Declaration of Dissent
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We, the Friends of the First Amendment, seek to expand the discussion of equality, diversity, and justice at Seattle Pacific University. We also hope to effect change in genuine pursuit of Christ’s Kingdom on Earth and at Seattle Pacific University. We value and welcome the responses of other members in the community, such that we may come together for the flourishing of our university. We believe it is in the best interest of all current and future faculty, staff, administrators, alumni, and students of the university to seek out the most efficient and Christ-like route to such flourishing. We believe in the principles of equality through Christ-centeredness and the importance of educational diversity. However, we disagree with recent actions and herein offer our respectful dissent. Following the summary of our position, we end with a prayer of humility and compassion for both our university and our community.
We believe in the God-given equality of all humans, which flows from our common nature. God has created us with a certain, fixed nature; intrinsic in which are those goods necessary for the flourishing of every individual and of humanity as a whole. Among these goods are life, liberty, and justice; we believe that each of these goods must be protected.
Concomitantly, we recognize that societal structures have the potential to unjustifiably and unjustly undermine equal protection on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religion, socioeconomic status, ability/disability, etc. We believe that no society should limit individuals with such structures. Rather, it is the duty of society to create structures that validate each individual’s rights to life, liberty, and justice. Therefore, we believe that Seattle Pacific University—as an institution with a Christian mission—has the duty to secure equal opportunity to all persons within its reach and to remove any and all institutional impediments to the accomplishment of this goal.
We hold that educating students is the primary purpose of Seattle Pacific University, an institution with a particular commitment to the promotion of the liberal arts. Inherent in this purpose is the role of faculty, staff, and administrators in challenging students to grow personally, spiritually, relationally, and intellectually. This requires that students are provided with the resources necessary to train them to think for themselves, to address questions reasonably and rationally, and to become better decision-makers.
Such an education, by its very nature, must exclude any pedagogical approach that could be understood as “indoctrination.” Thus, we conceptualize education as necessarily including diverse perspectives, epistemologies, arguments, and theories; but we reject any approach that presumes to tell students which theory, which perspective, which argument to believe. In short, the essence of education at this university must concentrate on how to think, not what to think.
We believe that our university can and should increase diversity. We contend that every person on campus must be represented and that no person should be discriminated against on the base of race, ethnicity, religion, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, gender, or ability/disability. The rights of all individuals must be secure if any are to be secure.
We further contend that increased diversity on campus facilitates a better education. A greater range of ideas and perspectives stemming from a more diverse campus community challenges students to address questions and arguments which they may not have otherwise encountered.
Grounded in the principles set out above, we respectfully dissent from many of the requests of our fellow students and from some of the initial actions of our administration. We request that the following concerns/questions be addressed:
a. Chief Diversity Officer
President Martin has stated that the university will employ a Chief Diversity Officer with the purpose of representing students from non-majority identity groups and serving as a resource to alleviate “oppression.” It is our understanding that this office will also advise university personnel on issues such as hiring faculty, campus programs, and admissions in order to expand diversity on campus. Nevertheless, the details as to this position remain unacceptably vague. We offer the following questions:
- Simple expenditure of funds is not a valid approach to the evaluation of the effectiveness of diversity programs. How will the university measure the effectiveness of the Chief Diversity Officer? Over what time period does the university expect to see the Chief Diversity Officer’s role making a significant difference? What benchmarks have been set out regarding accomplishments within the first year of this position? When will the university have sufficient information to (re)evaluate the position’s responsibilities and success/failure?
- What methods will be employed to evaluate the amount of diversity on campus and the benefits and burdens such change brings about? What type of survey, statistic, or standard will indicate progression toward the goal of increased diversity? As an educational and religious institution, Seattle Pacific University’s interest in diversity extends beyond the categories of race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation, ability/disability, and socioeconomic status. A range of intellectual, interpersonal, and spiritual specialties is necessary to develop a space in which students are encouraged and challenged to grow. What is the university’s plan to increase intellectual diversity and to more pro-actively bring in perspectives from across the ideological spectrum?
b. Justice and Cultural Credibility
The petitioners have requested that the university take action to facilitate “justice and cultural competency” among students, faculty, and administration. We agree that the university community should be provided opportunities to study and to explore topics outside of individual comfort zones. However, we believe that there are more effective ways of doing this than the mandating of a philosophically and ideologically narrow program of coursework.
