Seminary and Grad School Upheavals

Did you see that two Lutheran seminaries are closing, and a new theology school is being created, “with hopes of slashing costs and reversing years of declining enrollments”?

The two schools that are closing are Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg and Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia. (BTW – it looks like the Lutherans at LTSP are making the Sign of the Cross at their homepage.)

This is the creation of a new theology school rather than a merger. Why? As the RNS story points out, this way the administration can eliminate any tenured faculty without much further ado. There is talk of reducing the faculty from the current 30 to a new total of 15 or 18. Big savings in that.

And of course, in a rapidly changing environment in higher education, there will be new models of pedagogical delivery. No, not more classical sources and biblical languages. No, not more tenured faculty with exciting research specialties. But maybe “having faculty who are both teachers and practitioners.”

I’m not sure what that means and I have no inside info on what’s going on in Pennsylvania, but I wonder if it means lower-paid adjuncts who are in ministry but teach maybe a class or two at the seminary. Maybe on-line, or on weekends. Or maybe live too.

There is a trend toward more adjuncts in many universities. Do the math: a tenured prof costs maybe 100K +, with benefits, and maybe teaches four or five or six courses. An adjunct gets maybe 4-5K for a course, with no benefits.

I’d be nervous if I were a tenured prof in a graduate theological school. (Wait! I am one. And I’m sure we too will be looking at re-focusing and right-sizing and improving our offerings in coming days.) I suspect some folks in these seminaries in Pennsylvania are anxious just now.

The “Six Common Questions” from the Lutheran PR department addresses how the creation of the new school will come about. For those faculty being cut, there is this:

We will make every effort to offer compassionate transitional support.  We can trust our colleagues to continue fulfilling their vocational callings for the sake of the gospel and our mission.

Read that again. I think they’re reassuring such that “you have our trust, as you go away for the sake of our mission.”

It’s the reality. Oh, I see they’re calling it an “opportunity.”

Perhaps you remember the turmoil last year at General Theological Seminary, the Episcopal seminary in New York. New dean, with support of board, was shaking things up to make things viable. Faculty went on strike. Board accepted all their resignations. Faculty objected that they hadn’t resigned. Anguish on all sides, Mennonites brought in to mediate.

Fast-forward to this academic year: One dean and five faculty are left at GTS now, and by my count there is one who remains from the pre-turmoil roster. But lots of “affiliated faculty,” and lots and lots of “adjunct faculty.”

Graduate theological education is undergoing massive change, with plenty of downsizing. Just ponder the implications of that for the field of liturgical studies in future years, and for theological scholarship in general.

And of course the churches, and organized religion are general, are also going through change and downsizing.

I’m sure God has wonderful things in store for us. I’m sure there will be new things made possible in which we will have reason to rejoice. But I’m also pretty sure that getting there won’t be easy.

awr

8 comments

  1. The article Tony posted tells it straight: the base of support is not there because of dwindling congregations. The students are not going to rack up a lot of debt and then go take a part time job.

    The end cost to professional standards of relying on adjuncts, and part time students, and in the end part time pastors — or turning to non-professionally-trained ministers to fill gaps in ministries — is high. Absent another “great awakening” though, it may be what will happen.

  2. Nothing really new to those of us in parishes. I worked for a pastor a long time ago who mentioned with pride his dismissal of two lay pastoral associates in a previous parish. Nothing like saving a buck or two. Or instilling one’s new colleagues/employees with confidence in the future.

  3. People with secular degrees (MA, PhD) have a number of options open for them outside of the adjunct pool. They can teach high school, teach community college, work in textbook editing, even design online courses (I’m interested in doing online course design, as I’m a computer hobbyist as well). I know fellow grad students who have a “university professor or nothing” attitude, as if not getting tenure track will result in an existential implosion. My response is to simply avoid the adjunct dead-end and look for less traditional employment options.

    I suppose some or all of these options exist for theology students as well. One question to ask is whether the market for theological textbooks and liturgical materials (to name just two areas) are saturated with editors, writers, and designers. If this is the case, then I can understand the consternation of some who have graduated with a MTS or M.Div. It’s not realistic that every divinity school graduate will find a teaching job, be called to the pastorate, or accept ordination to the priesthood and serve a parish.

  4. How sad! In the case of these two particular schools, Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia was well known for its liturgical leadership boasting names such as Luther D. Reed (who got in trouble for wearing a cassock and surplice in the days of black gowns only) and Gordon Lathrop (no explanation necessary on this blog) on their faculty. And Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg led the charge on the question of infant communion and Lutheran confessional theology in the 1970s and 80s. Will we see this kind of leadership emerging from this new school? I will not hold my breath.

  5. I read a few months ago in a news article that 75% of all university and college faculties in the U.S. these days are adjunct faculty. That makes it difficult to have a community of learners and teachers, as well as making it rough for adjunct faculty to make a decent living and concentrate on their teaching and their own scholarship.

    1. @Lee Bacchi:
      and that number is much more likely to increase than decrease in coming years. Practical rule of thumb: do not take on debt to undertake study unless you have reasonable means of repayment firmly in hand.

  6. On the plus side – the School of Theology at the University of the South in Sewanee is actually hiring a full-time Professor of Church Music, a rarity these days. I think we have the Dean, the Rt. Rev. Neil Alexander, to thank for that.

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