Blog

From category archives: In Trust Blog

Boards

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 . . .

Read the rest of entry »

Sustainability: Not just about the green


When I think about sustainability, what immediately comes to mind is green. Green — as a concept and not just a color — dominates every conversation.

As I specifically consider leadership of a theological school, Green raises so many questions.

Questions about ecology and the environment: Is my campus kind to the environment? Are our buildings green or at least getting greener? Are our behaviors on campus environmentally responsible? At the very least, do we recycle?

And always, questions about money: Are our budgets balanced and our financial forecasts realistic? Where does our current financial path lead? Is our cash flow sufficient? How sustainable are our finances?

As leaders, we need our institutions to be sustainable, both financially sustainable and environmentally sustainable.

Read the rest of entry »

What does it mean to govern?



Q: What does it mean to govern? 
[Careful – this is a trick question.]
        a.) to supervise
        b.) to manage
        c.) to donate
        d.) to advise

The correct answer, according to the 2004 governance classic, Governance as Leadership, is e.) none of the above. To govern is “to lead.” And yes, leading includes supervision, management, fundraising, and advising, but leading also supersedes them.  Let me explain.

Read the rest of entry »

Giving thanks: A formula for success



My wife often travels for work.
It’s one of the sacrifices we accept in exchange for the ability to work together from home. Trips usually take her away for no more than two or three days, but this month a huge project demanded that she be in New Hampshire for nearly two weeks.

Read the rest of entry »

A call for board members to step up



The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review best summed up a recent report from the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) with this headline: “Scathing report says college trustees fail in mission.” The gist of the report is that higher education is mismanaged, and the buck stops with the board. The public’s image of the country’s institutions of higher education is not the most positive. High on the list of complaints. . .

Read the rest of entry »

Should you fire underperforming board members?



Should you fire underperforming board members? The author of "Firing Lousy Board Members" thinks so, and she outlines the process for doing so in her post. Of course, it's not as easy as saying "So-and-so is a lousy board member." No, a board needs to ...

Read the rest of entry »

Location, location, location



It's the realtor's mantra: "Location, location, location." If the school system stinks, it doesn't matter how nice the house is. If there's no traffic, it doesn't matter how cheap the retail space rents for. And as student demographics change, many seminaries are learning that the . . .

Read the rest of entry »

Is your board's culture entrepreneurial or risk averse?




What is your board’s relationship to risk? Does its work reflect a culture of risk taking or risk avoidance? 

The question surrounding board culture and its engagement with risk seems to arise more frequently these days as boards are increasingly encouraged to travel two seemingly conflicting roads of risk -- the entrepreneurial road of risk taking and the security-conscious road of risk management.

Which road do you prefer to travel? Given your institution’s situation, which road must you travel?

Read the rest of entry »

Shared governance is flawed but fixable



Few people appear happy with the state of shared governance at American colleges and universities.”

That’s how Brian Rosenberg, president of Macalester College, begins a thoughtful essay on how to reform shared governance in higher education.

Read the rest of entry »

Educators of fortune (or "Schools contract adjunctivitis")



The number of adjuncts continues to grow, and the issues involved with hiring part-time contract instructors are coming to a head, and board members and seminary trustees are going ...

Read the rest of entry »

Paying attention to spiritual formation: What’s a board to do?



Spiritual formation is a topic gaining wide acceptance
as a “growing edge” within many leadership programs in theological education. Students desire it. Professors recognize its role as glue for the whole curricular strategy. Surveys lift up the need for seminary leaders to pay more attention to it. Should seminary boards...

Read the rest of entry »

Psychopaths and leadership




Personality disorders are all the rage these days. Psychopathy has been enjoying a particularly warm moment in the sun. The idea that certain human beings who seem immune to stress, exhibit poor impulse control, and lack empathy not only can “live among us” undetected but can even thrive and outcompete their colleagues has a certain dark allure. Is it possible that high-functioning psychopaths might find board leadership a worthy prize?

Read the rest of entry »

The paperless board: Yes, but with caution



Technology is changing everything,
including how boards do their work. As a seminary president, for example, I advocated for a paperless board, which is a great tool for any group of trustees.

Over several meetings, our school transitioned to a thoughtfully designed...

Read the rest of entry »

What are the habits of highly effective boards?

Boards are striving more than ever toward a higher level of performance. The demands of the challenging environment surrounding most theological schools require it. So what might “board excellence” look like?

Read the rest of entry »

An elevator speech for board members



A friend finds out
that you serve on the board of a theological school. He is surprised, pleased, and curious. Questions follow immediately, and in rapid fire. “So what are your responsibilities as a board member?” he inquires. “And how does your board work there differ — if at all — from the other boards on which you serve?” You need an ...

Read the rest of entry »

Everything you need to know about shared governance



Several years ago, the Chronicle of Higher Education ran an article on shared governance. The writer worried that few people in education seem to understand what the phrase means. . . . This piece made me wonder, Can that be true of readers of In Trust? We talk a lot about shared governance. (I mean, a lot.) Could it be that some of our readers—seminary presidents...

Read the rest of entry »

Seeking a blessed union: Is a merger on your horizon?

Union Street, Traverse City

Seminaries share little with the ambitions of corporate America, but it’s interesting to compare the matter-of-fact approach to mergers held up by the business world to the apprehension that talk of a merger can bring to a seminary boardroom.

Read the rest of entry »

Maintain the mission while firing the faculty?



According to Inside Higher Ed,
Iowa Wesleyan College is cutting 22 of its 52 faculty positions and 16 of its 31 academic programs, saving the school $3 million per year out of its $20 million budget. After the cuts, there will be two faculty members in the English department, and none in math. Naturally, people are distraught, but I’m not inclined to criticize the radical pruning. This is a college with . . .

 

Read the rest of entry »

A bit of winter inspiration

Snowshoers in a snowstorm

John Coleman’s short essay for the Harvard Business Review Blog Network, “Leadership is Not a Solitary Task,” should inspire presidents, board chairs, board members, and anyone who cares about the direction of an institution.

Coleman notes that . . .

Read the rest of entry »

What happens when schools weaken denominational ties?



A recent article in Christianity Today showcases a new three-part study from the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU) that examines what happens to schools when they weaken denomination ties. While some students welcome a broader, less sectarian . . .

Read the rest of entry »

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 ...

Read the rest of entry »

Shared governance for tough times

Eureka!These are tough days for leaders in higher education and especially so for those at the helm of a theological school. Everywhere I go, boards and presidents are on the hunt for the big idea — the game changer — the Eureka moment that will save the day. I find little patience for or interest in collaboration, conversation, or shared governance.

Read the rest of entry »

Six lessons a board can learn from an embezzling employee

'The Embezzler'Laura Otten, director of the Nonprofit Center at LaSalle University’s School of Business, recently posted a sad tale about a nonprofit board that neglected its financial oversight responsibilities over a period of many years, creating an environment in which an employee was able to embezzle almost three-quarters of a million dollars, and leading to a lawsuit by a former board member.

Read the rest of entry »

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 —

Read the rest of entry »

Seminarians need spiritual support too



Seminary board members give a lot — their time, their money, their expertise.
But one thing they don’t expect to be asked for is spiritual support. 

Why not? 

Read the rest of entry »