Volunteer your time to a vulnerable, often needy institution and then submit yourself to scrutiny? That's what people of good will can expect — and must insist upon — when they serve on the boards of theological schools. Self-evaluation of the board and its members has become the standard in accreditation for members of the Association of Theological Schools.
In the pages that follow, In Trust views the 10th anniversary of ATS's revised standards as an occasion for our readers to consider the value and potential pitfalls in the accreditation process.We can begin by focusing on board self-scrutiny.
I recently read an article in a journal addressed to hospital boards, admonishing them to save lives. The article named the strategic indicators proven to promote more effective emergency room procedures. Boards, said the authors, must insist on these and monitor their implementation.
Surely, all hospital boards want to save lives. Nevertheless, inattention to the right factors (and attention to the wrong factors) can cost lives in the ER.
In the midst of the details of institutional vulnerability and need, the boards of theological schools can also lose focus or attend to the wrong things. Hospitals are in the business of saving lives, but so are theological schools. When their mission is the Great Commission, they want their graduates to be bearers of the saving Word.
That's why the ATS's accreditation standards are especially important for boards. These standards measure the school by its own mission, and no one has greater responsibility for the vitality of the mission than the governing board.
In Trust's board self-assessment inventory asks if the board has its own goals — goals that are distinct from the institution's. In order for the board to do its job for its theological school, it must attend to itself. Self-assessment provides the information the board needs, and it models faithfulness.
Those who take the Gospel to heart need not fear the truth about themselves, their board, or the institution for which they labor. Seeking truth is more than good strategic behavior — it is a virtue of the faithful and a reflection of God's own image. We seek the truth in love — that is, with charity from the privileged position of the boardroom.
The boardroom becomes a privileged position when the board has the quality of information that enables it to see what the school is accomplishing and that exposes where opportunities lie and why it may not be living up to its purposes. This room with a view demands much of its occupants. The board must test itself for its familiarity with key issues and look at its own performance, ensuring that its practices enable it to live up to its role in governance.
In Trust Inc.was founded to be of assistance for those in this position of privilege. We offer assessment inventories, among other board resources. Like ATS, we too are celebrating an anniversary — 10 years of incorporation as a nonprofit organization. That's 10 years of being accountable to you and to our board of directors for the quality of our own services, the vitality of our economic base, and the faithfulness with which we pursue our mission. In Trust shares the world of theological school governance with you, and especially its warrant in the Great Commission.