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 <firstname.lastname@example.org>.
Your articles concerning the possible merger of Multnomah and Western Seminaries, the study of Austin theological institutions collaborating, and the reinstatement of the Yale/ Berkeley agreement (Spring 2002) came on the eve of our May board meeting. I recalled our expectation and anxiety on this day in 1997 when boards of Union Seminary in Virginia and the Presbyterian School of Christian Education voted for "federation." We had discovered the words "merger" and "marriage" raised hackles.
Now, five years later, we took stock in 2002: one board, one faculty, one administration, one student body, one budget, one alumni/alumnae organization, one seminary.
A joint board Committee of Ten, five from each board, had hammered together a plan for federation. The Teagle Foundation had provided almost $170,000 to pay for consultants and navigate financial shoals, and countless meetings among administrations and faculties framed the decisions.
Our federation has succeeded beyond the wildest dreams of any of us. Enrollment has increased, and we can be more selective in admissions than we were in 1997 for basic degree programs. Though some ceased to give, more have joined in supporting us. One-fourth of the faculty has been called since the merger (and we can use that "m" word now). More fascinating, no vote has yet occurred in faculty or board meetings in which the previous allegiances of a majority could be discerned. We save more than $600,000 per year as a federated seminary, occupy twelve fewer buildings, and dream together of programs and support that will strengthen us.
Because of lessons learned from federation, we have moved to open a new campus in Charlotte, North Carolina. Moreover, we offer courses there in both the M.Div. and the master of arts in Christian education, something we would not have imagined before merger. Our auxiliary programs have grown to include an Asian American Ministry Mission Center, an Institute for Reformed Theology, and a Project Burning Bush to identify high school students gifted for ministry.
What wisdom might we offer to others attempting merger or consolidation?
Let the boards of trustees carry the freight. Members of both boards brought experience from mergers in for-profits and nonprofits. Start speaking immediately as "us" and not "us/them" concerning the cultures, make one budget quickly ("kill snakes when you see them"), and "step out in courage and faith."
Let teams of consultants negotiate the terms. We were privileged to enlist Ellis Nelson, a distinguished theological educator who had served as a faculty member and president of seminaries, Laura Lewis, a graduate of PSCE and renowned Christian educator, and Anthony Ruger, who doubtless knows more about seminary finances than anyone else in North America. Together they kept pushing and pulling until the job had been accomplished.
Let the faculty, students, and alumni/alumnae do their jobs after the governance has been determined. We are still working out the implications of federation for our curricula and alumni/alumnae activities.
If need be, carry a name that demands explanation. Analysts estimate we abbreviated the process by at least eighteen months by calling ourselves "Union-PSCE." Sure we have to explain our name everywhere, but we belong to an educational institution looking for teachable moments. And our coverage in newspapers has improved since federation, despite our awkward name.
"Above all, be constant in prayer." Paul's admonition was not lost on us. Our worship together has done more than anything else to bring our necessary oneness.
Louis Weeks is president of Union Theological Seminary and Presbyterian School of Christian Education.
Culture is Key
In Melinda Heppe's article on merger talks between Portland's Western Seminary and Multnomah Biblical Seminary ("Shall We or Shan't We," Spring 2002) I was impressed by the level of co-operation that appears to exist between the two partners even in midst of discussions about the on-again off-again merger.
My interest was particularly piqued because of our own experience with the amalgamation of two theological colleges of the United Church of Canada on the Canadian prairie.
In January 2000, I was asked to become part of a negotiating team in the amalgamation of St. Andrew's College in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, and St. Stephen's College in Edmonton, Alberta. (For those who know Canadian geography, it is obvious that proximity was not one of the motivating factors!) In the space of six months a negotiating team brought together these two schools, with the amalgamation taking effect on July 1, 2000, the same day that I became the chair of the newly-negotiated board structure.
Issues of governance, academic autonomy, and finance were all part of the negotiations.
We now have two years of amalgamation under our belts. The issue of "culture" has been the one that is most elusive and the one which contributes most to the steepness of the learning curve.
Besides distance, there are other differences in our situation. First of all, the original two colleges are not drawing from the same prospective student base. St. Andrew's was primarily engaged in training people for ordained ministry, while St. Stephen's offered a number of post-graduate programmes. These emphases have continued with the amalgamation of St. Stephen's and St. Andrew's. At the Fall 2001 board meeting, the focus changed again with the realisation that the whole amalgamation would be better served by developing a new mission statement along with a new set of values and goals. The vision of becoming one college with two campuses was endorsed.
I want to wish the two Portland schools well in their continuing conversations. As we found out, it can be done, but not without some ironing out of differences, and lots of formal and informal conversations. I commend them on their insight into the role that "culture" plays in talks of this kind.
Peter Chynoweth is Chair of the Board of Trustees of St. Andrew's College,Saskatoon, and St. Stephen's College, Edmonton.
The board of directors and the staff of In Trust are pleased to announce that Lilly Endowment Inc. has awarded In Trust Inc., a three-year grant of $630,342 in support of a portion of In Trust's operating expenses from April 1, 2002, to March 31, 2005. We are most grateful for the award.