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L’Affaire Tengatenga Roils On
Religion Professor Randall Balmer, an Episcopal priest, offered his take on l’affaire Tengatenga in a column in the Valley News yesterday — he writes for the paper monthly in a section entitled Perspectives.
Balmer lists the various arguments in favor of Tengatenga, and there are many, but he fails to note Tengatenga’s poor performance in responding to his critics. As I have previously written, given the Bishop’s ostensibly checkered record on gay issues, he could well have won over people concerned about his appointment to the Tucker post with a forthright and thorough response to the questions that were raised about his own past statements and the anti-gay posture of organizations with which he had been affiliated. He did not do so: rather, he tacked and dissembled on issues like the selection of Gene Robinson as New Hampshire’s Bishop and his own stance on homosexuality.
Any selection process involves give and take; Balmer does Tengatenga’s critics a disservice by doing no more than making the case for Tengatenga and asserting that anyone taking issue with the appointment was off-base. For instance, Balmer wrote:
The case against Tengatenga was abetted by a Dartmouth alumnus whose abiding fixation is reducing the college workforce, and a letter of protest came out on letterhead from the local chapter of the NAACP (last I checked, Tengatenga would probably qualify as “colored”).
The alumnus, of course, would be me. Let’s be kind and ignore Balmer’s choice of the criminal justice term of art “abetted”; however, how is my concern with Dartmouth’s bloated workforce relevant to a discussion of Bishop Tengatenga’s appropriateness for the Tucker position? Does Balmer wish to impugn everything that I write no matter what the issue because I cannot understand why, for example, in 2011 Dartmouth has 10% more non-faculty staff than Brown (3,175 vs. 2,879), even though Brown had 38% more students than we do (8,454 vs. 6,144). Balmer seems to be raising my controversial position (controversial, at least, among the staffers in question, though hardly at all among the students and faculty who bear the burden of the College’s waste) because has no more solid argument to advance here.
As to the NAACP’s position on Tengatenga, is Balmer really asserting that the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People should support all people of color no matter what their stated positions on the issues of the day? If so, that idea is a literalism not worthy of a Dartmouth faculty member.
Balmer makes one point that I find curious:
Early on in our deliberations, the committee decided that Dartmouth needed someone with moral authority as dean of the Tucker Foundation, someone who could help us understand that living as a community is more than the accident of proximity. While specific affiliation was not a consideration — he or she could be Methodist, Catholic, Muslim, Buddhist, Reform Jew or, for that matter, a member of the Ethical Culture Society…
This listing of the various groups that might meet the committee’s requirements is at best sloppy. Why list two religions without regard to the various sects of which they are comprised (Muslim, Buddhist,); why note only two components of Christianity (Methodist, Catholic); and why then list only one wing of the Jewish faith? Is one to assume that Conservative and Orthodox Jews need not apply? So it would seem — especially given that many devout (but not all) Orthodox Jews hold the view that homosexual behavior is an abomination and that it is impermissible for a man to shake the hand or touch in any way a woman not his wife. Does Professor Balmer believe that these latter strictures are not compatible with the moral leadership of a diverse community like Dartmouth? I expect so. Therefore, we can conclude that even for Professor Balmer, in his own words, “diversity… apparently has its limits.”
Let’s hope for more complete, balanced and precisely expressed arguments in the future from Randall Balmer. After all, critical thinking is supposed to be one of the goals of the liberal arts.
Addendum: Balmer’s column contains a nugget that should not pass unnoticed:
When the provost’s office asked me to serve on the search committee for a new dean of the Tucker Foundation, I sought (and received) assurances that this would be a true search, not another anointing of an inside candidate.
This space, too, has long lamented the number of sham searches that have taken place in the past at the College. Phil, please don’t ever emulate Wright/Kim/Folt in telegraphing a preferred candidate, appointing a pliant search committee, and after watching many hours of committee work and interviews, simply picking the person that you wanted in the first place. As we have witnessed over the past fifteen years, the cynical distortion of a fair-minded process produces a poisonous atmosphere in an institution.
Addendum: William Alston ‘16 has a column in The D today that reprises many of Professor Balmer’s arguments.
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