Education

Grove City College board asked to reject diversity report

Grove City College’s Board of Trustees formed a special committee earlier this year to investigate whether the Pennsylvania institution is abandoning its traditional Christian values, as some critics have alleged. That inquiry is now complete, and the special committee’s report takes a hard line against the diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives that some at the college have found controversial.

“Grove City College has not changed,” the report says, recommending such “remedial actions” as ending an elective education course that discussed antiracism and the concept of white fragility. The report also suggests that the full faculty approves all elective courses going forward. And it explicitly rejects critical race theory and what it calls “pop-CRT,” saying that “striving after justice and its object, the common good, should be rooted in divine revelation and natural law—not in critical theory or its popular variants.”

Another recommendation: adding the word “conservative” back into the college’s vision statement, which the board removed in 2021 in an attempt to separate the college’s identity from political movements. The special committee, which included four current board members, one former board chair and a professor emeritus, further urged formally dissolving the college’s advisory council on diversity (which was formed in 2020) and reconstituting and renaming the Office of Multicultural Education and Initiatives “to better fit its student-assistance mission, and to prevent veering into co-curricular activity.”

Addressing criticism of a 2020 talk by scholar Jemar Tisby, author of The Color of Compromise: The Truth About the American Church’s Complicity in Racism, the report proposes greater “scrutiny” of chapel speakers.

GCC “remains a Christ-centered, conservative institution. GCC’s board and president are firmly committed to its historic vision, mission, values and character,” the report states.

It’s unclear if the college’s full board will vote on the report at its meeting next week. Edward D. Breen, board chair and CEO of DuPont, didn’t respond to a request for comment.

What is clear: the report has not settled the ongoing debate among GCC students, faculty, alumni and parents over whether the college is headed in the right direction.

“Grove City College stands at a crossroad [sic],” says one petition calling on the board to reject the special report. “How is it possible that the Gospel could be compromised by racial justice, condemning racism, and seeking to operate without bias?”

The petition, led by students, alumni and parents, continues, “This is an amazing opportunity for the board to show that Christian academia does not need to censor speech or thought. In fact Christian institutions are able to be the most free because Gospel Truth can withstand all scrutiny. We say to each board member, ‘Who knows but that you were appointed to the Grove City College Board of Trustees for such a time as this?’”

Some in the GCC orbit have commended the report. David J. Ayers, professor of sociology (who did not respond to a request for comment), tweeted about the committee, for instance, “Grace and courage under fire. You put it all out there for the institution you serve and love and I am deeply grateful. Thank you.” But numerous other faculty members have spoken out against the report and want the full board to reject it. President Paul J. McNulty faced a series of questions about the committee’s process and its findings from professors this week at an internal meeting, and some faculty members have taken their concerns public.

‘Determined to Make Us Confess’

Jennifer Trujlllo Hollenberger, an assistant professor of social work who identified herself on Twitter as perhaps the college’s only Hispanic faculty member, said that slides from one of her classes were misrepresented in the board’s report and that she’d been unjustly criticized on a college parents’ Facebook page for discussing systemic racism in her classroom.

“A book study I planned to lead, that sought to provide a Christian, and spirit led, model of racial reconciliation and social justice was strongly encouraged to be removed from our spring spiritual formation program,” Hollenberger also said. “Under formidable pressure, I did not lead the study.”

Yet “I will not be silent any longer—especially when it comes to the need to understand the sin of racism that plagues us as individuals, as members of church communities, and as a society as a whole,” Hollenberger continued. “Throughout this entire controversy, no one has considered the voice of our international and minority students, or our faculty and staff members of color. The campus culture, especially this academic year, has been toxic, hostile, and not a place where flourishing was possible for some of us. This division, to me, has nothing to do with academic theory but everything to do with a deficit of spiritual health and unity.”

Cedric Lewis, who co-taught and co-designed EDU 290, the elective on diversity that the special committee faulted as promoting CRT and excluding other perspectives, also shared his thoughts about the report on Twitter—including that his meeting with a pair committee members about the course felt like an interrogation.

“It was evident from the onset that the two committee members had their minds made up and [were] determined to make us confess. It didn’t go that way,” wrote Lewis, who is one of GCC’s only Black faculty members. “Not one question to me about my biblical beliefs and how I teach them. Not one. My questioning revolved on attempts to have me defend CRT. I don’t teach CRT.”

He continued, “Several questions arose about cherry picked sentences from one of the assigned books, [Ibram X. Kendi’s] How To Be An Antiracist. When pressed … about the details of that book, it [was] very evident that none of the committee members have actually read the book or any of the books they found objectionable for that matter (by the way, none of the books they have objected to are actual CRT, as admitted to on several occasions by the authors and as anyone who has actually taken the time to read them would know). Nor had they apparently reviewed the over 40 additional readings that are assigned in the course, all offering differing viewpoints on the topics.”

Gina Blackburn, Lewis’s co-teacher for the course, told Inside Higher Ed that the committee’s interview made her feel “like a criminal instead of a 13-year member of the faculty who has never had a less than excellent dean’s and chair’s evaluation.”

“All of their questions were centered around my political views,” Blackburn said of the two interviewers. “They were fixated on the syllabus from the first year we ran the elective class, instead of acknowledging the changes we made for this year. They were also focused entirely on [Robin DiAngelo’s book White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism], repeatedly pulling individual sentences out of the text and asking me to explain how that statement supports our school’s mission statement.”

Regarding the report, Blackburn said her concerns are twofold: “Students and faculty who are of diverse cultural and racial groups are ready to leave GCC because they do not feel safe or supported. Secondly, the board has changed their role to micromanagers of our administration, staff and professors. That is beyond the purview of a board, so they cross a line.”

What’s Ahead

Lewis told Inside Higher Ed that he hopes the full board rejects the report at its upcoming meeting and that “if further investigation is believed to be warranted, that it be done properly, by members with a goal of gathering facts and not just rubber-stamping personal biases. As a Christian college, I would hope that we would all commit to standing on the word of God and not political factions. That’s what too much of this has become.”

He added, “At the end of the day, I want to get back to teaching with a biblical worldview, at a college that believes in an actual biblical worldview. We have let our politics dictate our theology instead of the other way around, and the division it’s causing is devastating.”

McNulty, GCC’s president, declined to be interviewed but answered some questions via email, saying, “I appreciate the feedback from the faculty, and I’m thankful that they feel free to express themselves openly in our community. I’ll do my best to convey those concerns as well as statements of support to the board.”

Asked about which report recommendations he’d already acted on, if any, McNulty said, “We’ve been addressing our chapel and [resident assistant] training programs for the past several months. The important work of recruiting minority students benefited last year from the advice of the diversity council, and it has fulfilled its purpose. This summer we will focus on how we can better support our minority students and begin developing a new course on racism and CRT concerns as described in the committee’s report.”

As for GCC’s path forward, McNulty said, “When perspectives collide, it takes a mix of humility, wisdom and time to move forward successfully. Those of us employed by the college must respect the role of our board, and the trustees must continue to support the outstanding work of our faculty and staff. I’m confident that we will balance these interests and serve our students with faithfulness to our distinct mission.” 

The board will discuss the report at its upcoming meeting, he said. 

Warren Throckmorton, professor of psychology, said “what needs to happen is that the full board needs to weigh in. Some of these board members, in their day jobs, they are champions of diversity. And so it does make me wonder, what are they really going to say about this? Some go to churches that recommend these resources, the very resources that are being complained about in this report.”

 

 

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