News For Immediate Release
(February 17, 2106) The Steering Committee guiding the process commissioned by the boards of Gettysburg and Philadelphia seminaries met on Friday, February 12th at the Philadelphia campus. In January each board took action declaring the intent to form “a new school of theology and leadership formation” that will build upon the rich legacies of the two schools. The boards also charged their presidents and other officers “to take all necessary and appropriate steps” required to present final implementing recommendations at their April 2016 meetings. Convened by the board chairs and presidents, the ten-member steering committee also includes both schools’ deans, one board member bishop from each region, and two additional trustees.
The Steering Committee clarified its role as being: To oversee the process of exploring all matters necessary to form a New School of Theological Education and Leadership Formation; coordinating and ensuring that the work groups achieve their mandates; and in partnership with them generating final recommendations for action by the seminary boards.
As the Steering Committee convened, members engaged in a round-robin sharing of “what we’ve been hearing from our constituencies.” The overwhelming response thus far, as gleaned from multiple individual and group conversations, email and social media traffic, alumni/ae and donor contacts has been positive and affirming. Those expressing their strong support and encouragement for the venture include bishops from the two supporting regions and elsewhere, key churchwide partners, the other seminary presidents and deans, and officials of our accrediting agencies. A primary concern voiced in all quarters is to guarantee compassionate transition support for both schools’ current employees, particularly those who may not be offered positions in the envisioned New School.
The group affirmed a decision by the chairs and presidents to appoint eight work groups, that will explore all dimensions related to the new school’s creation and generate reports and recommendations in order that the current boards fulfill their fiduciary responsibilities. Including faculty, staff and current and former “trustees” from both schools, these small work groups will convene multiple “stake-holders” to gain broad input in their explorations and formulation of implementing proposals. The work groups are: (1) Educational Design and Curricular Development; (2) Employee Transition Support; (3) Enrollment, Student Support and Candidacy; (4) Governance and Administration; (5) Accreditation; (6) Advancement and External Relations; (7) Economic Vitality and Business Plan; and (8) Real Estate and Subsidiary Entities. [See separate story NST16-04 for work group rosters]
Anticipating information the boards will need in order to make decisions in April, the Steering Committee identified the following, which will be addressed by the work groups:
- Plan for current student continuity and transition
- Timeline for personnel decisions and employee transition support
- Business plan, including initial years’ enrollment and budget projections
- Transitional and permanent governance plans (board, president, faculty & staff)
- Legal matters: incorporation, transfer of assets, foundations, endowments etc.
- Alumni/ae, donor and constituent relations and loyalty retention
- Pursuit of grants, synodical and churchwide commitments for initial years
Before turning attention to the myriad details that must receive attention in the coming weeks, the Steering Committee engaged in generating a preliminary set of “visions and values” to guide the process. The group stated its intent to guide the process with a commitment to: broad inclusiveness (involving as many persons and groups as possible); transparency (while honoring confidentiality in personnel matters); deliberately inviting diverse perspectives; building and strengthening relationships of trust; encouraging candor; re-examining long-held assumptions; maintaining, strengthening and expanding strategic partnerships; perpetuating the schools’ legacies and Lutheran heritage while embracing ecumenism and the wisdom of the global church.
Signaling its intent to ensure that the New School would be truly innovative, student-focused and attuned to the leadership needs of a rapidly changing church in a changing world, the Committee offered suggestions of what could become “markers” of that institution. Among the suggestions that will be engaged and developed more fully by the work groups are: (1) Clarity of core mission as forming leaders in a climate of academic rigor and churchly identity; (2) A deep and abiding commitment to form holistic, justice-oriented public theologians and mission leaders; (3) A highly relational institutional “lifestyle,” within a web of multiple partnerships; (4) Striking a proper balance of accessibility (e.g. “delivery” on multiple sites, via distributed learning modes etc.) and residential formation-in-community; (5) Embracing competency-based pedagogical paradigms that enable enhanced student growth and also assist those responsible for ecclesiastical candidacy processes; (6) Cultivating and supporting an outstanding diverse faculty; (7) Developing curricula that are flexible, experiential and bring to bear the collective wisdom of congregations and other ministries in a wide variety of contexts; and (8) Ensuring affordability by budgeting to sustain the fully-funded tuition plan just announced by both schools for the coming year.
Turning its attention to preliminary consideration of several issues already being addressed, the Steering Committee developed plans to:
- Engage legal counsel in matters related to property, incorporation and personnel
- Consult further with accreditors and the Pennsylvania Department of Education
- Develop a timeline with the goal of notifying current personnel 9-12 months in advance of faculty and staff configurations in the New School, as well as application and hiring processes
- Determine ongoing leadership roles of current presidents and deans, and explore the possible desirability of engaging a Project Manager to coordinate many ongoing aspects of the work
- Prepare to launch the process of incorporation, formation of a “founding board” and other urgent matters if the boards grant final approval in April.
The ten members of the Steering Committee are: Presidents David Lose and Michael Cooper-White; board chairs John Richter and James Lakso; Deans Kristin Largen and Jayakiran Sebastian; Bishops Traci Bartholomew and James Dunlop; Trustees Elise Brown and Frank Leber. See news release NST16-04 for the work group rosters.