After a morning of challenges, Robert Cooley reconvened the group to discuss a conceptual framework that would position theological institutions with a leadership strategy to address change. While a comprehensive presentation (with many layers) Cooley’s major role was to help participants think about the nature of the structure of our organizations, the respective roles and authorities, and the resources needed to make the kind of decisions that could guide seminaries into the future. While primarily a conceptual presentation (as these notes reflect), Cooley’s passion remained oriented in helping living communities of theological education navigate, steward, and even flourish in the future. To understand the presentation, Cooley started with one key premise.
Governance is an artifact of culture.
Cooley observes most people in theological education struggle with the confusion that occurs recognizing the difference between authority and governance. Authority is “mandated” power that is conveyed/imposed by external expectations, like bylaws that govern an institution. So, if faculty members find themselves not mentioned in bylaws, they possess no mandated authority. However, governance defines the stewardship of power. In almost all seminaries the board has final authority to govern, while the president has delegated authority. The president can facilitate but normally the bylaws stipulate the board’s final “action.” The faculty members have functional authority. They possess the responsibility to ensure the life of the seminary function well (in education, curriculum, and graduation). In a sense Presidents and Boards work in a “duality” of governance with faculty through mandates in 1915. Prior to this time boards shaped mandates and faculty merely followed. However, today, seminaries work out this shared, participatory, (sometimes collegial) governance between board, presidents, and faculty.
Cooley noted the three forms of authority also rely on the seminary’s relationship to its context: as free-standing, denominational, or embedded seminaries. Cooley notes that free-standing seminaries have no constituencies, they have publics. However, denominational seminaries do have constituencies, often specifically connected to the denominational. Overall Cooley noted that the shift of seminaries is toward being embedded.
Governance describes the unique process (particular to the institution) that guides the authority structure in the seminary in to fulfill its mission with economic stability. This process must balance the overall roles of the three constituencies of faculty, board and president. However, Cooley observes this also means that governance then is a cultural phenomenon that needs to revise. What the seminaries often overlook is the mandate to fulfill its mission “with economic stability.” This oversight results in the amount of economic stress evident in many seminaries.
Theological schools normally operate around three core processes:
- Academic Affairs (educational system)
- Student Affairs (student community)
- And Advancement (seminary sustainability)
Collectively they filter their goals through a management team, the leadership team (the office of the president) and the strategic planning council. Cooley stated that each of these core processes may look different per institution but they should work interactively to insure viability.
Cooley noted that relationships between the three governance teems require relations that seek shared authority, shared leadership, shared communication, and opportunities to be a self-correcting when needed. Cooley noted that shared leadership merely means the courage to act and he expects faculty to participate in leadership and not consider themselves as merely employees. Still each group must recognize and work with each other’s specific authority with respect and care.
Cooley’s presentation then moved to discussed the “strata” of necessary needs that support his vision of shared governance. First, since shared governance requires good data to operate, someone must be tasked with collecting and curating solid institutional research. Most institutions that get into economic stress because they are not data driven. In addition seminaries need to understand their relationships, particularly their constituencies and stake-holders? Time marks the next strata, a necessity that seems to be rapidly diminishing due to the flow of technology. Cooley noted all seminaries have to adopt a rapid response mechanism first, with enough “time” to include more thoughtful responses later. According to Cooley strategic often helps steward wise use of time, and so strategic planning must constantly be ongoing. Human capacity represents the next strata with particular attention to motivation, participation and “ownership” by the community. The learning environment also represents a major strata or need. Seminaries need to assess their learning capacity and needed expertise to guide the processes. The final, interesting strata represents the institutional ethos, the actual culture and heritage of the institution including its spirituality and heritage.
- Authority Structures that are leadership driven focused on policy and planning
- Enrollment Management that remain student centered which focuses on service
- Educational System that remains tuition driven focused on the product
- The Development System that remains gift centered which focuses on resources
Cooley surprised some of the group by noting that in many evangelical seminaries that remain tuition driven, the faculty members remain responsible for up to 80% of the revenue (what Cooley called net tuition) through direct teaching while leadership/board is responsible for 20% through development. Even as seminaries adjust to new realities, Cooley argues, the overall governance of the institution will thrive as long as the different forms of leadership acknowledge each group’s true authority base but also accept their share role in governing the institution. Cooley closed with three specific questions for the group to consider going forward.
- Do our theological schools have the right authority structures and the right people/positions to run a new model of theological education?
- How important are accreditation standards in times of new realities, new practices, and new experiments?
- How will a changed undergraduate education change theological schools and their admissions requirements?
To date this retreat has shifted from a question of faith/work integration to the task of educating faithfully in the future. For the Oikonomia Network these questions still reflect a desire to serve as wise stewards of our educational goals, to insure we can teach a theology that “works,” even as culture changes.