|Board chair Howard Morgan (right) chats with the Rev. Jose Rosa, pastor of the First Congregational Church of Chicago (UCC), at a seminary event.
After forty-three years as an executive of Citibank, it would be fair to say business—and favored management techniques—are second nature to me. So when I was recently elected chair of the Board of Trustees of Chicago Theological Seminary I decided to employ one of my favorite and most successful techniques right away: the personal visit.
I had learned in my years as a manager that paying new colleagues the compliment of a visit to ask them their opinions created a bond. The personal visit also served to open dialogue—and I always learned a great deal by listening to colleagues’ views about how I should proceed with my new responsibilities.
So I eagerly set out to visit all of the board members—thirty of them—within the three months between my election and the next board meeting. Most of my visits were in Chicago where the majority of our trustees are located, but I also traveled to Boston, New York, and Washington, D.C. I connected with some other board members as they visited CTS. Usually we met over breakfast and lunch to provide ample time for dialogue. I found the scheduling much easier than I anticipated, as trustees made themselves readily available, an early indicator of their commitment.
Views We Share
Our board is geographically, racially, ethnically, and gender diverse and comprises Catholics, Jews, and Protestants, so I expected a wide range of views and findings. However, there is a strong bond between us. We recently weathered the difficulties of CTS’s financial strains and came through closely committed. We also share a deep commitment to the seminary’s mission and vision “to be an international force in the development of religious leadership to transform society toward greater justice and mercy.”
The most striking common view the trustees shared with me in our meetings was that CTS had contributed positively and powerfully to their own spiritual journeys. As one of our newest trustees, Mary Helen Robertson, a Chicago attorney and a key member of her suburban church, told me, “I have been significantly helped in my own growth in faith and spiritual awareness through my experience as a CTS trustee.”
Trustees further agreed that they felt like their role was important—not just to the school, but to the community at large, and beyond that, to the world. The key to this view was the transformative nature of the curriculum at CTS as captured in its slogan, “Ministry for the Real World.”
Trustee Art Pierson, a marketing professional from Quincy, Illinois, dreamed up the slogan, and it wasn’t slick marketing know-how that led him to it. One afternoon over coffee in the commons, a new faculty member, Scott Handeman, and I joined Art to discuss his views. Art said, “I believe I can personally help to make a difference in the real world through my work with the seminary—and see results in my lifetime.” I vividly recall Art’s enthusiasm and passion in his conversation. His very genuine commitment was something I was to encounter many times during my visits, as was the sense that the role of trustee was itself “transformative.” For most trustees, the leverage effect of their role in providing leadership and guidance is enormous, lasting, and humbling.
CTS’s Positioning Statement
To active, questioning people of faith who seek to develop their gifts to make a difference, Chicago Theological Seminary is the graduate school that prepares students for effective leadership and ministries that transform the world toward greater inclusivity, justice, and mercy.
—Trustee Lyn Corbett Fitzgerald’s focus group statement
Trustee Roy Robertson, a dentist from Detroit, summed this up when he said to me that “training spiritual transformative leaders [gives] us, as trustees, a sense of excitement and confidence that God’s kingdom can come to the world.” Phil Matthews, a trustee who runs his own New York investment advisory firm, put the idea of mission into business language. “There is a need for us to understand who our clients are. Surely historically and in a continuing sense our clients will continue to be the churches, but increasingly all organizations that are engaged in seeking leaders to help them in accomplishing positive, transformational change are our client market.” Phil added, “In a business sense our students are our ‘products’ which we [ultimately] deliver . . . to these broader ‘markets.’”
Another trustee, Dick Harter, a Boston attorney and leader in the national organization of the United Church of Christ, said that CTS could be helpful to churches and synagogues dealing with change, adding, “CTS has become an example of an almost 150-year-old institution that is taking the needed risks associated with change in a difficult environment while remaining faithful to its history, culture, and core beliefs. While this is never easy, it can and is being done by CTS with the active guidance of trustees.”
