Illustrations by Eric Hanson
With apologies to Lin Manuel-Miranda and his popular Broadway musical Hamilton, I’ve come to believe that ATS’ 10 redeveloped accreditation standards, released in 2020, may be read in light of the musical’s popular number “Ten Duel Commandments.” Having done about 20 accreditation visits since 2012, it’s my opinion that the song serves as a lyrical instruction manual of sorts – without pistols, of course! – that can help schools and boards through the streamlined standards. After all, the redevelopment was revolutionary itself, and in a plain, commonsense manner, the new standards give trustees exactly what they need to know to effectively govern their schools.
1) The Challenge:
Mission and Integrity.
Just as the prophet Habakkuk received from the Lord the command to “write down the revelation and make it plain on tablets so that a herald may run with it” (Hab. 2:2), so, too, should our missions be made plain. Not only that, but we should achieve those missions by living them with integrity “especially in areas related to human interactions, diversity, legal obligations, and Commission responsibilities” (ATS Standard 1).
2) Grab a friend:
Planning and Evaluation.
A “mission-guided and broad-based process that focuses on strategic priorities in light of current realities” (ATS Standard 2) starts with a well-led leadership team that can develop, implement, and evaluate effective planning with both internal and external constituencies. The board holds the president responsible for team building as the school, grounded in a culture of planning and evaluation, advance and realizes its mission through its programming.
3) Have your formation teams meet face-to-face:
Student Learning and Formation.
Every ministerial program integrates four dimensions of formation – intellectual, human, spiritual, and vocational – which are pursued “with attention to academic rigor, intercultural competency, global awareness and engagement, and lifelong learning” (ATS Standard 3). Faculty in secular schools can do their own thing, but in theological schools they must be focused and pull together for the sake of a holistic formation program. A board needs to know not only how these formation dimensions are addressed in the school, but also how they are being made to work together in advancing the mission.
4) Treat them with civility:
Master’s Degree Programs.
For theological schools to be communities of faith and learning, and for students to experience strong academic and formation outcomes, the programs need well-conceived goals and student learning outcomes that can be and are regularly evaluated for their effectiveness. That takes the work of all formation teams to advance the school’s mission through its programming.
5) Start on solid ground when offering terminal degrees:
Doctoral degree programs.
If your school offers terminal degrees, you’re preparing more than future ministers; you’re also preparing future faculty and program directors. These scholars and leaders will be a direct extension of your mission as they advance the programs into which they are hired after they graduate.
6) Leave a note:
Library and Information Services.
The heart of intellectual formation is found not just in the curated collections and instructional centers of the library but also in teaching research strategies and processes for the successful and ethical navigation of a body of knowledge, including books and databases. Know how your librarians are partnering with your faculty and serving your students to advance your mission.
7) Face your students:
Know what your student support services are and how they’re being used to “help foster supportive learning environments, bridge organizational boundaries, and form collaborative partnerships to enhance student learning and formation” (ATS Standard 7). The students are the lifeblood of any school because the school’s mission is advanced into the world through them. The support they receive will be what keeps them invested in the mission after they graduate.
8) Your chance to negotiate:
Boards need to know the faculty roles in teaching and learning, scholarship, and service in light of the school’s mission and design contracts to clearly reflect those roles. That will help your faculty understand their role in advancing the mission and help your chief academic officer hold them accountable for it. Your school will be able to show it is meeting its mission through its faculty, and the faculty will become an attractive face for your school and its mission.
9) Summon all the courage you require:
Governance and Administration.
The role of any governing body is to “establish priorities, develop policies, make decisions, authorize actions, and evaluate outcomes” within a governance model based “on a bond of trust among boards, administrators, faculty, staff, students, and ecclesial or denominational bodies where shared governance is clearly defined and appropriately implemented” (ATS Standard 9). A board has one job: Advance the mission!
Understand how human, financial, physical, technological, and shared resources are acquired and used for mission fulfillment “in ways that are realistic, holistic, and sustainable” (ATS Standard 10), and make it happen, taking special care of your best resource: your people.
You can find the ATS standards here.