Here’s something I heard on National Public Radio the other day. Yahoo!, the oddly named “search engine” that many Internet explorers use to find information on the Net, was launched four years ago with a $1 million investment from a Silicon Valley venture capital group. At that time there were a few thousand sites on the Internet.
Today there are hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of sites, Yahoo! says it has 12 million registered users—and the firm is worth $5 billion, more than the Washington Post Company.
It is no longer news that technology is reconfiguring the arena of human affairs with great rapidity, fundamentally altering the way we conduct business and education and entertainment and even worship. Even so, the notion that something called Yahoo! could rise from nothing but an idea and in four years’ time outpace the Washington Post gave me pause.
The electronic revolution touched off by the invention and steadily accelerating improvement of the microchip is now surging in full-bore on the theological schools of North America and every governing board has been or will be confronted with the question of how to respond.
The challenge is not simply the challenge of money—how are we going to pay for the expensive hardware and personnel that the times demand?
The challenge is also one of power. In the past it was largely up to the faculty to determine what and how to teach. Now the heat is on, as the ever-increasing sophistication of distance learning and other technological novelties enhance the ability of students to choose what and how to learn.
This issue of In Trust lays out some of the directions in which higher education and theological education in particular seem to be moving. In the pages that follow our editors and writers offer readers glimpses of the way some theological schools are responding to changing possibilities, often responding with great imagination. You’ll also catch glimpses of new kinds of students.
But no plans and programs fit all schools. These are times that call on governing boards with special force to discern signs and to seek wisdom. There are no reliable maps toward the future that is unfolding around us, no well-founded guides to which of our present educational practices are essential to our school’s mission, which practices are incidental and perhaps should be discarded as hindrances to our school’s development and growth.
Deciding how to sort out these questions, determining what defines School X and gives it its essential character, devising the strategies and policies that will preserve and further the school, these are classic responsibilities of the governing board. They’re not responsibilities to be carried out in a vacuum, though. The prudent board consults extensively with those who are affected by its decisions and with those who may be able to suggest good answers to its questions.
Take note, though. The best answers are usually elicited by the best questions. Indeed, asking good questions may be the ultimate challenge to and responsibility of the governing board and the individual members it comprises.
Which leads me back to the story with which I began. Four years ago Yahoo! was simply an idea. An idea, an inspiration, lies at the foundation of every great decision. A brilliant idea is not likely to build a theological school with a dollar value greater than the Washington Post’s, but it may produce something worth more than that: an institution that nurtures the finest ministers, the wisest teachers, and the holiest saints under heaven’s dome.