From category archives: In Trust Blog


Culture wars: A look at merging institutions

One of the solutions that’s floated to the problem of overall declining enrollments at seminaries and other theological schools is the idea of merging with a larger institution — preferably a university with some resources. But it doesn’t take an expert to know that this kind of venture is ...

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Knowledge is power

Anecdotal “evidence” has its place,
 but to make sound decisions, your board and administration alike need sound data. You need to hear not just the success story of one star alumna, but the trends among all your graduates. You need to hear not just an assertion that your school is providing the best seminary education in your denomination, but you need some facts about how you are performing with respect to your peer schools.

Much of this data is readily available —

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Seminary keeps undergrad program, appoints media professor

The seminary of the Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia
has announced that its undergraduate division will remain open. A task force had been assigned to make a recommendation about closing St. Charles Borromeo Seminary's College Division. Also, the seminary has appointed a new academic chair in "social communications" to explore the theological dimensions of mass media.

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A preview of our Autumn 2013 issue

 The Autumn 2013 issue of In Trust magazine is in the mail! Here's a preview of what you can expect:

"Pathways to Seminary: Where the Best Students Come From" by Barbara Wheeler.
In Part 1 of this series, "Sobering Figures Point to Overall Enrollment Decline," Wheeler explained the data that she and her colleagues have been analyzing: Over the last decade, overall seminary enrollment is flat or falling, but there are a few bright spots amid the negative numbers. In this issue, Wheeler shares what she has learned from interviews with the best students enrolled at theological schools across the United States and Canada. 

Two other articles . . .

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Seminary sells campus, moves to smaller space

Lexington Theological Seminary has announced that it will be moving from its 63-year-old campus to a 16,000-square-foot building near the Lexington Green Mall. Earlier this year, the school sold its real estate and buildings to the University of Kentucky for . . .

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How much information is helpful to boards?

Which is better -- a 99-word paragraph or a table with four data points?
Guest blogger Timothy Lincoln says he'd rather have vital information presented in one simple table than in a richly textured narrative.

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All hands needed on the governance deck, and noses, too

"Noses in, fingers out." That's what many boards believe.
But guest blogger Rebekah Burch Basinger says that this approach is all wrong, and the demarcation between governance and management is not that clear.

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Planning a new campus

With the declining number of students
hitting up seminaries for education, and the average student age rising, schools need to be even more careful about planning new campuses.

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You're probably making this mistake

Have you heard (or even uttered) these statements during meetings? 
  • It would be great if…
  • Someone should…
  • Do we all agree to…?
  • Can you try to…?
  • The chair would like...
Repeat after me: No more weasel words.

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How to make a board handbook

Does your board have a handbook – either online or on paper?
If you don’t, you may be missing out on an important resource to help your board function at the top of its game.  

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What happened to seminary enrollment?

Here’s the executive summary:
Enrollment across the Association of Theological Schools is slightly down. The population of North America is way up. And this sounds like trouble.

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Requiem for the bookstore

This month, the Cokesbury bookstore at Lancaster Theological Seminary
 closed its doors for good. In fact, this wasn't the seminary's decision -- all the Cokesbury stores are closing, if they haven't already done so. As someone who deeply appreciates what goes into building and managing a finely curated collection of books -- a difficult task when the best of your collection regularly walks out the door, never to be seen until you re-order -- hearing that another store has closed grieves me.

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Schools examining costs and benefits of tenure

Earlier this month, the board of trustees at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
brought the national debate over tenure home to Texas. By a unanimous vote, they decided to end the tenure program at Southwestern, and set in motion the process to make that happen.

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One of Canada's most influential theological training centres

To begin to understand the Toronto School of Theology, one needs to understand what a consortium is and what it is not, says Martin Campbell, a Toronto lawyer who chairs the TST board. “It’s a group of people or organizations who come together for a common purpose.”

In TST’s case, “it means the seven members give up only that part of their authority and power which is necessary to accomplish the common purpose, and they retain their separate identity,” explains Campbell. “That is a critical balance for TST — they all have their own heritage and are accountable to their own denominations and traditions. It’s that delicate balance that everyone has respected for more than 40 years. And the consortium could only function if that balance is respected.”

Read and print the full article here.

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Looking for a president

The In Trust Center for Theological Schools is searching for a president.

