Readers, please accept this invitation to communicate with "Soundings," either to react to articles in this issue of In Trust or to comment on other issues of concern to leaders in theological education. Feel free to be provocative, but do limit your letters to a maximum of 350 words. All letters are subject to editing. Our e-mail address is email@example.com.
‘Do’s’ for Trustees
I spent a decade or more as a member of and chairing the Board of Associates at Yale University Divinity School under three university presidents and two Div School deans, and served as well for a brief period as a trustee of Bangor Theological Seminary. What I learned from these experiences lead me to a few brief observations prompted by In Trust’s article on trustee concerns (“Trustees See Money as Biggest Challenge,” Spring 1998.)
1. In my opinion, all boards should have strict term limits in order to generate a continuing flow of new and fresh ideas and solutions to ongoing challenges such as fund-raising and enlarged applicant pools. Those who serve long terms do a disservice to the institutions and to themselves (they start assuming they are infallible).
2. Financial management and development (better to call it “fund-raising”) are subjects not usually discussed with prospective board members. Seminary presidents and deans generally avoid any discussion of money!
3. If these issues are not addressed, the seminaries cannot hope to fulfill their missions. Yet new board members are seldom chosen for their skills in management, marketing, long-term planning, and possession of a wide range of peers with the ability to help support the financial needs of the institution. Is it any wonder that a high percentage of our seminaries are experiencing deficit budgets and declining enrollments! Their boards are lulled into a “business as usual” apathy by presidents and deans fearful of rocking the boat ... while undergraduate institutions are undertaking new initiatives financed by almost continuous capital campaigns, marketing strategies, and vigorous alumni participation.
4. While boards need diversity of experience in theological education, there seems a reluctance to seek out business leaders, possibly because of the fear of their “dynamic” personalities dominating the decision process. Conversely, their corporate connections could (would) help bring financial stability to their institutions, and they would introduce marketing concepts successful in the private sector and readily adaptable to the seminaries.
—Frank P. Wendt
Frank P. Wendt is the retired chairman of John Nuveen & Company, one of the world’s largest creators of tax-free investment opportunities. He has served on the boards of many not-for-profit organizations and chaired campaigns for several educational institutions.