Margaret Diddams: ‘Beloved’ First, Provost Second, Fun Always

Photo by: Bob Chwedyk, Staff Photographer

 

What makes Margaret Diddams tick?

The arrival of the new provost, Dr. Diddams, to Wheaton College has been followed by an enormous amount of student discussion. Most of which is about the public face of Dr. Diddams.

I had the journalistic privilege to sit down with her and have her answer my questions.

Diddams has a passion for hospitality and she truly takes joy in student meet-ups.

She happily welcomed me into her office, which she describes as “Mid-century modern meets Blanchard Hall, meets the rest of the suite.” She specifically wanted her office to look like a place of hospitality, and if you look around, it is furnished with a nice table and hand-made curtains, as well as with student artwork and faculty publications.

I found Provost Diddams to be not only an admirable professional, but also someone who loves what she does and likes to have fun with it.

Her fun-loving nature traces back to her time as a Wheaton undergrad. “Happy go-lucky” and “friendly” are two of the characteristics she uses in describing the kind of student she was on campus.

Diddams claims to have been just  “a normal student,” who enjoyed playing in the band and competing on the swim team. “I was very much about learning,” she says, and if you talk with her for even a short time, her continued passion for learning shines through.  

Making Things Happen

Between her sophomore and junior year, she experienced an opportunity that made her realize God works through time and space. Her summer trip with Wheaton in Israel was “transformational.” After returning home, she ran successfully for Student Government where she met her husband-to-be. During her term of office, she persuaded Student Government to spend part of their fund-raised budget on a mission trip to Mendenhall, Mississippi. She had been so convicted at an Urbana conference that Wheaton needed to do something about civil rights and race relations, and she made it happen.

This is something she is quite adept at–making things happen.

Diddams completed her undergraduate work at Wheaton College and graduated with her BA in psychology. She got married shortly thereafter and furthered her education at New York University, where in 1988, she earned a Master of Arts in Industrial and Organizational Psychology. She also completed a Ph.D. in Industrial and Organizational Psychology in 1994.

She and her husband lived in New York City for nine years, the last two of which she worked at Columbia University while finishing up her doctorate work.

She served as the program coordinator in the Social-Organizational Psychology Department at Columbia University before joining the faculty at Seattle Pacific University in 1993. At SPU, Diddams worked as a professor of psychology and “climbed her way up” to the position of Assistant Provost with only a brief pause to stay at home with her four children: Michael, Marjorie, S. Scott and James.

She explains however, “I’ve never thought of myself as climbing…There was an opportunity that presented itself, and I thought I could do it.” From 1996-1999 as the Group Program Manager for metrics and measurement at Microsoft, it was her job to “work with managers on how they might design their work processes to meet [certain] metrics.” She has published a number of articles for the Journal of Organizational Behavior, the Journal of Applied Social Psychology, and the Christian Scholar’s Review to name a few.  

She had the confidence to acknowledge her skills, and when opportunities arose for her to take on leadership positions, she rose to the challenge. In reference to the opening of the provost position at Wheaton, Diddams says, “When this job came open, I was not interested in being a provost anywhere else because this is home.” This was another challenge presented before Diddams.

While she is deemed successful by many, due in part to her place as the first female to serve as provost at Wheaton, it is important to her that the title ”provost” does not supersede her status as “beloved.”

Inspired by the words of author Henri Nouwen in his book Life of the Beloved, she says “No title can be more important than ‘beloved.’ ” She explains that the different roles she’s had in the last 15 years have always been grounded in the concept of being beloved.

She extends this point of view to everyone: “If you cannot ground your work in being beloved, you’re probably not where God wants you to be.”  

On the other hand, one should not sell him or herself short.

Addressing Wheaton students, she says, “A prayer I have for you all, is that you would allow God to tell you what you can do for Him. It’s too easy when everyone here is so exceptionally gifted, to say to God, ‘Here’s what I can do for you.’ ”

It is important to instead, wait for the Lord’s direction. A small, but crucial distinction.

Turmoil at Wheaton

Her arrival occurred right as Wheaton was undergoing turmoil due to the controversy over tenured professor, Dr. Larycia Hawkins, and the administration’s response to the professor wearing a hijab and saying on Facebook that Muslims and Christians worship the same God.

I asked her how it influenced her transition and shaped the way she does her job. She fully acknowledges that this period was stressful. That being said, she also started the whole application process long before anything ever occurred with Hawkins.

Diddams assumed the position previously held by Dr. Stanton Jones, who has received both praise and criticism about his role in managing the situation involving Hawkins. She knew about her successor first from his work as an accomplished psychologist. Stan Jones’ written work on the role of religion in psychology was published in the American Psychologist, and in her words, “He basically made it possible for those of us who are interested in doing integrative work in the larger field of psychology, a voice.”

She expressed the concern that she wouldn’t want Stan Jones to be known only for those seven weeks, when he has held a career as an accomplished psychologist as well as a leader at Wheaton for more than 30 years.

Addressing the way in which the events have affected her transition into this new role, she says, “When you have your community stretched, there’s a desire for healing, transparency, trust, and I have to tell you, faculty have been nothing but gracious to me.”

She has been able to transition with the help of a community that desires a restoration of unity. “What I told President Ryken is that Wheaton College is much larger to me than the mistakes that people have admitted to and apologized for.”

Wheaton College is a special place for Diddams, and she has committed to being faithful in her calling to serve the college despite the challenges it faces.

As provost at Wheaton, it is her duty to act upon President Ryken’s strategic priorities, something she is incredibly passionate about. One of the outcomes she anticipates with particular enthusiasm within these priorities is the construction of a new Conservatory.

Part of her excitement stems from a passion for diversity. “Music is a marvelous way to engage in diverse community,” she said.

Ordered Loves

Growing up in a somewhat bilingual home, her father being French-Canadian, she recognizes the strength that music has to unify people cross-culturally. Working with Ryken to achieve these goals presents particular joys as well. I mentioned before that she likes to have fun with her job. One of her favorite parts of working with Ryken is making him laugh.

“He has a great sense of humor, so I get him to laugh,” she jokes. But she also loves exchanging ideas with him and appreciates his professional development and emphasis on prayer.

Despite its many challenges, Diddams takes great joy in her position as provost, and to quote James K.A. Smith, author and professor at Calvin College, she wants Christian Liberal Arts to “order our loves” above all else, including that deep sense of being beloved.