Starr King Is Unique, but It’s NOT Special…or, Terminal Uniqueness Strikes Again…

I get to start this post with an Earlham story.

During my time at Earlham, the school went through 2 MAJOR searches; one for President and one for Vice President of Finance. They also had 1 important search that wasn’t as major (a long term interim). Finally there was a search that was minorly important (and my sentimental favorite); the Director of Library Services.

When Doug Bennett announced that he was going to retire, the Earlham Board of Trustees appointed a Search Committee comprised of board members, Earlham College faculty, ESR faculty, Earlham College staff, one of the Co-Convenors of Earlham Student Government, and an outside community member (if I’m remembering correctly, that person was from Indiana Yearly Meeting but not on the Earlham board). In conjunction with the appointment of the Search Committee, the board hired a headhunting/professional search firm to help the search committee.

Main difference between an academic executive search and a ministerial search…the presence of a completely neutral third party

After commissioning, the Search Committee (with assistance of the headhunting firm) interviewed specific people and did a survey to collect data on what people thought were the qualities that the next President of Earlham needed. From that information they worked up a position announcement and list of requirements. Then it was decided where the position announcement would be placed.

When the announcement was put out, there was a paragraph that looked like this:

[Blank] College is being assisted in this search by Academic Search, Inc. Nominators or prospective candidates may direct inquiries or questions to Senior Consultant X at [—–] or Associate Consultant Y at [—–]. A full position profile can be viewed by going to and clicking on current searches. Nominations and applications will be received until the position is filled but, in order to receive full consideration, candidates are encouraged to submit their materials by [date]. (this comes from a current Presidential search announcement, so names have been removed)

Second major difference between academic executive search and ministerial search…”outsiders” can nominate prospective candidates

The search firm did the initial vetting (checking that all applications were complete, that applicants had all the requirements, etc) and once that was done passed on all the applications. The Search Committee then looked through them and separated them into 3 piles; definite second look, maybe second look, definite no.

Once the piles were done, the Search Committee informed the community that the initial vetting was done and that they were going to start the process of phone call interviews with the people who they thought would be a good fit.

Something else the Search Committee did (that no ministerial search committee would do) is give the community a demographic breakdown of everybody who applied.

The phone interviews were done and the committee narrowed the potential candidates down to 7 with whom there would be more in-depth interviews.

During this time the committee asked the community what questions we thought they should ask. It was a given that not every question was going to be asked, but that they were going to ask some of the questions that the community came up with. Those interviews were done in a neutral location and when they were finished, the committee further narrowed the pool down to the final 3.

This is when the uproar happened on the Earlham campus. Why? Because the three finalists were all white males. But the reason there could be an uproar was because the community had been given the demographic information about who applied. There was so much uproar over the final 3 that the committee had to send out a letter to the community explaining why, in light of the demographics, the final 3 were all white males (and not a Quaker in the bunch, which was also a big concern). There were still grumblings, but the process continued.

Each of the three candidates came to campus, met people, and had separate sessions with faculty, staff, and students. There were dinners with outside community leaders. And a final meeting with the Search Committee.

Feedback was gathered from all the different groups after they saw each candidate. But nobody thought (as far as I can tell) that just because feedback was collected, that it meant that feedback was going to be given great weight than other factors.

After due consideration, the committee presented the Board of Trustees with their recommendation that David Dawson be the next President of Earlham. The Board took that recommendation.

Why am I telling this Earlham story in connection to situation going on around Starr King?

Because I believe that UU terminal uniqueness has struck again.

News flash: Starr King is unique. But Starr King is NOT special.

And too many people who are commenting on the sturm-und-drang are acting as if, because Starr King trains ministers, that it is somehow too special to go through the same process as other schools go through to pick their executive leadership.

Yes, there are always exceptions; when big name schools go out and get big names. But that is not the case for most schools.

Starr King is truly unique. Starr King is not special. If the search process works for schools as big as Ohio State or UT-Austin AND for schools as small as Wells or Lawrence or Earlham, it does work well for Starr King.

This UU terminal uniqueness has to stop. If it doesn’t, a whole host of people are going to get hurt in the process.

The Wall of Separation Between Congregation and Academy (Starr King but Not Starr King continued)

I will start with my conclusion:

All 3 candidates for the presidency of Starr King are academics. Just because they happen to also be ministers does not change the fact they they were candidates for an ACADEMIC job, NOT a pastoral/congregational ministry job.

ok friends, here’s the deal. There must be a wall of separation between the congregation and the academy. And it is to the benefit of both that the wall be there.

