National Spiritual Assembly Appoints Wilmette Institute Academic Advisory Board

Aug 31, 2020

In order to foster the Wilmette Institute’s continued growth toward accreditation as a recognized institution of higher education, the National Spiritual Assembly recently appointed a four-person Academic Advisory Board. Such a Board is also a standard part of the operation of most colleges and universities, and is expected by most accrediting commissions.

The letter from the National Spiritual Assembly explained that “the Board will be responsible for consulting on the Institute’s structure, academic standards, and curriculum and for making recommendations to its Executive Committee (which acts on behalf of this Assembly in our function as the Institute’s Board of Trustees) in a meeting to be held twice annually (possibly via the Zoom videoconferencing application).”

The Executive Committee (Jeff Albert, Robert Stockman, and Chitra Golestani) was also appointed at the same meeting. The members of the Academic Advisory Board are Erin Murphy-Graham, Michael Penn, Derik Jalal Smith, and June Manning Thomas. 



Erin Murphy-Graham, PhD

Erin Murphy-Graham is an Associate Adjunct Professor at the Graduate School of Education, University of California, Berkeley. She works in the field of comparative and international education. Her research focuses on three inter-related areas: 1) the process by which education can foster the empowerment of girls and women, and the theorization of what empowerment entails; 2) the role of education in changing how students relate to others, particularly in their intimate relationships and in building trust; 3) the rigorous evaluation of educational programs that have demonstrated potential to empower youth and adults in Latin America. Dr. Murphy-Graham is the author of Opening Minds, Improving Lives: Education and Women's Empowerment in Honduras (Vanderbilt University Press, Spring 2012) and her articles have appeared in journals including Comparative Education Review, International Journal of Educational Development, Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, International Review of Education, Gender and Education, and the American Journal of Evaluation. Prior to joining the faculty at Berkeley, Dr. Murphy-Graham was an Assistant Professor of International Education at New York University's Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development. She has worked as a consultant to government agencies and NGOs in Honduras, Colombia, Nicaragua, and the Caribbean. At Berkeley, she teaches courses on globalization, education and international development and qualitative research methods.  


Michael L. Penn, PhD

Michael Penn is a Clinical Psychologist, Department Chair, and Professor of Psychology at Franklin & Marshall College.  His research interests and publications explore experimental psychopathology, the application of psychological research & theory to human rights, the interpenetration of psychology and philosophy, and the relationship between culture and psychopathology. Professor Penn has lectured widely around and is the author of three books, including, Overcoming Violence against Women and Girls: The International Campaign to Eradicate a Worldwide Problem, published by Rowman & Littlefield, Moral Trauma: An Analysis of Akrasia and Mental Health, with Azin Nasseri, and is co-editor, with Hoda Mahmoudi, of Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Human Rights and Human Dignity, published by Emerald. He has also authored more than a dozen academic papers and chapters. In 2004 Penn was appointed to the Board of Directors of the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Administration by Governor Edward Rendell. He currently serves on the Board of the Authenticity Institute, and is a member of the Permanent Board of the Tahirih Justice Center, which provides legal, clinical, and human rights protections for women fleeing gender-based persecution and violence.  Professor Penn was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa in 1986 and is a former Ford Foundation/National Academy of Sciences Fellow.


Derik Jalal Smith, PhD

Derik Smith is a professor in the Department of Literature at Claremont McKenna College; he is currently chair of the Intercollegiate Department of Africana Studies at the Claremont Colleges. His work is anchored in the analysis of American culture and, particularly, African American literary culture. He is the author of many articles, and the book, Robert Hayden In Verse: New Histories of African American Poetry and the Black Arts Era. He and his family live in Southern California.


June Manning Thomas, PhD

June Manning Thomas, Professor in Urban and Regional Planning, was named Mary Frances Berry Distinguished University Professor, University of Michigan, in 2016.  Thomas writes articles and books about race relations and social justice issues related to urban planning in U. S. cities.  These are the themes in J. M. Thomas and Marsha Ritzdorf, eds., Urban Planning and the African American Community: In the Shadows (Sage Press, 1996), and in Thomas’s Redevelopment and Race: Planning a Finer City in Postwar Detroit (Wayne State Univ. Press, 1997, 2nd ed. 2013), winner of the 1999 Paul Davidoff Award (Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning).  Her writing also focuses upon strategies for distressed communities in cities such as Detroit, as in the above books plus Margaret Dewar and J. M. Thomas, ed.s, The City after Abandonment (Univ. of Pennsylvania Press, 2013), and J. M. Thomas and Henco Bekkering, ed.s, Mapping Detroit: Evolving Land Use Patterns and Connections (Wayne State Univ. Press, 2015).  Her book Planning Progress: Lessons from Shoghi Effendi (Association for Baha'i Studies, 1999), which received an award from that association, explored the planning and leadership styles exemplified by the Head of the Baha’i Faith during a series of global plans.  Recent research for an anticipated book-length manuscript considers racial oppression and black community resilience during the civil rights era in South Carolina. She currently serves on the Local Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of Ann Arbor, MI, and has served in several other volunteer capacities for the Baha’i Faith.  A native of South Carolina, she has lived in Michigan for most of her adult life, with her husband, Richard W. Thomas; they have two adult children.  She formerly taught at Michigan State University, where she created programs that assisted neighborhoods and community organizations in several distressed Michigan cities. More information at Univ. of Michigan faculty page:

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