It was midafternoon of an unseasonably warm November day in Atlanta, and the deliberations of the Committee of 100 of Candler School of Theology were beginning to drag a bit. The thirty-odd people present in the sharp-angled, starkly modern meeting room in the school's Turner Conference Center were looking forward to a coffee break and, after that, introductions to the school's five new faculty members and hearing about their educational visions.

David E. Boyd, chairman of the Committee of 100, reminded those present that before ending their business session the participants needed to set the minimum gift to Candler expected of committee members during the 1994-95 academic year. That amount had been pegged at $4,500 in 1993-94. After brief, almost perfunctory discussion, the group agreed to increase the minimum to $4,700, happily reminding one another that the deeper dig into their pockets would bubble up another generous squirt of challenge grant money from the Coca-Cola Foundation as well. A few minutes later the committee went into recess and withdrew to an adjoining area for refreshments. Available for pick-me-ups were not only coffee and tea but also plenty of Coca-Cola.

Candler Theological School, one of the thirteen seminaries of the United Methodist Church, is a graduate school of Emory University and hence has no board of trustees of its own, but that does not release it from being largely responsible for its own finances. At Emory, as is increasingly the case at all universities, every graduate school is expected to be 'a tub on its own bottom,' to quote Billy E. Frye, the university's provost and vice president for academic affairs. The Committee of 100, composed mainly of major donors to the school, is a major element in Candler's attending to that responsibility. Last year committee members gave $317,722 to the school's annual fund. 

The founding of Candler School of Theology was deeply intertwined with the chartering of Emory University and the university's establishment in Atlanta eighty years ago. Indeed, the building that is now the Pitts Theological Library of Candler was the first building built on the new campus. Historically, an eagerness to provide the churches with a learned ministry was at the heart of the launching of most of this country's great private universities -- Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and the University of Chicago, among others -- but over time the divinity schools they established slid toward the edges of their main institutional concerns; most of the universities and many of the divinity schools abandoned their denominational ties. So far this has not happened at Emory, despite an enormous growth in the past two decades in students, faculty, and academic prestige that has catapulted it into the ranks of the nation's top research universities. (Emory is now eighth on the list of the country's best-endowed universities.) Afloat on a gift of $1 million of the two schools from Asa G. Candler, one of the owners of the Coca-Cola Co. and brother of Bishop Warren A. Candler, the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, launched Candler and Emory in 1914 and 1915. To this day Emory continues as an institution of the Southeastern Jurisdiction of the successor United Methodist Church (and a recipient of Coca-Cola largess). Emory's newly installed president, William M. Chace, is an Episcopalian, but his predecessor, James T. Laney, who served for sixteen years that spanned much of the recent explosive growth, is a United Methodist minister who was dean of Candler for eight years before becoming Emory's president in 1977. Laney is now United States ambassador to South Korea.

Even at Emory, though, there is at least one hint that the university may not fully expect its divinity school to carry its weight financially. When the $400 million Emory Campaign was launched in 1989, the university penciled in a goal for Candler of $5 million, compared to $9 million for the law school and $19 million for the business school. The campaign is to run through December 1995. As of last October 31, the law school had raised $6,590,000, 73 percent of goal, and the business school $20,880,000, 100 percent of goal. Candler supporters had turned in gifts and pledges totaling $26,682,000, a whopping 534 percent of their original goal. Now they are efficiently closing in on the $29.5 million revised goal that Candler's Dean R. Kevin LaGree and the Candler development office has assigned to them. Candler's endowment has already reached just short of $50 million. 

The aplomb with which Candler raises money sets it in striking contrast to a number of other university-related divinity schools that were studied along with Candler by Anthony Ruger as part of a major research effort. The Lilly Endowment-funded project, 'Theology in the University: A Study of University Related Divinity Schools,' is directed by James L. Waits, executive director of the Association of Theological Schools in the United States and Canada. It is examining sixteen schools or university departments that award academic doctorates in theological studies. Twelve of the institutions are constituent parts of universities; the other four, while independent, work in close collaboration with universities.

Ruger, a consultant on theological school finance (and treasurer of the ATS), who was commissioned to explore the finances of the sixteen schools, writes in his section of the report:

'The chief executives were unanimous in citing wealthy individuals ('long-ball hitters' in the idiom of one chief executive) as the main potential source of significant new funds.... Unfortunately, many schools cited weaknesses in their ability to focus on this development task. Chief executives often mentioned that the 'board of advisers' or 'visitors' of the university-related school was weak, and needed strengthening. Some complained about turnover in the development staff, or the development office's lack of familiarity with the nature of theological education.'

