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From category archives: In Trust Blog

Crisis

Your school is likely at risk. What can your board do?

Higher education in North America – all higher education, not only theological education – is in trouble. How can your board be prepared? 

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A board member reflects on the closure of his school

In January of this year, the Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond (BTSR) closed its doors for good. Mike Clingenpeel, a BTSR board member, wrote an article for the school’s website reflecting on the closure, and his article was reprinted in the Summer 2019 issue of In Trust. Clingenpeel’s honest reflections offer rare insight into the painful realities of closing a seminary.

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Disruption can drive change that leads to sustainability

A recent issue of Trusteeship magazine features an article by Peter Smith titled “How Should Boards Respond to Disruption.” The article was written primarily for boards of universities and colleges, but it goes right to the heart of what it will take to lead a seminary through the next 30 or 40 years.

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Maneuvering through crises and disruption

When an issue of Trusteeship magazine has the theme of “Institutions in Crisis,” you know you’re in for some great articles on board governance. Handling crises — whether postponing them, mitigating their effects, or managing the fallout — is a big part of leading an institution. And there are all sorts of events and circumstances that may qualify as a crisis.

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Student enrollment by the numbers

If you are a leader in theological education, you are already familiar with overall trends in seminary enrollment. Usually, reports about enrollment are gloomy, with a half-hearted silver lining that suggests, “Well, at least we’re not the only ones struggling.”

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Resource roundup: Succession planning

Succession planning isn’t just for a school’s presiding officer. Having a plan for transition and succession that applies to the entire institution can reduce stress and avert ad hoc emergency decision making when change inevitably occurs. 

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Communicating hope amid disruption

The illustration and type on the cover of Fuller Seminary's magazine pretty much says it all. Rather than an evocative photographic portrait, as usually graces the cover, this one sports a photoshopped bird – gold and in flight – which forms the first “I” in the 200-point Century Bold italicized title that reads: DIS RUP TION.

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Why do university presidents lose their jobs?

In a recent article in Inside Higher Ed, William G. Tierney, professor at the University of Southern California, posits the question of why university presidents resign or are fired. Using examples of recent high-profile presidential resignations, Tierney argues that commonly blamed factors are not the true cause of presidential downfalls. 

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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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How can a seminary react to financial stress?

Unanticipated financial setbacks sometimes become little deficits. And the response to little deficits can shape the course of a school’s future. What are the options? 

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Learning from the past: Schools that thrived during the lean years


In 2014, the Auburn Center for the Study of Theological Education published Through Toil and Tribulation: Financing Theological Education 2001-2011, an analysis by Anthony T. Ruger and Chris A. Meinzer of revenue and spending of theological schools during a period that encompassed the Great Recession as well as declining levels of formal religious affiliation. The fifth in a series of studies of revenue in theological education, this report told a tale of hard times and the ways in which some schools were able to strengthen their financial position in spite of a poor economy and changing religious environment, and it outlined best practices in the institutions and leaders who saw improvements during these years.

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An American icon that fell victim to the “competency trap”

The New York Times has run an obituary of sorts for Xerox, the American corporation that is merging with Japanese behemoth Fujifilm Holdings. The company prospered and innovated for decades, but then they began to fall behind. What lessons could we in theological education learn from their example? 

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Small religious colleges are struggling



A recent Religion News Service article chronicles the struggles of small religious colleges, saying that lacking substantial endowments, many are teetering on a financial cliff.

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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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Financial woes across the pond


The Church Times, a London-based Anglican newspaper, recently published an article about the apparent financial crisis facing Anglican theological education in the United Kingdom.

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Ready or not



"People act shocked when the usual crises occur and they have no adequate plan." 

Why? Perhaps it's because of where we as leaders invest our time. Many of us are so focused on deadlines and day-to-day obligations that we never take the time to plan for crises that may or may not take place.

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Creating an emergency transition plan



If a school’s chief executive departs, the board, administration, and staff will know well in advance, right? And they'll prepare for a smooth leadership change, and everyone will remark on how well the transition went, and the next year will be the institution's best year ever. Right?

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Protect yourself from cyber threats




Staff of the In Trust Center recently attended a webinar on cyber security for nonprofit organizations. The webinar was provided by the Delaware Small Business Development Center and presented by Michelle Wang, assistant director of information security administration for the Board of Pensions of the Presbyterian Church. Although the webinar was presented for an audience of Delaware nonprofits, the information provided is pertinent to any organization that would like to improve their cyber security efforts.

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Social media strategies for good times and bad


The In Trust Center recently presented a webinar on social media to an audience of theological seminaries across the United States and Canada. 

The Center's vice president for communication, Jay Blossom, shared the webinar hosting duties with Leanne Van Dyk, president of Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Georgia. 

Together they provided guidance on cultivating an authentic, trusted voice on social media platforms in “normal” times -- and then employing this voice to communicate during crises. Van Dyk relayed her experiences in developing a social media strategy during her first year at Columbia Seminary.


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Key takeaways and resources on student debt and finances


 

The Association of Theological Schools (ATS) recently convened a meeting of the participants in the Economic Challenges Facing Future Ministers project (ECFFM). ECFFM is aimed at addressing student debt in theological education. Greg Henson, president of Sioux Falls Seminary, shared a presentation at the event, which he has since published on his blog.

Though Henson's presentation doesn't include sound, I gained some great insights by simply reading the presentation as it progresses. Here are the two slides that struck me as especially important.

 

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Attorney general warns trustees of investigation



The attorney general’s interest is unusual in that it seems to be a pre-emptive action; the college is not in danger of closing. “I consider it my responsibility to promote and protect the nonprofit sector,” the New York attorney general told the New York Times — not only by prosecuting fraud, but by preventing mismanagement “before it starts.”

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Seeking a say in the naming of a new president, monks sue trustees



There’s governance trouble brewing at Benedictine University in Illinois
: The monks of St. Procopius Abbey, which owns the school, are suing the trustees for shutting them out of the selection of the new president. According to a recent article in Inside Higher Ed, the monks claim that the abbey’s leadership has always played a role in the selection of the president -- ever since the first nonclerical president was selected 40 years ago.

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In the news: Wisconsin's proposed changes to tenure



Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker is proposing changes that would weaken tenure protections in the state’s system of public universities. And faculty members are naturally outraged.

The faculty of the University of Wisconsin enjoys an unusual perk in the landscape of American higher education: their system of tenure is protected under state law. Currently, those with tenure may only be fired for just cause or in cases of financial exigency. According to the New York Times, a new proposal from Governor Scott Walker seeks to remove tenure protections from state statute, allowing instead the university’s Board of Regents to set tenure policies.

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The closing of Sweet Briar: What are the implications for theological schools?




Some sad news in higher education this week: Sweet Briar College, a women’s liberal arts college in Virginia, announced that it was closing at the end of this semester because of "insurmountable financial challenges."

Sweet Briar has an endowment of more than $80 million, but its board decided to close the school nonetheless.

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Social media resources



Jay Blossom, Publisher of In Trust magazine and In Trust's Vice President for Communication, recently presented a workshop entitled Social Media and Institutional Conflict at the 2015 ATS Presidential Leadership Intensive Conference. The following was created as a supplemental resource for the workshop participants.

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