Brite in search for program director

Brite Divinity School is searching for a new director in the Black Church Studies program to replace Stacey Floyd-Thomas, the program’s founder and longtime director, who has accepted a position at Vanderbilt Divinity School in Nashville, Tenn.

Nancy Ramsay, dean of Brite, said she is chairing a three-person committee consisting of two professors and one student to search for a replacement.

The job description calls for an assistant professor with a Ph.D. or equivalent and states that commitment to teaching and scholarly research is expected.

Rodney Thomas Jr., an office assistant in the Black Church Studies program who worked closely with Floyd-Thomas, said no definitive timeline is set for when the decision will be made.

“Their main focus is finding the best qualified candidate to uphold the excellence in academic integrity that Stacey Floyd-Thomas brought to the position,” Thomas said.

Floyd-Thomas had been at Brite for seven years and was a key figure in planning the annual State of the Black Church event, which last March honored Barack Obama’s former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. The event had been scheduled before the highly publicized and controversial clips from Wright’s sermons hit the air waves, and in the face of the resulting media attention, Floyd-Thomas defended the decision.

Brite president Newell Williams said the Ph.D. program at Vanderbilt is a good opportunity for Floyd-Thomas.

“The fact is that we just could not compete,” Williams said. “She was interested in educating the next generation of teachers in divinity schools across the country and we just don’t have the Ph.D. program here that they have at Vanderbilt.”

Williams said Floyd-Thomas is a leader in her field whose teaching ability had recently been recognized by the university.

Floyd-Thomas received the Chancellor’s Award for Distinguished Achievement as a Creative Teacher and Scholar in 2007.

While at Brite, Floyd-Thomas also committed herself to research and wrote numerous religious books and journal articles in recent years that explored sexism and racism in religion as well as the history and future of black churches.

Her co-author, colleague and husband Juan Floyd-Thomas, also made the move to Vanderbilt, vacating his position as associate professor of history at TCU. His specialization is in civil rights and 20th century United States.

“Both were exceptional teachers,” Williams said. “Their departure is a great loss to the university.”

In 2006 Floyd-Thomas and Brite colleague Mark Toulouse competed on Wheel of Fortune’s “Best Friends Week” and walked away with more than $20,000 and a trip to Argentina.

At the time both professors told Skiff reporters they tried out for the show because they wanted to research the shift in American values from religion to fame.

“Money, winning and success have become major values in America,” Toulouse said. “We wanted to immerse ourselves in popular culture.”

Although she had been on teaching leave last spring and had taken sabbatical the previous semester, she was still involved in the Black Church Studies program, which she began with the Williams’ support in 2005.

Thomas, a master of divinity student, said he took several of Floyd-Thomas’ classes and also served as her teaching assistant.

“She really is a very real and absolutely brilliant teacher and scholar,” he said. “She did not deal in abstracts; everything was concrete in her lectures.”

Thomas added that since its inception, the Black Church Studies program has grown each year and has given rise to a series of lectureships and symposiums.

This week, the program is hosting its fourth annual Power of Black Preaching event, a three day interdenominational forum designed to bridge the gap between educational institutions and the black church community.

“We want to say to the black churches that we do value your contributions and we care about your education,” Williams said. “Stacey Floyd-Thomas deserves all the credit for realizing this could be done and even though she is not here, people will continue to benefit from her vision for many years to come.”

Floyd-Thomas was unable to be reached for comment.