Lisa Stone/Candler School of Theology


Governance at a university-based school of theology can be complicated. At these “embedded” schools, the board is sometimes remote, overseeing the entire university, with limited time to focus on any particular graduate program.

Nevertheless, theological faculty members are expected to serve on numerous committees and to make decisions with long-term consequences.

How can a newly hired professor succeed in governance and administrative work, which is outside his or her area of expertise?

In Trust asked Jonathan Strom, associate dean of faculty and academic affairs at Candler School of Theology. With a headcount of 455 students, Candler is a graduate division of  Emory University, a United Methodist-affiliated institution with 15,000 total students.

Q: How do Candler faculty members grow into leadership?

A: The process begins before someone is hired. When we interview potential faculty members, we get a sense of how they will contribute as colleagues. That doesn’t mean that we look for the same qualities in everyone. But we don’t have much room for individuals who can’t contribute to faculty governance.

Q: Do you talk about that in interviews?

A: We certainly talk about faculty governance and committee roles.We let prospective faculty members know that we expect everyone to participate. If someone in an interview says, “I’m just not interested in that,” that’s a red flag.

Q: When is a new faculty member expected to start serving in Candler’s governance structure?

A: New faculty members begin on committees that are not too burdensome. Two committees that are really important to the life of the school are the Curriculum and Policy Committee and the Contextual Education Committee. It’s important that junior faculty members serve on one of these two committees at some point before tenure. And, junior faculty members will sometimes be asked to serve on search committees, because they have a stake in identifying the people with whom they may be working for the next 15 years.

Q: What are the committee service expectations?

A: A two-year commitment is typical, but we take into account things like leave.

Q: Is committee service rewarded in the tenure and promotion process?

A: All the schools at Emory, including Candler, have their own tenure and promotion standards. Candler faculty must submit a service statement in their tenure portfolios. Service, like teaching, is not easily quantifiable, but service is an important part of our tenure and promotion guidelines.

Q: Once someone has tenure, what’s the next step?

A: In many cases we ask them to chair an area, which is like a department. That entails service on our Personnel and Academic Policy Committee, which is where most governance comes together. From there, someone might move into an administrative position, which could involve partial course release or stipend.  The process plays out organically over years. You realize where people’s particular gifts are. Sometimes you say, “This person is ready for a challenge; let’s give him or her a challenge and the resources to meet it.”

Q: So, faculty members are given little areas of responsibility at first, and then their responsibilities are increased over time?

A: Yes. Part of my work as a dean is figuring out how to employ faculty members in the best way — to discover where their interests and inclinations overlap with the needs of the school.

Q: Are people from Candler tapped to lead university-wide programs?

A: Candler has provided a lot of leadership for Emory University over the years. Most notably, the dean of the school of theology, James Laney, went on to become the president of Emory in 1977 and is responsible, in many ways, for Emory emerging as a major research university. 

This interview was edited by Emilie Babcox.


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