Friday, January 28, 2011

the HUPS blog

I'm not real invested in this, as I've made my peace with the fact that being an alum from Harding University is now something like a curious and unrepresentative factoid of an earlier life--and having a semester of adjunct work for the HU English department on my CV is even more unreal. (Unfortunately...but I almost feel like I'd have to go undercover to attend a Homecoming at this point. And my ornery streak makes it more likely that I'd wear my "this is what a feminist looks like" T-shirt while carrying a gay pride flag, and beg Brent to wear his collar.) But anyway: it seems that HU is on the cusp of a search for a new university president.

The folks at HUPS have put together a list of first-, second- and third-tier candidates. On that list of about 10 candidates, there is one female name. Here is what the HUPS bloggers have to say about her (putative) candidacy:
Let's face it: Cheri Yecke has no chance to become Harding's next president. Is it because she's too conservative? Absolutely not. One can't be too conservative for the Harding presidency. It it because she's too liberal? Of course not. She's Sarah Palin with a Church of Christ pedigree. Is it because she's incapable? No, she ran the state school systems of Florida and Minnesota. It's because of one reason and one reason alone: she's a she.
No one on the Harding campus today has a bigger rolodex than Cheri Yecke. Her political connections are impeccable, especially for the political connections the university would deem key. She has a PhD from the University of Virginia. She's smart, tough, and PR-savvy in a way that is currently lacking in the HU administration. Her fundraising abilities would be superb. In any other university, selecting Yecke as the university's next president would be a no-brainer. But Harding is no ordinary university. For the most part, it still must feel like its president can go into churches of Christ and preach, an outmoded view of CoC higher ed that needs to be put to bed. The job of a university president is to manage and fundraise. Period. Do you really think there's anyone better on the HU campus to do this than Cheri Yecke? We at HPS think not. But until the Churches of Christ get a little less misogynistic, she's hit her glass ceiling at HU.
It's not that this is (at all) surprising--in fact, I'm a little curious as to why there's even a female name on the list at all, since the HUPS analysis is (IMO) unarguable. But the real question this raises for me is a legal/theological one. I'm aware that religious institutions of higher education may legally discriminate on the basis of religion (though not, of course, on other bases, such as ethnicity or race.) So what would the inclusion or exclusion of a female candidate in the upcoming presidential search indicate? It seems that if gender is ruled to be outside the bounds of legal discrimination on the basis of religion, there should be more than one token female candidate--and they should have a real shot. So female candidates might have a genuine basis for legal grievance if things go down like the HUPS folks predict. But, if female candidates do not appear on the list--then the only way for that to be legal would be to make it official that gender discrimination is part of the religious practice of the Churches of Christ. This, it seems to me, would then imply strongly that (contrary to the noises people make about the "women's role issue" being a matter of secondary importance, a matter of opinion, not something we should invite contention or schism over, etc., etc., ad nauseam), this is a kind of admission that silencing women is at the heart of CofC practice.

I'm curious to see which way this will go.

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