The president works collaboratively with the board of directors to expand the new services of the In Trust Center for Theological Schools while strengthening existing program areas. In particular, the president will ensure that fiscal, operational, fundraising, marketing, human resource, technology, and programmatic strategies and capacity are working at maximum capacity to realize the mission and vision of the organization.

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It’s seldom one or the other -- it's both

Either/or thinking drives me crazy,
which helps explain my frequent dissents into madness (professionally speaking). Almost weekly, an exhausted executive director, overwhelmed development staffer, or out-of-breath board member gives me that “deer in the headlights” look when I suggest that the organization try walking and chewing gum simultaneously (metaphorically speaking).

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What happened in Virginia?

Have you been keeping up 
with events at the University of Virginia this summer? The blowback may have been more about perceptions than actual substance. The deeper issues here — the purpose of public university education, the importance of a liberal arts curriculum, the speed at which universities ought to embrace new educational technologies — weren’t necessarily the reason for the ruckus.

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Megadeth = good publicity

"Heavy metal rock star is Lutheran seminarian." That grabs your attention, doesn't it? On January 19, 2012, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch ran a feature about David Ellefson, a founding member of the "thrash metal" rock band Megadeth, who is now a student in the Specific Ministry Program at Concordia Seminary. Ellefson, who is 47 and lives in Scottsdale, Arizona, is an active member of Shepherd of the Desert Lutheran Church, where, with his pastor's encouragement, he started a new music ministry called MEGA Life. Now Ellefson is preparing for ministry through a program at Concordia that allows him to take courses mostly online. Why should I care about this? I'm not interested in heavy metal music, but I am interested in how seminaries communicate. And from what I can see, this unlikely story has been a winner for the school. On January 20, the day following the original Post-Dispatch article, Rolling Stone posted an article about the "rock star who wants to become a pastor." The Assoc ...

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The trustees' decision to fire Joe Paterno

The recent death of long-time Penn State football coach Joe Paterno spurred an outpouring of public grief that has, temporarily, overshadowed the tragic and tawdry circumstances of his firing last fall.  Just four days before his death, the New York Times published an article about the university's controversial decision to fire Paterno without warning, via a phone call. The article is based on an extensive interview with board members who wanted to set the record straight and defend their decision. To me, the most significant part of the interview is the trustees' description of how they were caught unaware by the scandal. They were not informed of the serious charges against former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky until the media broke the story. The university president papered over its importance. And when the board wrote a press release to express sympathy with the victims, the president altered its wording before releasing it to the media. The article is a fascinating look at a scandal from the ...

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The price of procrastination

Example of deferred maintenance

Deferred maintenance dogs many theological schools -- especially those freestanding institutions with beloved old campuses that were built for a bygone era. Surely every administrator knows that when you're creating an annual budget, it's very easy to put off a big capital expenditure for one more year or to balance the accounts by shaving a little off the facilities line.

A recent piece over at the Chronicle of Higher Education is a must-read for presidents, CFOs, and board members who serve on the finance or buildings and grounds committees.

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Shifting your message during times of crisis

Let's assume your school already has a mission statement, and it's a good one. But then something happens. There's an internal crisis -- perhaps a senior administrator is discovered in wrongdoing. Or there's an external challenge -- perhaps you learn that another seminary is opening an extension site in your back yard. You probably don't need to change your mission statement. But you do need to change your message! I recently came across a two-year-old article in The Nonprofit Quarterly that still seems completely relevant: "Mission, Message, and Damage Control." Author Kim Klein advises complete honesty with your constituents about the challenges that you are facing. But at the same time, she recommends tailoring your message to address the anxieties that both internal and external audiences may be harboring. Klein says that the first people who need to hear the new message are the people closest to the situation -- the staff and board. For these groups, institutional troubles may loom lar ...

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Putting a value on the president's house

Does your theological school's president live in housing provided by the school? If so, the Internal Revenue Service wants to know. Presidents of educational institutions must report as income the fair-market value of their housing when they fill out their tax forms, experts say. But what's not clear is whether presidents should pay taxes on the full value of the houses they inhabit, or just the personal quarters. If someone rented the entire house that Boston University president Robert Brown's lives in (pictured here), the rent would likely be more than $21,000 per month. But Brown describes his residence as "an apartment over a restaurant," since it's used so often for official functions. The Boston Globe recently looked up the fair-market value of Boston-area presidents' houses. Boston University's has the highest value, because the university decided to value the entire building. Meanwhile, the home of the president of Northeastern University, overlooking Boston Common, is valued at only $6,225 per m ...

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