Chaplaincy Search Process Continues to Raise Concerns for Some Faculty

The role of the Claremont University Consortium (CUC) in the search process for the McAlister Center's Muslim and Protestant chaplains continues to elicit concerns from some faculty and students at the Claremont Colleges.

CUC recently created a search committee for the two positions without consulting the Committee on Religious Affairs (CORA), which has been working with the chaplaincy and overseeing chaplain searches since 1973. According to Pomona College Professor of history Ken Wolf and Claremont McKenna College Professor of philosophy Stephen Davis, the CUC has not yet provided CORA or the chaplains with a reason for this decision and gave them no information about this move beforehand.

The CUC’s involvement in the chaplain search has brought up broader issues regarding the CUC’s handling of the chaplaincy. Specifically, chaplains may not make any statements to the press, including TSL, without having their quotes approved by the CUC. According to Wolf, many regard this as an infringement on their right to free speech.

In spring 2015, the resignation of the Protestant chaplain and the Muslim Student Association (MSA)’s petition for a Muslim chaplain led CORA to set up a Chaplaincy Review Committee, which Wolf chaired. Later, when the 5C presidents approved the search for new Protestant and Muslim chaplains, they unexpectedly decided to establish a new CUC committee to lead the search.

“Throughout the review process last spring I worked closely and in good faith with Stig Lannesskog, the CEO of CUC,” Wolf said. “When the review was over, he asked me to work with CORA to make it a better advisory committee. I did just that and CORA responded by approving new by-laws last Oct. 1. That’s why I was so surprised to see that the Presidents called for a new committee in their Dec. 3 letter.”

Over three months later, Wolf said that he remains in the dark about the formation of the new committee.

“I went to see Stig as soon as possible after that to cry foul. He was not forthcoming about the reasons for the new committee,” Wolf said. “That’s when I realized that he and I were not on the same page. Maybe we never have been.”

Davis, who has been part of CORA since 1973, echoed Wolf’s sentiment, saying, “I’m disappointed that they’ve chosen to exclude CORA from any future involvement in the process. Disappointed and puzzled.”

CUC's vice president for student affairs, Denise Hayes, chairs the new committee. 

“All chaplains are selected through a search committee process that involves faculty, staff, and students. This search will include using a search firm that will develop a large pool of candidates interested in working at the Claremont Colleges,” Hayes wrote in an email to TSL.

Hayes wrote that the advisory committee’s role will be to “support programs and services of the chaplains by providing feedback regarding the needs of students and facilitating communication between students, the Claremont College community and the chaplains.”

The job search has moved ahead in the last few weeks.

“The search firm has been confirmed, the search committee has been finalized, and the positions will be posted this week,” she wrote. 

The next three months will see applications being sent in and interviews commencing via Skype and on campus, according to Hayes.

Wolf suggested that CUC’s policy of requiring the approval of chaplains’ statements to the press might deter prospective applicants to the chaplaincy positions.  

“The problem is that, whether you have three or four or ten chaplains, if they are not left alone to do their good work, no one with any particular talent or skill will want that job,” he said. “To put it simply, a chaplain cannot truly operate as the institutional conscience of a college if that chaplain is not free to voice concerns without first clearing them with the administration.”

In her email, Hayes explained CUC's current policy regarding the chaplaincy and other CUC departments: “CUC has a policy for all its employees to consult with a CUC senior administrator and with the director of communications. This is done to insure that the information is accurate and has clarity.”

As the job search moves ahead, Wolf has filed a complaint with the faculty executive committee of Pomona College, citing this as a “faculty governance” issue. However, he is not sure when the executive committee will discuss the complaint.

Davis also attempted to appeal the process by organizing a meeting with CMC President Hiram Chodosh.

“It’s clear that there’s no deflecting them from the decision that they have made,” Davis said.

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