You don’t have to look far to find a theological school that is considering, exploring, or testing a “new model.” Competency-based education? It’s being done. Fully online degrees? Check. Embedding in universities? We’re seeing more and more freestanding seminaries moving in this direction. Global partnerships? They’re happening with schools in Kenya and Korea and everywhere in between. These are just some ways in which seminaries are adapting to achieve their missions and meet the needs of students.
Some of these adaptations are being explored in a systematic way through a program of the Association of Theological Schools (ATS), the Educational Models and Practices in Theological Education initiative. Eighteen peer groups from seminaries across the United States and Canada have spent the last two years collaborating and discovering ways to meet the needs of current and prospective students.
But even as these schools explore educational models, their leaders have to attend to the institution’s core — financial stability and good governance. In fact, if a school is going to adapt to a changing environment, its governance structures must be solid and its stakeholders fully engaged — the board, administration, and faculty, but also staff, donors, church leaders, and everyone else who cares about its mission.
This issue of In Trust shares some governance basics and also highlights a few ways that schools are adapting to a changing environment.
First, William Myers highlights the unique nature of shared governance — the mode of governance in higher education — and compares it to governance in the corporate world, which is quite different. “Successful shared governance depends on healthy relationships among participants who bring different expertise and points of view to the table,” he reminds us.
Second, Eliza Smith Brown of ATS summarizes the governance initiative that ATS and the In Trust Center co-sponsored over the past year, presenting the initiative’s findings as a helpful top-10 list. Nothing on the list is surprising. What’s essential for good governance today is the same as what’s always been essential: A focus on mission, good communication, trust, and clarity of roles, to name a few. As new educational models are considered, Brown says that schools need to be “nimble enough to respond to changing times” and boards should work closely with their administrators and faculty to stay abreast of current trends.
And what are some of these current trends? One of the most significant is accelerated programs that can get students into ministry in less time and with less debt. Karen Stiller explores some of these in this issue.
Some seminaries are finding that they can no longer fulfill their mission on their own. Mergers and consolidations are nothing new, and we’ve reported on many over the years. But each partnership is somewhat different. Holly Miller explains how the leaders of Episcopal Divinity School decided to form a new partnership with Union Theological Seminary in New York.
The key to this new arrangement between two venerable schools has been a willingness to face the truth, she says. Gary Hall, chair of the board at Episcopal Divinity School, is emphatic on this issue. “The governing board needs to know the numbers, understand their implications, and get out in front of them,” he says. “Too often trustees and administrators fall into wishful thinking. The facts, as hard as they might be, are your friends.”
May this issue help you to look at the facts at your own institution and to approach your work in leadership with both hope and clarity.