Ruger asked the heads of the schools in the study to supply him their 'appeal in the nutshell,' the brief statement of what's distinctive and important about their school that they offer to potential supporters. Most prominent of the themes supplied, he said, was the school's location and affiliation with a university, and the benefits flowing from that connection. Many mentioned academic quality, and some spoke of the university's role in society, the significance of religion in American life, and the ecumenical, global, and interreligious context of their school.

His report continues:

'These themes provoke one to wonder about the relation of university-related theological school to its funding constituency. There is a concrete need to help chief executives identify and develop a support constituency. This challenge is deeper than it looks, since it asks how a lay constituency understands, supports, guides, and holds accountable an institution to its mission. Future proposals to empower or enable university-related schools should focus on this challenge.'

Frank P. Wendt, a retired investment banker who has served a decade on the Board of Associates of Yale Divinity School and is its former chairman, would agree with Ruger about the difficulty of building effective ties between divinity schools (and other schools of theology) and their potential funders. In an interview he spoke of the difficulty YDS has encountered in recruiting lay members for its Board of Associates, a group roughly equivalent to Candler's Committee of 100, and in making effective use of them once they are recruited. 'It's not a governing body, doesn't have any real authority, and everyone sees it as a development office tool,' he said.

Wendt, who is currently co-chair of Yale Divinity School's National Campaign Committee, which he reports is half way toward a $15 million goal, has advised and made gifts to a number of other theological schools as well as YDS. He named no names as he described his frustration with fund-raising styles he has encountered, but he sees many development efforts as deeply flawed. One example he cited was a visit he paid to a campus as a potential benefactor during which the chief executive hosted him generously and provide an informative tour, but didn't ask for a gift until he rattled out a few hasty words as he was dropping Wendt off at the airport at the end of his visit. 'Again and again you encounter the inability of deans and presidents to ask donors for money, and to state the case for their school,' he said.

YDS's dean, Thomas Ogletree, said plans are under way to reorganize the Board of Associates into a more effective advisory body that will help the school to develop closer links with its church constituencies, especially the United Church of Christ and the Episcopal Church, which provide the bulk of its students; offer counsel on admissions and development policy; and generate resources for the school. There appears some question, however, of how much in new procedures can be put in place pending the completion of a searching review of the divinity school program that has been ordered by Yale's new president, Richard C. Levin. The review committee is chaired by Professor David Kelsey, a nationally known authority on theological education who is a member of the divinity school faculty, and includes seven other divinity school professors and four outsiders.

Ogletree's five-year term as dean concludes this summer. Rather than the customary five-year renewal, Levin offered -- and Ogletree accepted -- a one-year extension until mid-1996 during which the dean is to implement the recommendations of the review committee. Some of the divinity school's problems are financial. The school enjoys a hefty endowment; including the $9.3 million of Berkeley Divinity School, the Episcopal seminary with which YDS is effectively merged, endowment and quasi-endowment total $78 million, Ogletree said. But the divinity school, like much of the rest of the Yale campus, is facing a major crisis with its buildings, which were erected in the early 1930s. Under-designed concrete beams that support the school's roofs are failing and must be replaced at a cost estimated at $15 to $20 million, Ogletree said.

One complaint that has been leveled against the divinity schools is that the quality of its students has declined in recent years because it accepts too many applicants in order to keep its enrollment high. Ogletree said that in fact the ration of acceptances to applications has declined from 80 or 85 percent to 70 percent during the four and a half years he has been dean, putting YDS's acceptance ration only nine percentage points ahead of Princeton Theological Seminary's 61 percent, which he said is the nation's lowest.

'The student body here is incredibly good,' he said. 'About a third of our students had 3.8 grade-point averages as undergraduates.'

A different perspective emerges, however, when YDS's acceptance ratio is compared to other Yale graduate schools. The law school admits only 5 percent of its applicants, the business school and the medical school only 10 percent. The only other graduate school who ratio comes even close to the divinity's school's is the school of forestry and environmental studies, which reports acceptances at 57 percent, Ogletree said.

This kind of analysis inevitably raises questions about what the divinity school is for, questions that have a particular pungency in university-related divinity schools, where there is a perennial tension between the goals of educating scholars of theology and religion and preparing men and women for the ministry of the churches. Wendt, a United Church of Christ layman who has also been a trustee of Bangor Theological Seminary in Maine, noticed a significant contrast between students at Bangor and at Yale. 'Bangor students,' he said, 'make major sacrifices to attend Bangor and then serve a small congregation in New England. I'd put their dedication at a high A-plus, but their academics at the B level. At Yale, by comparison, the academic quality is A to A-plus, but dedication to the church is a B or possibly C. This is truly a graduate institution, with many students seeking a degree that will lead to some broader goal rather than specifically the church.'

