The Rt. Rev. Craig B. Anderson, Dean and President
The General Theological Seminary
In our last issue I noted that the Strategic Planning Committee of the Seminary had arranged for Tony Ruger, consultant to the Association of Theological Schools, to aid the Committee in “quantifying” the elements of our Vision Statement draft and other strategies that the Committee is considering. Mr. Ruger’s financial projections were presented at our Board of Trustees meeting in January and were subsequently discussed with our faculty, staff, alumni/ae association and students. This process has imaged for us, with somewhat sobering clarity, a number of exciting challenges as we anticipate a strategic plan for the future of GTS.
I feel it is important to summarize for you the results of the Ruger report along with some of the thoughtful responses that have emerged from several Seminary constituencies. I hope you will respond if you have ideas or suggestions regarding this important study. The following is a brief summary of the most strategic economic factors presented by Mr. Ruger:
- For seminaries nationwide, interest in traditional theological programs is declining. M.Div. enrollment is down for Episcopal seminaries. In addition, the eleven Episcopal seminaries face significant competition from local sources of theological training.
- Increases in tuition revenues are frequently offset by increased financial aid.
- Annual gifts for all Episcopal seminaries have grown only modestly; parish giving is currently 0.3 percent versus a stated goal of 1 percent.
- Approved deficit spending at GTS is largely the result of the decision to expand rather than restrict advanced degree programs, to explore new initiatives such as The College for Bishops, to address deferred maintenance, and to comply with the specific recommendations of the Seminary’s accrediting association.
- Asset allocation within the seminary’s endowment is balanced and focused over the long term, although consumption of endowment return is 160 percent of the recommended guideline.
- As opposed to the current allocation of $100,000-200,000, an estimated $500,000 per year is needed to maintain building integrity and safety – capital renewal and deferred maintenance needs are in the tens of millions.
- There is underutilization of present space.
- Immediate capital needs to fund operations and basic plant maintenance, if funded by endowment, are approximately $26 million. Conventional wisdom holds that appeals for funding operating deficits and deferred maintenance are relatively unattractive.
Mr. Ruger’s conclusion is that dramatic changes to the institution are necessary and that lack of any substantial change, by best projections, will lead to the closing of the school in approximately twenty years.
While sobering, these factors represent a challenge that needs to be understood relative to other seminaries. In short, GTS is in better financial condition than most of the other Episcopal seminaries due to our endowment, new development initiatives and the potential for additional revenue streams. The economic realities before us may be daunting but the clarification of our financial situation presents us with the opportunity to make truly informed decisions regarding those important steps that will insure not only our survival but our ability to continue our historic role in providing leadership for the Church through excellence in theological education.
These next steps will include the need to do a space analysis with an eye to the possibility of sharing our facilities with other educational institutions. Another next step is to more carefully delineate what is meant by “tens of millions of dollars” for plant renewal and to develop plans to address this need. This will include revisiting previous plans for development of the property as well as considering new ideas. It is anticipated that such analysis will confirm the decision by the Trustees to build and not diminish program, faculty and administration, to strengthen our commitment to prepare ordained leaders for the Church and to remain in New York City. We have resolved not to shrink from the challenges but to expand our sense of vision and mission in light of the need for strong leadership at the parish, diocesan, national and international levels of the Church.
It is my sense that this analysis has brought with it the realization that we are at an important crossroads for the Seminary and, to a larger extent, theological education for the Episcopal Church. A host of questions beyond those of economics need to be addressed. Does the Episcopal Church want its denominational seminaries; does it want persons formed in the Anglican tradition? There is evidence that a growing number of persons preparing for ministry in the Episcopal Church are doing so at non-Episcopal seminaries.
I believe clarification, borne of the quantification of financial analysis, has also brought with it a sense of resolve on the part of the Trustees, faculty, students and alumni/ae. Such resolve is evident in the commitment of each Trustee to interview two or three diocesan bishops to ascertain, from their point of view, what is needed in the development of theological education to better serve the Church. Such resolve can also be seen in the willingness of both faculty and staff to work together in expanding and better communicating our vision of the Seminary.
Theologically, we may be experiencing a kairotic moment wherein God is shaking from us complacency and inviting us to provide innovative leadership in theological education for the Church. The current financial challenges present us with the mandate to move beyond “business as usual” and incremental change rooted in a chronos mentality. The current financial challenges reveal an opportunity for us to be a proactive rather than a reactive institution for ecclesial formation in service to the Gospel. In assessing and understanding the needs of the Church, we will be in a position to provide quality theological education for the future leadership of the Anglican Communion. Again, I ask for your ongoing prayers as the Board of Trustees and Strategic Planning Committee continue the challenging work of strategic planning in the months ahead.
Craig B. Anderson