By now, all who govern theological schools know that we face institutional crises that run deeper than our finances. This grueling recession has merely telescoped the time left to address issues already smoldering for decades. Now each school's governance leaders must ask: Why does our educational mission matter? Who is it for? What is its most sustainable form?
In Trust's news sources in higher education buzz with daily declarations of financial exigency, cutbacks and realignments, partnerships and mergers, and closings. Heads are rolling. Journals and blogs are filled with analyses and advice for those in governance and administration.
Should we be surprised that funding crises force foundational issues? No. Catastrophic issues always move along institutional fault lines in the same way that they move along familial and personal ones. Our vulnerabilities become blatant. We, along with our predecessors, are the ones who give shape and meaning to funding crises. And we all pay for prior deficits in courage, prudence, and faithfulness. A few years ago we might have deluded ourselves about the limitations of our educational and economic models, but now we must own up.
Flinty realism is expected. The arena for work is well lit. Decisions will matter. We have no time to waste on deception, avoidance, or cowardice. This is our time, our call to discern again the purpose, shape, and value of each institution's mission within and beyond North American Christianity.
Mission and mission-driven priorities set the stage for the next steps in institutional and performance assessments and planning. The board's role in this work will be proportional to its level of institutional authority, a role that varies across theological institutions. Everywhere boards are taking stock and preparing for the work at stage center.
At In Trust, under a new corporate name — the Association of Boards in Theological Education — we stand ready to be of assistance and to provide resources in print, online, and through experienced Governance Mentors. Along with colleagues at the Association of Theological Schools and the Auburn Center for the Study of Theological Education, In Trust exists to provide resources to enable theological schools to meet the demands of these times.
Like most theological schools, In Trust is engaged in its own institutional evaluation and strategic planning. We're improving existing programs and developing new ones. In the coming year, look for
Our statement on the responsibilities of the board in theological education — a resource you can use in board orientation and development.
Customized assistance with board performance and presidential evaluations.
An institutional health checklist to assess your institution's governance practices and your board's familiarity with accreditation standards and wise practices in governance.
Financial assessment instruments to focus the board on key ratios and trend lines and their value in strategic planning.
A new webinar series on the board's role in fundraising, institutional alliances and mergers, and more.
Well-trained and experienced Governance Mentors — recognized board leaders, institutional presidents, and chief financial officers — who can work with you using our instruments or your own topic for building your board's capacity.
And of course, we'll continue to provide In Trust magazine, an updated website, and regular blog posts and e-newsletters.
In Trust's own bottom line? Our commitment to stand in the wings to support those of you who are called to stage center — who are pursuing effective, productive, and faithful governance. Are you ready for the limelight?