The academy must be allowed to push people out of every comfort zone they have by exposing them to the variety of thought and practice out there. The academy has the obligation to analyze and present its findings to the community of interested entities. It is also the repository for collective knowledge (in a way the the congregation can’t be). It nourishes people in one way.

The congregation’s job is different. The congregation’s job is to build people up AND challenge them to put that building up into practice in the wider community. It nourishes people in a different way.

This is not to say that the academy doesn’t do the things that congregations do or that congregations don’t do things that the academy does. They can and they do, but they are secondary to their primary function.

The search process for the leader of an ACADEMIC institution is going to look different than, and be different than, the search process for a CONGREGATION. To not recognize that the academy has different needs and different functions than the congregation does a disservice to both.

more later (including an Earlham story).

[special thanks to Elz Curtiss for making me clarify what my position is.]

I Got 99 Problems, And UUism Is All Of Them (Starr King but Not Starr King)

[yes, I was listening to Jay-Z earlier]

I wonder how much of the consternation/craziness that has come to pass in the time since the announcement of  Rev. Rosemary Bray McNatt being selected as the next President of Starr King has to do with the fact that the 3 final candidates for the presidency are all ministers.

Here’s the question (or part of it)…What if the person who had gotten selected had been a non-minister? So instead of Rev. McNatt being chosen, the person who was chosen was Anthony Pinn. (if you don’t know who Anthony Pinn is, email me and we’ll talk)

Would there be the same call for the academic search process to more resemble the pastoral search process if the final result had produced a non-minister academic rather than an academic minister?

While people are ruminating over the situation that is going on at Starr King I think it would behoove people to remember that Starr King is an ACADEMIC INSTITUTION, not a congregation. And once we remember that, it is time to ask ourselves the question of whether we are trying to equate the President of Starr King with a minister because thinking of them as an academic means that we have to think of ourselves differently.

More tomorrow.

Not All People of Color Are Created* Equal (still more thoughts on “The Case for Reparations” and the Shaping of Modern Unitarian Universalism)

I didn’t think I was saying anything particularly radical in my last two posts. This is the United States after all and history has shown that African Americans really have been treated differently. As I am fond of saying…nothing new to see here.

But what has really made me see stars is the following thought….

We also have tended to see race in black and white terms and been rude and dismissive to the Latinos and Asian Americans in our midst.

All due respect to my Asian American and Latino readers [and to the person who wrote that statement], but not all people of color are created* equal. Do I think public policy has treated any people of color all that great? Nope. And you won’t ever hear me say that.

But my last two posts were my ruminations about how public policy, AS IT RELATES TO HOUSING, affected (and affects) the shape of modern Unitarian Universalism.

In the late 1930’s, as Detroit grew outward, white families began to settle near a black enclave adjacent to Eight Mile Road. By 1940, the black residents were surrounded, but neither they nor the whites could get FHA insurance because of the proximity of an inharmonious racial group. So, in 1941, an enterprising white developer built a concrete wall between the white and black areas. The FHA appraisers then took another look and approved the mortgages on the white properties. [thanks to the Fair Housing Center for giving the link where this was]

Did the FHA redline Latinos and Asian Americans out of certain neighborhoods? Did they not give (or more technically, back/secure) loans to whites who lived too close to Latinos or Asian Americans?

Restrictive covenants were a slightly different story. I’m sure that on the west coast, Asian Americans were probably undesirables on/in some of the covenants. Just as I’m sure that in the southwest Latinos were probably undesirables on/in some covenants. And Jews come up on some [I’ve seen a couple of these]. Yet there was only one group that was on every covenant: African Americans. And there is a reason that African Americans are on every covenant….public policy through the FHA.

Again, I don’t think I’m saying anything radical. TNC’s article just gave me a new way of looking at something that had confused me. I do think that public policy as it relates to housing is a factor in the shaping of modern Unitarian Universalism (I might even go so far as to say that it was a major factor, along with WWII itself). Hence, another piece of the puzzle as to why modern Unitarian Universalism is the way it is–and where it is where it is– slots into place for me. If my rumination doesn’t work for you, fine.


*—before you comment about my use of the word “created” with the very tired trope that race is a socially constructed concept, I know that. That is why I used the word created. If race is socially constructed, then the use of public policy in regards to people of color means that some groups of people of color are treated better than others. Meaning not all people of color are created equal.