A divinity professor at Duke University has apparently resigned following disciplinary actions against him, after he questioned the value of diversity training at the school.
Paul Griffiths, a professor of Catholic theology at the school, could not be reached for comment Tuesday about the flap. A colleague at the school says Griffiths, 61, has resigned.
A string of emails, first published by The American Conservative website, revealed a chain of events that began with a February invitation to all divinity school faculty to participate in two full days of racial equity training in March.
“Those who have participated in the training have described it as transformative, powerful, and life-changing,” wrote Anathea Portier-Young, an associate professor of Old Testament. “We recognize that it is a significant commitment of time; we also believe it will have great dividends for our community.”
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Griffiths responded the same day to Portier-Young, Feb. 6, copying all faculty on the email and calling the training a waste of time.
“I exhort you not to attend this training,” he wrote, according to the published exchange. “Don’t lay waste your time by doing so. It’ll be, I predict with confidence, intellectually flaccid: there’ll be bromides, clichés, and amen-corner rah-rahs in plenty. When (if) it gets beyond that, its illiberal roots and totalitarian tendencies will show. Events of this sort are definitively anti-intellectual.”
That’s when the trouble escalated.
Within hours the school’s dean, Elaine Heath, emailed the faculty and without mentioning Griffiths specifically, wrote: “It is inappropriate and unprofessional to use mass emails to make disparaging statements –including arguments ad hominem – in order to humiliate or undermine individual colleagues or groups of colleagues with whom we disagree. The use of mass emails to express racism, sexism, and other forms of bigotry is offensive and unacceptable, especially in a Christian institution.”
Heath asked to meet with Griffiths, according to the emails, but the professor and administrator couldn’t agree on the conditions for the meeting, and it never happened.
Griffiths later emailed his colleagues with the subject line: “intellectual freedom and institutional discipline” at the school. He said he was now the target of two separate disciplinary proceedings, including a harassment complaint by Portier-Young, which was being handled by Duke’s Office for Institutional Equity. The dean, he said, had banned him from faculty meetings and promised that he would not receive future funds for research and travel.
A copy of the dean’s March 10 letter was posted on the American Conservative site. Heath cited Griffiths’ refusal to meet and his “inappropriate behavior in faculty meetings over the past two years.” Heath did not elaborate on what she meant by inappropriate behavior.
Griffiths called the actions shameful “reprisals,” designed not to engage him on his views “but rather to discipline me for having expressed them.”
“Duke Divinity is now a place in which too many thoughts can’t be spoken and too many disagreements remain veiled because of fear,” he wrote to the faculty. “I commend a renunciation of fear-based discipline to those who deploy and advocate it, and its replacement with confidence in speech.”
Heath and Portier-Young could not be immediately reached for comment.
Audrey Ward, a Duke spokeswoman, said the divinity school was not able to comment about a personnel matter but issued a statement.
“Duke Divinity School is committed to scholarly excellence and academic freedom, which includes a commitment to diversity and inclusion,” the statement said. “We seek to foster an environment where diversity of opinions is respected and members of the community feel free to engage in a robust exchange of ideas on a range of issues and topics. We believe that all faculty have a right to speak out as members of a civil academic community, and if all voices are to be heard, diverse perspectives must be valued and protected. As part of an ongoing effort to foster and support such a community, we will continue to offer voluntary opportunities for faculty, staff and students to participate in diversity training.”
Thomas Pfau, a professor of English and German who also teaches in the divinity school, came to Griffiths’ defense. He emailed his colleagues, saying Griffiths was questioning the fact that faculty were being asked to give up their time for training.