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An "embedded" theological school is a seminary or divinity school that is part of a college or university, as contrasted with a "freestanding" seminary, which is an independent graduate-level institution. Embedded schools face unique challenges, according to Mark Markuly, dean of the School of Theology and Ministry at Seattle University. One of these is that “you’re kind of off the grid in the ways people traditionally look at governance boards. Yet embedded seminaries also enjoy a number of benefits, including the kinds of technological and administrative support that larger institutions can offer. 

Back in Autumn 2014, Karen Stiller wrote an article for In Trust that detailed some characteristics of successful embedded seminaries:

A successful embedded seminary communicates its own uniqueness. Successful embedded schools educate the larger institution’s board about theological education, and why it is different than what takes place in a school of music or law. They make sure the board understands what a theological school contributes to the university or college.

A successful embedded seminary is an advocate for theological education. All stakeholders within the embedded theological school (faculty, board members, and administration) communicate to all members of the larger institution to help them understand and appreciate the seminary’s role within a university or college setting.

A successful embedded seminary is led by good communicators. Leaders of embedded schools meet regularly with deans, faculty, and board members to foster good relationships. At universities where seminary representatives serve on the university-wide board of trustees, they participate as fully as possible. Chris Kimball, president of California Lutheran University, puts this succinctly: “If there is a question about athletics, we expect them to weigh in.”

A successful embedded seminary is a good academic citizen. Embedded seminaries enjoy perks such as access to the resources of the university, and they work hard on giving back. Some theological schools offer high-performing, prolific faculty members that contribute to the university’s reputation. Some provide faculty who teach in other departments, adding an ethical, moral, and spiritual dimension to departments like business and medicine.

If your school is embedded, help board members understand the multiple layers of governance and the complexity of the relationships. Stiller’s article is a good resource for valuable discussions, new ideas, and stronger relationships.

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