Despite efforts by many North American theological schools to increase the numbers of women and people of color on their governing boards, their board composition remains strongly male and overwhelming white. The numbers—76 percent male and 90 percent white—are displayed in the tables in the illustration, along with breakdowns for schools by type.
For the classification of schools, In Trust has employed a system developed by the Auburn Center for the Study of Theological Education. This categorizes schools as Evangelical Denominational, Evangelical Independent, Mainline Denominational, Mainline Independent, Peace Church, and Roman Catholic.
The breakdowns disclose differences, sometimes significant differences, between types of schools. For example, on average board chairs of mainline independent schools currently in office have served much longer—8.9 years—than their presiding colleagues in the other five types of schools, whose tenure ranges from 3.1 years to 5.0 years.
But evangelical and mainline schools both denominational and independent each have at least one board chair of exceptional staying power. One mainline independent school reported a board chair with thirty years on the firing line.
Schools also show significant differences in the length of time individual board members serve, with evangelical independent schools reporting that 29 percent of their members have served ten years or more, compared to peace churches with only 7 percent of their members having such extended tenure. In part, this sharp difference arises from term-limit policies that many boards have imposed upon themselves. Term limits or not, however, even the evangelical independents report a healthy admixture of new blood on their boards, with 44 percent of their members in office for five years or less.
So what's the use of all these numbers, other than to amuse ourselves with factoids?
The answer is: Governing boards of theological schools, despite the sense of isolation from which they sometimes suffer (or, in a few cases, revel in), don’t exist in a vacuum. They exist in a community of fellow schools, some quite similar to them. One good way to assess one’s performance is to compare one's own way of doing things with that of colleagues. The board that doesn't assess its performance on a regular basis and adjust its practices accordingly is likely to be less effective—and useful to its school—than it might be.
These numbers will permit you to make such comparisons in some key areas of board composition and operation.
Illustration by Diahann Hill