From the Boca Raton News, July 6, 1971
ECONOMICS, POLARIZATION ARE SQUEEZING SEMINARIES
"Anti-intellectualism" plays a role, along with over-growth, leaders say
By Richard Lemon
Newsweek Feature Service
Divinity schools, like almost everything else during the past two decades, have been in a period of expansion. Now, like almost everything else, they are in a serious financial bind.
The University of Chicago Divinity School [will] have 150 fewer students next [year] than it had two years ago, when the enrollment was 430.
Harvard's Divinity School is planning to cut back on its scholarships and put the money into long-range loans.
At the Union Theological Seminary in New York, tuition has leaped from $800 to $1,800 in five years.
And the Episcopal Church is exploring ways of eliminating six of its 12 seminaries, through mergers if possible.
Different authorities emphasize different facotrs [sic] behind the seminary slumps, but they all agree that it is not a temporary phenomenon. And many of them believe that, before it is over, a number of divinity schools will have to close their doors.
"All private institutions of higher learning are in trouble, and all religious institutions are in trouble," says Martin Marty [at right in a 2007 photo], associate dean of the University of Chicago's Divinity School gloomily. "In the seminaries, both these facts are working against us. We have both feet on banana peels."
"There are now 125 accredited seminaries in the nation, which I , for one, think is about four times too many," says Randolph Dyer, comptroller of Union. "Not only have investments fallen in value, but conservative donors are not enamoured [sic] of the way the present student generation conducts its affairs. To show their disapproval they are withholding their donations."
The economic plight of the seminaries, on the heels of almost 20 years of unbroken prosperity, is the result of several parallel developments. The recession is only one of them. Philanthropic foundations, which lavishly helped a number of schools in the 1950s, now have committed more of their resources to social programs and have correspondingly less left for the divinity schools.
In this generally bearish situation, the support of long-time donors has become crucial, but many seminaries have been losing, not gaining, supporters. Indeed, much support has been turned off by changes within the ministry itself.
"There is a great polarization in church bodies between liberal and conservative," Marty says. "Part of it is political and part religious. In the past, many churches subsidized their seminaries, fully expecting them to turn out ministers who would simply affirm what their fathers had. But in an age of theological uncertainly and activism, many of the conservative Protestants began to vote with their pocketbooks, so to speak. It's been part of a backlash."
"A large part of it is a basic anti-intellectualism abroad in the country right now," says John W. Meister of the United Presbyterian Church. "In the '50s, anything a church or school did was just fine. Now they can't do anything right. My prejucidies [sic] tell me the attitude begins in the White House and spreads out across the nation from there."
Surprisingly, some seminary officials do not view the economic squeeze as altogether harmful. They believe, with Union's Dyer, that far too many new schools sprang up during the recent good times.
The economic pinch is being felt at the big, prestigious seminaries as well as the smaller, newer ones. In years past, for example, the income from Union's $25 million endowment paid at least three quarters of its operating expenses. Now, the seminary has to dip into capital to pay its $500,000 deficit.
For many schools, budget cuts have been the temporary solution. Some have trimmed enrollment, and some, like Chicago, are cutting the faculty by not replacing professors who retire.
An even less palatable possibility is put put on a less liberal front and thus "snuggle back," in Marty's words, into the good graces of the conservative donors.
The most likely solution for the troubled seminaries, however, may be the consortium, a kind of ecclesiastical co-op in which a number of schools pool their libraries, faculties, and other resources. Such consortiums already exist in New York, Chicago, Boston and San Francisco and have proved profitable and relatively painless.