Photos courtesy Ecumenical Theological Seminary. 

Earlier this year, the Ecumenical Theological Seminary in Detroit received full accreditation from the Association of Theological Schools. Accreditation means that for the first time since the seminary was founded in 1980 (as the Ecumenical Theological Center), students can complete all the requirements for a master of divinity degree in Detroit. Until now, M.Div. students had to finish their degrees at one of the seminary's cooperating institutions -- Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School, Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, McCormick Theological Seminary, Methodist Theological School in Ohio, Seabury-Western Theological Seminary or Trinity Lutheran Seminary.

The new recognition also means that the school is required to follow ATS guidelines on school governance. The Rev. V. Bruce Rigdon, a Presbyterian who is president of the seminary, says that when the school began considering candidacy in the late '90s, they found that their decision-making structure was already in line with ATS standards. The board, administration and faculty had well-defined roles and collaborated in directing the school. 

President V. Bruce Rigdon (above) has led Ecumenical Theological Seminary to full accreditation by the Association of Theological Schools. In 2002, the Presbytery of Detroit voted to give ETS the building, land and endowments of the First Presbyterian Church (top), which the seminary had leased for 10 years.

If there was a single group that needed to be strengthened, it was the board. The original structure of the board had been two-tiered, with denominational representatives, on the one hand, and members solicited by the administration, on the other. After Dr. Rigdon became president in 1996, however, the board was restructured as a self-perpetuating board of 29 members. In the past, board meetings were poorly attended, often with less than half the members making it to meetings. The new board, on the other hand, has a better attendance record and is more active in forming, rather than just approving, policies.

Shared governance may be easier at a small school. The mission statement, for example, was jointly written by the board, administration and faculty. Student members sit in on board meetings as well, though without voting rights, and adjunct faculty are welcome to participate in regular faculty meetings. (A separate faculty tenure committee makes recommendations to the president and academic dean, which are approved by the board in a closed session.)

Sister Anneliese Sinnott, a member of the Adrian Dominican religious congregation and ETS's academic dean, says the faculty is pleased with the role they play at the school. Their involvement is a considerable asset to the institution. Even though few professors have offices on campus, students feel the faculty is accessible. "That was one area that the observers commented on," she says. "Everyone involved with the school has a strong sense of ownership."

Dr. Rigdon is already seeing the benefits of accreditation. Not only is enrollment increasing, but ATS has set some goals for the school that will make the institution stronger in the future. For example, the school has been asked to improve assessment so that it can better determine whether programs and policies are meeting their intended goals.

Top Topics
Roles & Responsibilities
Board Essentials

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