Old Lessons, New Lessons
With my background in religious traditions, I felt I would be well-suited for CTS when I joined the board in 1997. Both my brothers are ministers, and my father, Howard Moody Morgan, was a minister in Philadelphia. Both my grandfathers were preachers. My maternal grandfather, Milford Hall Lyon, became an evangelist with Billy Sunday, conducting religious meetings during the Great Revival of the early 1900s. My paternal grandfather, G. Campbell Morgan, was a self-taught British preacher who served for years at Westminster Church in London and with Dwight L. Moody at Northfield, Massachusetts. After I joined the board I learned, much to my surprise, that he received an honorary doctorate of divinity from CTS in 1902, his only degree. I have recently collected most of his books and papers and established a library of them at CTS.
At my installation as chair, Dean Dow Edgerton preached one of Campbell Morgan’s sermons titled, “Suffer the Children.” The original message was directed to the British government, urging it to establish child labor laws in 1907. We all were amazed at how current his message was and how closely it adhered to the mission of CTS today.
Becoming a trustee came at an excellent time for me as I was concluding my business career and searching for a meaningful involvement. CTS assisted me in defining my own vision for myself. One of the best surprises is how much I have learned by auditing classes, and what pleasure it has given me. I take one per semester, and the teaching and class discussion have been a great blessing to me.
This was another area that trustees and I had in common: They audit classes, too.
Trustee and executive committee member Cyndie McLachlan said, “The courses I attend connect me with the values of CTS and the lives and aspirations of the students.” Some trustees have been surprised by how the classes they took changed them.
Nancy Brand Boruch, a Chicago real estate investment advisor, said, “The courses I attended caused a rich personal and spiritual awakening, so much so that I am furthering my studies as a possible redirection of my own professional life.” Nancy is now considering the possibility of the ministry as a new career. Because of such enthusiastic response, we are exploring ways for trustees who do not live near Chicago to participate in courses.
My visits made clear to me the level of trustees’ involvement with the school. Because volunteer trustees are interested in devoting their time where their talents fit best, CTS has added strong administrative support staff to respond to faculty and trustee needs, and it works.
Trustee Lyn Corbett Fitzgerald, a public relations manager with the Aspen Institute, used CTS staff to put her talents to use. She was challenged, as she told me, “to tell the seminary story in a concise and clear way so that new constituencies will know who CTS is.” As we walked together on the University of Chicago’s quadrangle, Lyn remarked, “It’s a PR person’s dream to discover something that is truly wonderful but known by a selected audience. That’s CTS! I’m so excited about the opportunity to develop ‘brand recognition.’” With significant staff support, Lyn led a series of focus groups of students, faculty, administration, and trustees and developed a positioning statement we are all using in speaking with prospective new students, new faculty, and new supporters. [See her statement in left margin.]
On the other hand, Chicago trustee In Shik Lee, a retired Korean pastor, serves the staff and students. Lee works with Professor Bo Myung Seo to counsel Korean students and ease their entry into a new cultural environment.
When I spoke with Chicago lawyer Tom Allen, an active life trustee and former board chair, I was reminded that the days of our financial difficulties stemmed directly from the lack of clear financial information. With the active participation of trustee Nancy Wilkin Sutherland, who volunteered her time as “temp treasurer,” the board hired a new vice president of business affairs and created a finance committee, separating finance from other oversight activities. This has enabled the finance committee to focus on the need for information and financial management. The normal flow of financial information is now readily available to all interested users. We recently formed a task force comprising the chair of the academic and student affairs committee, the dean, three trustees, and three faculty to do modeling of financial forecasting, asking the “What if?” questions on revenues and expenses.
Problems and challenges exist on this board as on any board. Through my visits, I became aware of some of these. Specifically, I realized that some trustees are more involved than others. CTS has a board affairs committee to address the issue of trustee involvement, which has created a trustee-mentoring program to bring new members along. The committee has added a “life cycle” policy that addresses the development of trustee involvement over a three-year term, the maximum board service allowed.
It is my challenge as chair, however, to see how best to match trustee talents and spiritual journeys to the institutional needs for leadership. I work with the president at involving trustees based on their available time, their skills, and the needs of CTS. It is a difficult volunteer management task that takes constant attention. Where we do not have a good fit, I work to make constructive change happen.
