The Right Rev. Craig B. Anderson, President and Dean
The General Theological Seminary
Visions, to borrow a phrase from Emerson, can be seen as a “bundle of beginnings.” For the past two years, faculty, staff, alumni/ae, Trustees and students have aided in gathering such a “bundle.” Imagining and thinking “outside of the box” has produced some bold ideas such as sharing our space with other institutions to more modest proposals such as expanding existing programs through cooperation with other seminaries and academic institutions. There is a wonderful excitement and anticipation that attends such creative “bundling.”
As the natural outgrowth of a compelling vision, strategic planning strives to embody the results of lively imagination. A Strategic Planning Committee at GTS chaired by trustee Richard Pivirotto, and made up of board chairman G.P. Mellick Belshaw, Sub-Dean John Koenig, Vice-President Melissa Skelton, Professors J. Neil Alexander and William Franklin, trustees Richard Tombaugh, Nell Gibson, Suzanne Mink and Student Representative Stephen Woolley, along with me, has met with various members of the staff and outside consultants. The hope is to translate the vision of General as a seminary of the whole church seeking to provide theological leadership and education for ministry into the next century. In addition, important factors were raised in the excellent reports presented by our own Professor Franklin and the Association of Theological Schools’ Dr. Michael Gilligan at the October meeting of the Board of Trustees.
Borne out of his study of the Seminary’s past, Dr. Franklin’s remarks stressed that “periods of strength in GTS history have also been connected to periods of strong leadership and willingness to undertake bold actions with risk, balanced with loyalty to a sacramental, liturgical, and historical vision of the church.” He offered as examples the advancements in the Seminary’s life brought about by Bishop Hobart in the earliest years and Dean Hoffman at the turn of the century. The historical precedence was one factor that caused the Committee to conclude, in his words, “the way forward to a sound future for General Seminary will only come from a bold and dramatic new move for the institution not simply through greater efficiency or harder work selling the current GTS model of theological education.” Dr. Franklin was careful, however, to add, “This does not mean abandoning of a parallel attempt to increase enrollment nor the goal of efficiency in terms of operation.”
Earlier in the day, Michael Gilligan also pointed to General’s history and “Benedictine-style integration of prayer and study within the engagement of a residential community” as one of its great strengths. Yet he also presented a number of sobering challenges. “Too small an M.Div. enrollment to carry the program and yet probably a sufficient supply for the church’s needs,” he listed along with problems of an ongoing budget deficit and deteriorating plant. He concluded by offering a few possibilities for the future from “a very interested and admiring outsider.” (Recordings of both of these insightful presentations are available through the GTS Audio Cassette Series (see page 13). I strongly commend them to all readers interested in our ongoing strategic planning process.)
Auburn Seminary consultant Tony Roger will “quantify” the points and questions identified by Franklin and Gilligan and produce financial simulations for consideration by the committee and the various seminary constituencies. It is anticipated that the committee will present these simulations to the Trustees at the January 1996 Board meeting. It is further anticipated that the Committee will continue its work with the goal of presenting strategic options to the Trustees at the May 1996 meeting.
What has the committee discovered and discerned thus far? The following is a brief summary of trustee, alumni/ae and faculty comments regarding two different strategies. The first of these was The General Theological Seminary as a Center for the Anglican Communion. Relocating other Church institutions to General was not viewed as particularly positive in that it seemed overly institutional in its approach and would not strengthen General’s educational mission. In addition it was felt that barriers to this would be high.
A second strategy, The General Theological Seminary as an Expanded Educational Center, included ideas of cooperation, merger and sharing with other Episcopal, interdenominational and academic institutions to expand educational offerings. This was viewed as promising as was the idea of consolidating and reconfiguring our physical space. The expansion and improved integration of existing centers, such as The Center for Christian spirituality, as well as new centers/programs for continuing education, which would employ current educational technologies, were also favorably considered.
Other important areas of discussion included the need to investigate other programmatic offering sand degrees, the imperative to discover better ways to fund our students’ educational expenses, the need to bring the library’s new direction in line with the Seminary’s strategic plan, the desire to solicit key constituencies regarding programmatic initiatives a, and the hope of intentionally linking what we do educationally to the New York City context. Complementary to and concomitant with the work of the planning committee, the GTS faculty began discussions last year with regard to teaching methods, academic standards, and curriculum.
In presenting this summary of the Strategic Planning Committee to you, please also consider this an invitation to share your thoughts, ideas and concerns with me and the Committee. In extending this invitation, please know that I will ensure that the Strategic Planning Committee will review your ideas. Given the creativity and growing energy and commitment that I have experienced around this process, I am increasingly convinced of the importance of collaboration and sharing as a way to embody the “bundle” for the General Theological Seminary. In addition to such collaboration, I ask your prayers for the seminary and especially the Strategic Planning Committee.
Craig B. Anderson