote. “In my opinion, this is a violation of faculty governance and CORA is appropriately mystified/angry.”
Wolf is concerned about the growing power of the CUC over the chaplaincy through the formation of this advisory committee, which he believes is undermining the influence of CORA and the “traditional relationship between faculty of faith and McAlister.”
To understand the dynamics between CORA, McAlister, and the CUC, it is important to note that the December 2015 Council of Presidents resolution also affirmed the co-equal status of the chaplaincy, a unique feature of the Claremont Colleges. The CUC has had a co-equal structure since 1973, when the college voted to grant co-equal administrative status to each of the chaplains, instead of having a single Protestant chaplain at the head of religious affairs.
Both Wolf and Farooq alluded to a 2011 decision in which the CUC hired a Protestant chaplain to act as an administrative chaplain in the office. Farooq likened this administrative model to an “Office of Religious Life with a Dean of Religious Life to oversee activities.”
According to Farooq, such a move would significantly cripple religious life within the student body, particularly the Muslim community, by making it more difficult for organizations like the Muslim Students Association to organize events.
Wolf cited the “mistrust, misunderstanding, and miscommunication,” as well as the “toxic” atmosphere within the Office of Chaplains that resulted in the resignation of the Protestant chaplain and the call for last year’s administrative review.
While Wolf and Farooq both wrote that they were pleased with the December 2015 decision to uphold the co-equality within the office of the chaplains, Wolf expressed concerns about the CUC’s increasing control over the chaplaincy.
“The problems that began in 2011 with the CUC VP’s meddling in the governance of the chaplaincy remain unresolved,” he wrote. “CORA has been outspoken about the unusual CUC interventions into the chaplaincy …The presidents and CUC seem to be hoping that no one cares enough about CORA to raise a stink about this ‘end around:’ the creation of a new committee under CUC control.”