We have recruited so many active, vital board members that I have become convinced I need to accelerate the rotation of committee chairs and thus make sure that all those leadership qualities have a chance to flourish. We have introduced an annual rotation of the two at-large members of the eight-person executive committee as part of that process. We need to build a deep bench, so to speak, in order to ensure that board members feel their various voices will be heard. And we work hard to create a culture where board members listen attentively to one another.
Even with all the effort we expend in this area, it’s still possible for culture shock to occur. Moving beyond by businessman’s assumptions, I have begun to learn the nuances of the challenging task of governance of an entity that strives, above all, for free inquiry, with a vibrant teaching faculty that is not accustomed to the practices of business management.
Early after I became chair I was approached by the secretary of our board, Rick Petersen. We had been meeting as an executive committee for an especially long session discussing the formation of a 501(c)(3) subsidiary of CTS which we named the Center for Community Transformation. CCT was being created to engage in a five-year research project to go into—and learn from—religious centers that were transforming their communities. The CCT program would send five students and two faculty into that church, synagogue, or mosque to discover what successful transformation involved. The program has the potential to redefine the seminary’s curriculum. (Subsequently, CCT was funded by Lilly Endowment Inc. with a $1,500,000 grant and is in its second year of research.) Rick took me aside as we broke for coffee and said, “Howard, I’m not sure how to tell you this, but the faculty is very concerned that CCT as a separate entity will be independent of the seminary and not responsible to its academic standards and practices.” I was quite surprised, since we were simply establishing CCT as a separate entity to ensure we could track and measure the expenditures. What seemed a simple business tactic to me was a serious issue to the faculty. Appropriately sensitized, I asked Rick to meet with the faculty and, as a result, a shared understanding was reached. Happily, the faculty trusted Rick enough so they could share their concerns.
I have come to appreciate discovering what consensus means as we mix faculty, administrators, and trustees together. Collaboration and dialogue are the handmaids of progress. The business model of organizational behavior only goes so far; it needs adaptation to be relevant to a seminary, but its basic principles of responsibility and accountability function well in an academic environment and these concerns are always placed in the context of confidence in our mission as board members. The board is sharpening its focus while remaining true to its newly approved strategic plan. We are incorporating these findings in our board orientation of new trustees—considering, with the faculty, ways to access educational programs for the board and equipping our administration to provide better support to trustees. All the trustees realize that their efforts are in support of our president, dean, and faculty, as well as the students who remain the heart and soul of the institution. Dean Edgerton spoke on “What’s New at CTS” at our Spring Convocation and gave the trustees a challenge and great encouragement when he said, “I believe that the next ten years of this institution will be the ‘Decade of the Trustees’; they are presenting all of us with the opportunity to take us to places we’ve never been to in our history.” Clearly, I have learned that CTS is a team of colleagues that enjoy the challenge of working together for a great purpose: developing spiritual transformative leaders.
Life Cycle of a CTS Trustee
Trustee Recruiting Protocol (identification, exploratory discussion, vetting process, interview with trustee candidates, advance communication with board of trustees, approval process, orientation, succeeding board meeting)
Address issues of diversity in all its aspects, including geographic representation
Introduction to standing committees; role of chairpersons
Participation in standing committee work to advance program of Board of Trustees
Continuation of mentor contacts on as-needed basis
Facilitate contacts with other trustees
Regular reports to trustees for updating on current CTS happenings
Ongoing seminars on topics of interest, e.g., academic programs and research, student issues
Attendance at CTS classes, convocation, chapel services, fund-raising events
“Engaging the Disengaged”
Annual trustee self-evaluation
Recognition of trustee contributions in time, skills, and money
Exit interview; keep record of significant content
Acknowledgment of trustee’s service
Continued involvement (i.e., as Life Trustee)
The “Life Cycle of a CTS Trustee” was developed by the board’s committee on board affairs.
A Match Made in Heaven? How a President and Chair Helped Shape a School (New Year 2000)
Coping, Caring, Carrying on a Good Work: Eight Views from the Head of the Table (New Year 2000)
Pull Up Your Chair: A Concise Guide to Leading a Board into Creative Community (Autumn 2001)
The View from a Different Chair (Autumn 2001)
A Vision for Chairpersons (Autumn 2001)
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