Elizabeth Palmer Bennett, CPA, was the vice president for finance and administration and chief financial officer at Lancaster Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania before it merged with Moravian Theological Seminary in 2021. In an interview on the In Trust Center’s Good Governance podcast, she explained how the leadership and board at Lancaster came to its decision – a decision which resulted in the elimination of her position. An excerpt from the conversation.
The trend was clear: When I started at Lancaster, it was my first experience working in higher education and specifically at a seminary. So, it was interesting when I first looked at the financials and looked at the history of the financials and the enrollment reports and things like that. I saw that the trend was going down. But I was new to everything. I wanted to make sure that I really understood what was going on.
The way it has been: I think part of the issue, especially in seminaries, is there’s kind of a complacency that says, “Well, it has always been like this.” We had one professor who would always tell me that they used to get paid in chickens back in the early 1900s. So he said this situation was something that we just need to live with and deal with.
Focusing on the mission: We had what one of our trustees used to call this “bogey” of a number that was this: Year after year, we were losing the same amount of money. And if you looked at the salaries of the president and a few vice presidents and the benefits, and you get rid of those, you have a break-even number. So I realized that whatever we’re going to do, I’m not going to have a job when this is over. Nonetheless, you have to keep in mind the mission of the institution. You don’t want to be the one closing the doors of the seminary. You want the mission to continue, whether it’s with you or not.