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From category archives: In Trust Blog

Boards

Subject to church authority – another model for school governance

Most theological schools have boards that make the big decisions: to close, merge, or reorganize; to hire or fire a president; to make major financial or curricular changes. But in some seminaries and theological schools, the board is subject to another authority, such as a bishop or council of church leaders. How can boards that do not have the final word on some very important matters operate effectively?

 

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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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What should your board be asking?

Reducing expenses, decreasing enrollment, increasing costs, and shrinking revenue. These are the current realities of higher education. Are your board members asking the right questions in response?

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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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Are your board members active fundraisers?

In 2014, Karen Stiller asked Elizabeth L. Visconage and Joseph Molyneaux to share their thoughts about a resource from the Association of Fundraising Professionals, A Fundraising Guide for Nonprofit Board Members by Julia I. Walker. Their years of experience with boards and fundraising are readily apparent as Visconage and Molyneaux comment on some of the major points in Walker’s book. A key question that guided the conversation: Is it realistic to expect all board members to be active fundraisers?

 

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Building a better board meeting

Board members often lament the lack of time in board meetings to focus on strategic issues and trends that really affect the future of the institution. Many boards struggle with spending too much time on the present, or even on the past. They prioritize reports from staff and committees but leave little time for robust discussions about moving forward.

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Resource roundup: Board orientation

Effective board orientation is valuable for new trustees and veteran board members alike. Fitting orientation into already-full board meetings can be difficult, but it is important to take time each year to do so. 

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Abandon your past to create your future

Robert S. Landrebe, who has just retired as senior vice president at Asbury Theological Seminary, offered advice for finding clarity in your school’s future in the Spring 2014 issue of In Trust. In his article titled “To create the future, selectively abandon the past,” Landrebe offers blunt but empathic advice to schools facing shrinking enrollment (in other words, most schools): “Let me describe theological education as an ‘industry.’ We are part of an industry that has a vital mission that serves the church. But, over the last decade, our student market has been in decline. During this decade we haven’t adjusted our expenses in response to a shrinking market. Rather, expenses have risen even faster than the consumer price index." 

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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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The leader you need now, at this moment

If your school is in transition now, or if you've recently completed a leadership change – or even if you are not even considering one – the issue of leadership transition ought to be a part of regular board discussions. Organizational succession planning is the board's work.

 

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Resources available from BoardSource

BoardSource has many resources available for nonprofit boards, not all of which require a BoardSource membership. These resources include a number of graphical guides, templates, and infographics.

 

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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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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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Steps for effective board recruitment

How do you go about finding new board members? It’s not as easy as asking friends if they want to serve.

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What are a board's top concerns?

What are the top concerns for the future of higher education as identified by board members serving at private, nonprofit colleges and universities across the United States?

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How (and why) to do board assessment

As part of the ongoing work of the In Trust Center’s Wise Stewards Initiative, participating schools are completing board self-assessments, which their faculty coaches are using to create board development plans. Creating a plan is something that every school should consider doing.

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Diversifying your board

As the diversity of students entering theological schools continues to grow, many school leaders are challenged with mirroring that diversity within their administration, faculty, and board. 

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Questioning tenure

At some point every board member will hear arguments for and against tenure, the policy that has been called “the most sacred cow munching on the ivy that covers the towers of academia.”

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Your top strategic issues

When your board meets, how much time do you spend focusing on strategic issues facing your school? If the answer is less than half of the meeting time, then your board is like many others. 

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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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Difficult but necessary decisions

“The board has to insist on financial sustainability.” Lee Merritt, retired vice president for finance at Fuller Theological Seminary, sees this obligation as one of the most essential responsibilities of any school’s governing board.

 

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Tending shared governance

“Effective shared governance is hard work.” That’s how a new article focusing on shared governance in this month’s Trusteeship magazine begins. This is no surprise to anyone familiar with the practice of shared governance, but it’s certainly nice to read the words and appreciate that others struggle with the practice too.

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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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The board's role in spiritual formation

Theological school boards are responsible for all aspects of the school they serve, including the spiritual formation of their students. But how can boards know for sure whether spiritual formation is being adequately addressed?

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