Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
May 20, 2024

The University chaplain is an often-overlooked position at Hopkins, but one that is crucial nonetheless. For the past 14 years, Sharon Kugler has been a formidable presence at the Bunting-Meyerhoff Interfaith Center, occupying the chaplaincy with grace, generosity and a great understanding of how to preside over a campus of multiple faiths. Now that Kugler is headed to the chaplaincy at Yale University, we must commend her for a truly admirable tenure at a university that often struggles to emphasize community of any kind. Thanks to Kugler, students of faith have found a welcoming home at the Interfaith Center.

As a chaplain should, she has presided over moments of tragedy and crisis at Hopkins by accommodating all faith practices, while instilling a sense of calm and reflection that has benefited everyone who has come in contact with her. We cannot forget, for instance, Kugler's integral involvement in the memorials dedicated to students who passed away in the last few years.

The most significant contributions of Kugler's time at Hopkins has been the expansion of the Bunting-Meyerhoff center and the formation of the Interfaith Council. Now that the center represents more than 29 religious groups, from nine different faith traditions, the Interfaith Center has become one of the University's most visible and important pillars of diversity. As Yale's appointment of Kugler indicates, it has also become a model for other universities. And unlike many institutional pledges to increase diversity, Kugler's dedication to its principles has been her primary focus since her education in theology at Georgetown. A few years ago, she even traveled to Rome to champion religious diversity at the Vatican. Kugler is one of the few administrators who has genuinely prioritized the establishment of a pluralistic community at Hopkins and, in this respect, her example should be followed by her successor.

Kugler's appointment has drawn some national media attention, particularly because she is a female Catholic layperson who will preside over the traditionally Protestant bastion of Yale -- a hire that a Slate article called far more radical than the appointment of a female president at Harvard. Some, including the Yale alum who authored Slate's article on Kugler, have been critical of Yale's decision not to hire an ordained preacher capable of drawing more students to regular religious practice, especially in light of plummeting church attendance among college students.

But we take umbrage at suggestions that Kugler -- or, indeed, any lay chaplain -- cannot foster a thriving religious community. A college chaplain's role should be to promote an environment of tolerance and to encourage spiritual exploration, not to bolster the numbers of participants. In this aim, there could be no better choice for chaplain than Kugler. We hope the University takes her legacy seriously, and finds a replacement who will continue her work.

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