The word "diversity" carries a lot of baggage these days. It is both cliche and code, sometimes bordering on meaningless, other times carrying deep emotional meaning for folks on all sides of an issue.
Scott Page, an economist at University of Michigan, tries to drop diversity's baggage at the curb with a more practical approach to the topic. Perhaps you already know about his book The Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools, and Societies. In it, he uses mathematics to explain why diverse working groups produce better results than homogeneous groups. "[D]iverse groups of people bring to organizations more and different ways of seeing a problem and, thus, faster/better ways of solving it," he says. This not only refers to professional or academic training, but also that "people's identity groups -- ethnic, racial, sexual, age -- matter when it comes to diversity in thinking."
So what does this have to do with theological education?
In 2002, Auburn Seminary's Center for the Study of Theological Education published a report by Barbara Wheeler on seminary trustees, titled "In Whose Hands? A Study of Theological School Trustees" [.pdf]. The research shows that trustees at ATS schools are more than 70 percent male, nearly 90 percent white, and over half older than 50. In a recent meeting with In Trust's writers, Wheeler said while these numbers may have softened somewhat since 2002, she does not expect future research to show significant shifts in this demographic composite.
While strong and emotional arguments can made for and against diversifying seminary boards, Scott Page might suggest that theological schools would have better luck in solving their problems if they cast the leadership net a little wider. Page's point is more pragmatic than ideological: if you have more people thinking about problems from different perspectives, the organization will have better results.
But this is still a more difficult and emotional conversation than many are willing to have. The questions can be perplexing:
- How does a governing board go about diversifying itself?
- What new perspectives are needed, and where does one find them?
- How does the old guard allow new members to affect the decisions and direction of the board?
In Trust is working hard on these and other questions about board diversity. Keep an eye out for an depth article on this topic in the Autumn 2010 issue of In Trust.
Read the New York Times interview with Scott Page here.