Yet a firm dedication to the needs of the church may be a key component in an effective development strategy, to judge from Candler's example. While Candler attracts students from a variety of denominational backgrounds, a constant theme in its presentation of itself is that it is a school in service to the United Methodist Church.

Kevin LaGree, a former lawyer who came to Candler's deanship from a pastorate rather than an administrative post in another school, chose as one of his major goals strengthening the bond between seminary and church. David Boyd, the Committee of 100 chairman who served on the search committee that selected LaGree, said flatly, 'We have the best dean in the United States.' When asked what it was about LaGree that caught his attention during the search process, Boyd replied promptly, 'His vision of the seminary's being brought back closer to the local church.' And then he elaborated. 'Sometimes you can get a little too close to other academic stuff in a university, research and blah blah blah. If we don't supply good ministers, we're going to be dead.... The salvation of this world is the Christian church, and the leaders and catalysts are the ministers. Our job is training those leaders.'

While many experts on development and governance recommend term limits for boards and advisory groups -- Wendt favors five-year limits -- membership on the Committee of 100 is for many a lifetime assignment. Boyd, who is only the second chairman in the history of the group, was recruited to the committee by his father, who is now dead. Boyd's predecessor as chairman, D.W. Brooks, and his wife Ruth continue as committee members though Brooks is now in his nineties; he has served on the committee continuously since he and Candler's Dean H.B. Trimble launched it in 1953 and was its chairman about thirty years.

One of the committee's most dynamic members is the Reverend W. Paul Worley, a retired minister now in his eighties, who was Candler's director of development for a number of years. He and his wife were present and beaming with pleasure at the Committee of 100 meeting in November as LaGree announced the couple had just sent the final check that completed a gift of $100,000 to Candler. Worley loves to tell stories, and one of his favorites is how he managed to acquire the library of Hartford Seminary for Candler when it was put on the market some years ago. Worley knew that there were other bidders for the collection, which was one of the nation's great theological libraries, and that he had to move fast. 'So I called up Miss Margaret Pitts, and I said, 'I need a million dollars by tomorrow morning.'' He got the million, Candler bid $2.5 million for the collection, and Candler's former chapel facing the Emory Administration Building is now the 456,000-volume Pitts Theological Library.

What Worley leaves out of the story is that he and Margaret Pitts, who is a member of the Committee of 100, had known each other for years, and that they had a continuing conversation over how important her support was to Candler and to the United Methodist Church. This kind of cultivation of supporters is carefully pursued at Candler. The Reverend F. Stuart Gulley, the school's director of development, makes a point of visiting every member of the Committee of 100 in their home every year, though the group is spread across the South as far west as Mississippi and as far north as Kentucky. Gulley is assisted in his work, which includes alumni relations and church relations as well as fund-raising, by an associate director of development, Elaine Eberhart, and two secretaries; including salaries, Candler budgets $365,000 a year for development, Gulley said.

Gulley has worked for Candler, first as an admissions officer and then in development, since he graduated from the school in 1986. He said he was chosen as director of development rather than someone else with more development experience because he knew the school and its story. Indeed, even the briefest acquaintance with committee members makes it clear how important the folkways of Candler and southern Methodism are to them. Again and again the stranger is told, with pride, 'I am a life-long Methodist,' a member of a particular church in the particular town the member comes from. Personal ties are key.

Committee of 100 members' annual gifts to Candler are applied to student aid, and the transaction is made as personal as possible. One feature of the committee's annual meeting that many members look forward to is lunch on the second day, when the donors meet and are seated with the students their gift supports. When Emory's President Chace thanked committee members at dinner during their recent meeting for their support of Candler, and told them they had 'made a wise and wonderful investment' through their donations, they knew whom they had invested in.

David Boyd, the chairman of the Committee of 100, concerned that he might appear to be tooting his own horn, reluctantly disclosed that he and his wife Anne give Candler around $10,000 a year, their largest philanthropy. An insurance man, Boyd also serves on the board of the Westminster School, a private school in Atlanta, and is active with the business school of the University of Georgia, his alma mater. Why does he devote so much of his time and money to Candler? There seem to be two reasons: he is a life-long Methodist, and as he says, the 'leaders and catalysts' who will help the Christian church save the world are the church's ministers. 'Our job is training those ministers.'

Top Topics
Roles & Responsibilities
Board Essentials

Back to Issue  Read Previous Article Read Next Article

Advertise With Us

Reach thousands of seminary administrators, trustees, and others in positions of leadership in North American theological schools — an audience that cares about good governance, effective leadership, and current religious issues — by advertising in In Trust!

Learn More