Most theological schools have boards that make the big decisions: to close, merge, or reorganize; to hire or fire a president; to make major financial or curricular changes. But in some seminaries and theological schools, the board is subject to another authority, such as a bishop or council of church leaders. How can boards that do not have the final word on some very important matters operate effectively?
Higher education in North America – all higher education, not only theological education – is in trouble. How can your board be prepared?
In 2014, Karen Stiller asked Elizabeth L. Visconage and Joseph Molyneaux to share their thoughts about a resource from the Association of Fundraising Professionals, A Fundraising Guide for Nonprofit Board Members by Julia I. Walker. Their years of experience with boards and fundraising are readily apparent as Visconage and Molyneaux comment on some of the major points in Walker’s book. A key question that guided the conversation: Is it realistic to expect all board members to be active fundraisers?
Robert S. Landrebe, who has just retired as senior vice president at Asbury Theological Seminary, offered advice for finding clarity in your school’s future in the Spring 2014 issue of In Trust. In his article titled “To create the future, selectively abandon the past,” Landrebe offers blunt but empathic advice to schools facing shrinking enrollment (in other words, most schools): “Let me describe theological education as an ‘industry.’ We are part of an industry that has a vital mission that serves the church. But, over the last decade, our student market has been in decline. During this decade we haven’t adjusted our expenses in response to a shrinking market. Rather, expenses have risen even faster than the consumer price index."
Increasing numbers of churches are turning to part-time, low-paid, or unpaid ministers. What does this mean for seminaries?
Enrollment is critical. You might have a wonderful vision, an outstanding strategic plan, and top-notch personnel in all the key spots – but without enough students, your school will struggle.
Schools are constantly trying to peer into the future, plan for change, and stay one step ahead of (or at least not too far behind) the next big thing – whatever that may be. Wise leaders know that schools, programs, and plans need to be re-invented every so often.
At some point every board member will hear arguments for and against tenure, the policy that has been called “the most sacred cow munching on the ivy that covers the towers of academia.”
How does a school find the chief financial officer (CFO) it needs?
“The board has to insist on financial sustainability.” Lee Merritt, retired vice president for finance at Fuller Theological Seminary, sees this obligation as one of the most essential responsibilities of any school’s governing board.
In the New Year 2014 issue of In Trust, Greg Henson and Gary Hoag provided data on charitable giving. Their conclusions, and their advice to schools, are still timely.
“Most ministers who want to engage the working world will find that their theological school left them unprepared,” argues Chris Armstrong in “The other 100,000 hours,” an article in the New Year 2013 issue of In Trust.
The Association of Theological Schools (ATS) is in the midst of an ambitious project – the first redevelopment of its accrediting standards in nearly a quarter-century. The work will eventually affect every theological school -- perhaps as soon as 2022, when the new standards may go into effect.
In 2014, the Auburn Center for the Study of Theological Education published Through Toil and Tribulation: Financing Theological Education 2001-2011, an analysis by Anthony T. Ruger and Chris A. Meinzer of revenue and spending of theological schools during a period that encompassed the Great Recession as well as declining levels of formal religious affiliation. The fifth in a series of studies of revenue in theological education, this report told a tale of hard times and the ways in which some schools were able to strengthen their financial position in spite of a poor economy and changing religious environment, and it outlined best practices in the institutions and leaders who saw improvements during these years.
An "embedded" theological school is a seminary or divinity school that is part of a college or university, as contrasted with a "freestanding" seminary, which is an independent graduate-level institution. Embedded schools face unique challenges, according to Mark Markuly, dean of the School of Theology and Ministry at Seattle University. One of these is that “you’re kind of off the grid in the ways people traditionally look at governance boards."
A key priority for Pierce College, a community college in Washington state that serves more than 20,000 students at two campuses (as well as online and at a local military base), was bettering its college completion rates. Ben Gose writes about this initiative in the October 6, 2017, issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education.
M. Craig Barnes, president of Princeton Theological Seminary, teaches a course on conflict. He found himself in the midst of one recently, when the school’s Kuyper Center announced that the Rev. Tim Keller was being honored with its annual award and would be keynote lecturer at the annual Kuyper Conference.
You may stumble onto a good, or even great, board chair by luck, but it’s not likely. Schools and other nonprofits typically get the chairs they have “grown,” but when there is no advance development, schools tend to get board chairs who are unprepared, untested, and weak.
Donors make bequests to make a difference after they're gone. Mary Goodman, a New Haven laundress who bequeathed her life savings (nearly $5,000) to Yale Divinity School to provide scholarships for African Americans, was especially successful in this regard: her bequest supported the school’s first black students, and continues to support students today, nearly 144 years later.
Many people have composed email messages in haste or in anger, or simply without thinking carefully about the content or the recipients.
Ron Friedman’s article at the Harvard Business Review, “Working Too Hard Makes Leading More Difficult,” contains a warning for presidents, chairs, and other leaders: many behaviors that vault you into leadership roles become hindrances once you actually are a leader.
Are the church leaders who graduate from your school more likely to be sicker later in life than a random group of people in the same age group? New research by the Clergy Health Initiative at Duke Divinity School indicates that Methodist clergy are, in fact, more likely to experience significant health problems — higher rates of diabetes, arthritis, high blood pressure, angina, and asthma — than comparable state residents.
What do professors do all day? Jonathan Ziker, an anthropologist at Boise State University, tackled the work of finding answers. During structured interviews, subjects were asked to report everything they did from 4 a.m. the previous day until 4 a.m. on the current day. On average, faculty participants reported working 61 hours per week. They worked 10 hours per day Monday to Friday.
John Coleman’s short essay for the Harvard Business Review Blog Network, “Leadership is Not a Solitary Task,” should inspire presidents, board chairs, board members, and anyone who cares about the direction of an institution.
Coleman notes that . . .
A post by Tim Halloran on the Harvard Business Review blog is targeted toward businesses, but seminaries might find it worthwhile to look at these stages of love in relation to their own stakeholders.
Could your school take management lessons from online giants Zappos and Amazon.com? It goes without saying that a seminary is different from a for-profit Internet company, but it seems as if some of their innovations are compatible with the tradition of shared governance in higher education. Is there a way to integrate innovative management practices . . .
Laura Otten, director of the Nonprofit Center at LaSalle University’s School of Business, recently posted a sad tale about a nonprofit board that neglected its financial oversight responsibilities over a period of many years, creating an environment in which an employee was able to embezzle almost three-quarters of a million dollars, and leading to a lawsuit by a former board member.
The seminary of the Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia has announced that its undergraduate division will remain open. A task force had been assigned to make a recommendation about closing St. Charles Borromeo Seminary's College Division. Also, the seminary has appointed a new academic chair in "social communications" to explore the theological dimensions of mass media.
A survey of higher education trustees conducted in the spring of 2013 by the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges (AGB) found that only about one-third are getting board-level information about education and technology that they would rate as excellent or even . . .
A small private college in Virginia has closed; could this mean anything for your school? Well, perhaps. “The pending closure is credit negative for a small subset of the higher-education sector with similar attributes to other closed colleges: very small, private colleges with a high reliance on student charges, indistinct market positions, and limited donor support,” Moody’s analysts said. Seminaries, beware!
What do you do if you've got deadwood on your board -- board members who don’t do anything? Blue Avocado has some answers.