- The administration projected the requirement for Cultural Understanding and Engagement would come into place during 2017-2018 academic year. Our first concern with this requirement is similar to our questions regarding the Chief Diversity Officer: what standard will measure the effectiveness of teaching cultural understanding and engagement through coursework? Additionally, we fear this requirement maintains within itself a dangerous potential for an extreme homogeneity of perspective toward social justice questions. We believe that the Cultural Understanding and Engagement requirement will perpetuate and expand such homogeneous thinking, undermining the building of a genuinely diverse intellectual environment that stimulates personal growth.
- Current discussions also involve the implementation of an anonymous reporting system for inappropriate speech and behavior with the goal of creating a “safe space” for those individuals who feel the need for such a location. However, we do not believe that such a space encourages persons to grow and to build meaningful relationships. We believe that the university is a place where students ought to learn how to face opposition with grace. This interpersonal skill allows individuals to cultivate patience and humility in order to develop more wholehearted relationships across one’s lifetime. Safe spaces undermine the development of this skill.
- Finally, we worry that the ramifications of such a reporting system will suppress authentic speech across campus. By implementing a strict policy against potentially offensive speech and behavior, university personnel will be forced to compromise the openness of myriad spaces for learning. The truly safe space is an environment in which individuals assume good intent in challenging conversations and graciously allow for mistakes for all to become more virtuous. Effectively, this policy would oppress unpopular, minority opinions on campus because it shifts the credibility of interpretation of statements to the ear of the beholder, which would be a completely subjective and immeasurable standard of discriminatory speech and behavior.
c. Faculty Hiring Process
We understand that the administration is developing a plan to restructure the recruitment and hiring process for faculty in order to expand the racial diversity of Seattle Pacific University’s faculty. The recommended proposal gives preference to persons of color in the hiring process. We must express opposition to any policy based on open discrimination against in favor or against any specific group.
Our first concern is with the racial bias inherent to the policy of affirmative action. Restructuring the hiring process in the proposed manner designates persons of color as a preferred group over persons of the majority racial group. We believe that creating racial preferences facilitates bias towards one group over another strictly on the basis of race and diminishes the equality of opportunity for all groups. We hold that positive discrimination for one group effectively causes negative discrimination against another. The university cannot justify discriminating against some for the promotion of others; it cannot justify unequal treatment for the goal of equal outcome.
The best faculty and staff are those who have the teaching styles, interpersonal skills, and backgrounds that demonstrate their ability to achieve that goal. We accept that diversity is an important factor in determining qualifications because it can provide a broader range of ideas that students should be exposed to for a broader education. However, we do not believe that racial diversity is a necessary condition to achieve a broad range of ideas. We believe it is quite plausible for the same range of ideas to be present in a group of people with same or similar races because of the potential for very diverse personal experiences which form worldviews. Ultimately, we believe that the most holistically qualified person in a pool of applicant deserves employment as an educator at our institution regardless of social identity.
Further, we must address the practical aspect of affirmative action at an educational institution like our university. Though some students are disappointed at the unequal representation of persons of color as full-time faculty, all university personnel must recognize that many faculty members are tenured and that the ability to retain part-time or adjunct faculty is more difficult to cultivate. So, it would be difficult to achieve a more racially diverse full-time faculty as a short-term goal. It is also a challenge to compete in a market of minority applicants where the supply is low and demand is high. One factor that significantly reduces the applicant pool even more is Seattle Pacific University’s commitment to hiring members of the Christian faith, an unnegotiable aspect of our identity.
Even further, we must ask: what will indicate to the university when a critical mass of racial representation has been achieved? If the numbers are currently inadequate, then what will be the correct racial proportion? In an increasingly globalized world where the range of social identifiers such as race is constantly expanding, it is difficult to know how and when the university can achieve diversity that is good for education. Along the same lines, it is difficult if not impossible to create an environment where all groups are represented and feel welcomed because of the limited number of available positions and the increasing number of groups seeking representation. Before the administration changes the hiring process, we ask that quantifiable measurements be specified in order for all university personnel to be aware of a realistic, achievable goal, and we ask that there be a strict timeline be specified so that evaluation of changes to a vital aspect of the life of our university can be expected.
With the aforementioned concerns, our prayer for the people of Seattle Pacific University comes from our hearts with sincerity, humility, and respect. Our wish for the university is that the students, faculty, staff, and administrators continue this essential discussion with the same sincerity, humility, and respect toward one another, as our Lord calls us to come together as His Church with loving, self-sacrificial grace.
For our university’s administration, we pray that God grants thoughtfulness and prudence in making decisions which will significantly impact the university and its future. For our university’s faculty and staff, we pray that God provides compassion and articulation in continuing to cultivate growth among students in the midst of this conversation. For our university’s students, we pray that God grants peace and open-mindedness for the development of spiritually fulfilling relationships.