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Matt Forster's Articles

Strategy is still the issue

Back in 2012, Christa Klein, then president of In Trust, spoke with Robert Cooley, “the guru of governance,” on the question of strategy and the rapidly changing landscape of theological education. Their conversation remains relevant today.

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Visualizing governance systems

The dashboard of a car can tell you a lot — fuel level, speed, air temperature, tire pressure. The one thing it can’t tell you is where you’re going. For that we need another metaphor. Randall Basinger at Messiah College has just the thing: GPS, or governance positioning system.

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The cost of free speech

Freedom of speech is a big deal on university campuses these days. A recent spate of decisions by university administrators to permit (or forbid) various speakers to make speeches on campus has generated newsworthy controversy. Invariably, free-speech advocates argue that a university is a place for learning, critical thinking, and critical listening. Silencing an offensive viewpoint.

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Must you let people know that you're closing?

Every institution runs on confidence. Startups need investors to believe that their money won't be wasted. Banks need customers who trust that their savings won't be lost. Schools need students who are confident that the school will be around long enough for them to graduate. And the donors to these schools need to feel confident that their contributions are not being tossed into a black hole.

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Undermining your president

In the final scene of Pixar’s The Incredibles (2004), a drilling machine bursts through the street and a mole-like man steps forward to address the screaming masses: “Behold, the Underminer! I'm always beneath you, but nothing is beneath me! I hereby declare war on peace and happiness! Soon, all will tremble before me!"

 

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Mastering the graceful exit

P. T. Barnum is credited with the saying, “Always leave them wanting more.” It’s good advice. When Douglass Lewis was asked why he was retiring as president of Wesley Theological Seminary, he replied with a similar idea. It was something his mother used to say: "You ought to leave the party while you're having a good time."

 

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A community-based leadership “creed”

Boyung Lee is the first Korean American woman dean at an ATS school. She cites the work of a group called Pacific, Asian, and North American Asian Women in Theology and Ministry (PANAAWTM) as pivotal to her development as a leader. Here she shares her 13-point "Leadership Creed," an embodiment of the lessons she's learned in PANAAWTM.  

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When it comes to development, the personal touch might just be the Midas touch




What can board members, who have a big role to play in development, do to make fundraising more productive and, dare we hope, less onerous?

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Accreditation: What board members need to know


Some board members may think that accreditation is for the administrative office, but boards play an important role.

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When do you declare a state of emergency?

What is "financial exigency"? This is one of those phrases a board would rather avoid, even when declaring financial exigency is the responsible next step for a school in trouble. 

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Fundraising is too important to leave to the amateurs


With less financial support for theological education from churches and denominations, theological schools have come to increase fundraising to balance the budget. School presidents and board members are expected to play a big role in raising funds for their institutions.

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Do you need a search firm to find your next president? Maybe not



What’s your process for hiring a new president? Many boards these days rely on consultants or executive search firms to identify candidates, vet their qualifications, gauge their interest, and make recommendations.

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Anonymous donors: What’s a board to do?


For seminaries and theological institutions, how a school fulfills its mission is as important as its financial health. As such, issues of transparency and accountability should be considered when deciding whether to accept an anonymous donation.

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Five core functions of effective presidents

The business section of the bookstore abounds with titles that promise new approaches to better leadership and management. For leaders in graduate-level theological institutions, however, there are only a handful of organizations dedicated to your particular niche. 

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Developing and maintaining effective dashboards




 

A dashboard is a display of key indicators that help institutions steer their activities towards their declared strategic outcomes. The imagery, of course, is obvious to anyone who drives a car. Just like the dashboard on your 1981 Ford Fairmont, it’s critical that indicators be visible and the data easy for a user to assimilate. This typically necessitates graphic displays such as graphs, pie charts, or something more creative.

The In Trust has presented a webinar on how to use dashboard effectively. Here's a summary of it, along with a few helpful hints to get you started.

 

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The value of classroom tech: A professor chimes in

 

Technology has made every area of human endeavor better, or at least more productive, and it seems downright curmudgeonly these days to say otherwise. We all agree with that. . . right?


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Engaged with the community, or just dating?

One of my day jobs has me working at a large state university, writing for an office dedicated to “outreach and engagement.” For the uninitiated, the phrase “outreach and engagement,” could refer to a host of missions -- Are we trying to connect alumni with the university? Is this office dedicated to building a better relationship with the community? Is this the student recruitment office?

The actual mission is much more interesting: We work to connect professors with outside partners so that they can do research together, co-create knowledge, and share the benefits of strong partnerships.

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Need to know: Explaining board governance

In conversations on campus, Ithaca College trustees were surprised that many of the people had no idea how the board fits into the governance of the school. In response, the trustees penned an article.

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The long arm of history: Understanding the past helps decision-making today

 

When I was in seminary, I remember a professor telling a class that when new pastors arrive at a church, they are directly affected by the last 30 years of that church’s history. If the pastor of 20 years ago ran off with the organist, the current pastor needs to know about it. The congregation certainly knows about it. If there was a church split at some point, the whole town probably knows about it. In light of this, our professor strongly recommended getting as complete a history as possible early in the interview process. Pastors need to know up front what can be changed, what can be worked around, and whether they have the skills to manage that ministry. Institutions of theological education are no different. . . .

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Changing demographics at Catholic seminaries

 

Since the '70s, the number of priests in the United States and Canada has dramatically decreased, while the number of Catholics has grown. The Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate reports that in 1965, 549 U.S. parishes did not have a resident priest pastor. By 2010, that number had increased to 3,496. Nevertheless, a recent story from NPR highlights some good news for U.S. Catholics.

 

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Our condition: Americans with Disabilities Act, 25 years later



Twenty-five years ago,  when I was a college freshman, my university unveiled a program to address the needs of disabled students on campus. Since this was the same year that Congress passed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), I can only assume that the new law was the impetus behind the effort. 

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Faculty at accredited theological schools: By the numbers

Are you curious about how your school’s faculty compares to faculty at other theological schools? Do you know your ration of full- to part-time faculty, or how many have terminal degrees?

Answers to these questions can be found (along with mountains of other data) in the 2014-2015 Annual Data Tables from the Association of Theological School (ATS). Those of us who don’t have time to wade through this 172-page treasure trove can read a two-part summary that unpacks some of the numbers.


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Who influences the board?

The board room is where the decisions are made, right?

At my university's recent professional development day, a researcher spoke about his field, which is called “the diffusion of innovations.” He studies how worthy innovations can reach intended users and find wide adoption, and his research has revealed something surprising: When seeking support for an innovation from potential partner organizations, more often than not, the people who hold formal authority do not necessarily have the most influence.

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For Halloween: The headless endeavor



For a couple years, the student garden club at my daughter’s elementary has been an amazing success. Nearly eighty students from grades 1–5 spent time after school last year to design, create, and maintain a stellar garden with flowers and vegetables. The local newspaper and television station came out several times to record the kids in action. Parents volunteered and businesses donated supplies and money. There was even a club song! And all of this was due to the efforts of one woman . . .

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Cream doesn't always rise to the top



You can’t pursue any sort of career for long before you realize that advancement and promotions are not always handed to the most effective or competent people. . .

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