Divinity dean search narrows


As the search for a new Divinity School dean enters its final stages, search committee members said they are looking for candidates who can help the school become more diverse.

Divinity School professor John Collins, who is leading the search committee, said the group has selected its top six choices from an applicant pool of roughly 100. In the coming weeks, the committee will submit the names of two to five finalists to University President Richard Levin, who said he would make a final decision “before the holidays.” Members of the search committee said the new dean must possess both a strong theological background and administrative experience.

“We want someone who is capable of leading the School’s rather complex mission, which stems across theoretical and historical scholarship and educating students for the ministry,” Levin said.

Current Divinity School Dean Harold Attridge announced last May that he will step down from his post at the end of this academic year. In July, Levin appointed an eight-member search committee, composed of seven Divinity School professors and one professor of history and religious studies.

During his 10-year tenure, Attridge has elevated the school’s national reputation by recruiting talented faculty, increasing financial aid and raising $31 million as part of the Yale Tomorrow campaign.

Divinity School professor Bruce Gordon, a member of the search committee, said addressing radical changes in Christianity as a religion and the decline of religious participation will be one of the new dean’s priorities.

Lamin Sanneh, another Divinity School professor on the search committee, said the new dean could meet make the School more diverse by recruiting students and faculty from different backgrounds. Christianity is a more geographically and culturally diverse religion than it was in the past, he said, and 35 percent of Christians worldwide live in Europe or North America — compared to 82 percent in 1960. Churches led by Asian-Americans and Hispanic-Americans are growing in prevalence nationwide, he said, and the Divinity School should change to reflect this trend.

“I personally think that the study and research of Christianity have to reflect the dynamic growth of the religion rather than getting stuck in any geographic and cultural niche,” Sanneh said.

Divinity School professor Tom Troeger ’67, who is also on the committee, said the School could benefit from straying slightly from its Christian focus to foster “international dialogue” among scholars of different faiths, particularly among Jews and Muslims.

Building a more diverse school will require administrative experience that search committee members said is difficult to find among theological scholars. History and religious studies professor Carlos Eire GRD ’79, a member of the search commitee, said since many scholars in divinity work for with seminaries unaffiliated with universities, they have not developed the skills to handle administrative tasks in an institution as large as Yale. Eire said administrative experience is especially important given the difficulties of fundraising at the Divinity School.

“Divinity School alumni are about the poorest alumni Yale has,” Eire said. “Fundraising among the Divinity School alumni is the hardest fundraising task at Yale, hands down.”

Though committee members would not provide details about the finalists, Collins told the News in September that most “plausible candidates” were from outside the University.

Members of the search committee said it will be the task of the new dean to continue the forward momentum of the Divinity School.

“This person will not just be presiding over the same things that Dean Attridge did,” Gordon said. “He will have to tackle new issues and new problems — in that respect, the new dean will be able to establish his or her profile.”

But above all, members of the search committee said the new dean must be able to unite the members of Divinity School community as a “consensus person.”

Attridge will officially leave his post on June 30, 2012 and spend 2012-’13 on sabbatical before returning to teach at the Divinity School.

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