Friday, January 29, 2010

A Response to the Church

Earlier this week, the University Senate of The United Methodist Church placed Claremont School of Theology on “Public Warning” and embargoed allocations from the Ministerial Educational Fund, effective February 1.

According to the Senate’s statement dated January 27, the action was taken because the School failed (1) to provide a current audit and management letter, and (2) to consult adequately with United Methodist authorities about its new mission, vision, and plans to develop a theological university. A site visit with a review team will be scheduled later this spring, with hopes of a resolution by the Senate’s regular meeting at the end of June.

Indeed, this is unwelcome news for those of us within the Methodist connection, and it means an unexpected loss of budgeted revenue through the end of this fiscal year (in June). I am confident we will be able to respond successfully to the spring review, so this fiscal constraint is likely to be temporary. In the interim, we will find ways forward to meet the obligations to our students, our staff and faculty, and all others who depend on the School’s continued success.

You can read the School's press release at www.cst.edu/news.

As you may know, this is not the first time in recent years that Claremont has faced a review from a sanctioning body. When I first arrived in the summer of 2006, the School was at its last resort with our regional accrediting body for being out of compliance with several of its standards.  During that period, we also faced similar sanctions by the Association of Theological Schools, which were equally as serious. With the hard work of the Board of Trustees, administrative team and faculty, we worked through these rigorous processes and were successful in returning the School to full compliance with the standards put forth by these two bodies. I believe, therefore, that we can reach the same result within our own Methodist system.

Despite this most recent action, Claremont remains a strong, vibrant and forward-looking institution which is looking ahead to the next 50 years of its history. The stated reasons for the Senate’s action are notable for what they do not question:
  • Claremont’s academic excellence is not in question. Claremont’s faculty are internationally recognized and intellectually creative, and they continue to craft degree programs that are vital for the church, academy and society.
  • Claremont’s Wesleyan ethos is not in question. Claremont continues to educate pan-Methodist students in the Wesleyan tradition, in ways that are adaptive and constructive in the face of emerging global realities. United Methodists seeking ordination should not be dissuaded from attending Claremont.
  • Claremont’s fiscal foundation is not in question. Even though the Senate cites a lack of current audited financial statements, the School has posted a balanced budget for the last three years (which it had not done the previous three years), and we are currently on track to do so again for 2009-10.
So why did Claremont not provide the Senate with audited financial statements? The answer is simple: the audit for the most recent fiscal year is not yet completed. As the chair of our governing board Sandy Bane (a professional auditor herself) reminded me, non-profit audits usually take longer than corporate audits, so this time-frame is not unusual. We indeed provided the Senate with the most recent audit (from 2007-08) and a detailed un-audited budget from 2008-09.  We expect the final audit and accompanying management letter to be ready in mid-February, right on schedule.  We are anxious to provide it to the Senate, and will do so as soon as it is completed.

The Senate members also indicate that they were not adequately consulted about the new directions the School is headed.  We have been very public about our intentions, and I have consulted with a variety of Methodist officials about our plans.  In fact, a review team from the same commission visited the School last May to discuss the successes of our accreditation processes as well as the new mission, vision and values articulated by the Board.

The more pressing issue, it seems, may be possible questions about the School’s emerging vision to open our minds, our hearts, and our doors even wider to a rapidly changing world. Our mission is to educate students toward “ethical integrity, religious intelligence, and intercultural understanding” in order to bring about a more harmonious world in an age of violence and brokenness. I can understand how these might be uncomfortable ideas, but it is through such leadership and application of core Wesleyan principles that I believe the Church can move forward into a religiously diverse world.

As the School prepares for the Senate’s coming review, I am proud of the progress we have made together, and I am excited about what the future holds for this remarkable institution. I am thankful for the trust you place in this School, and I will do all I can to ensure it continues to serve our world for years to come.

Thank you for your continued support, your prayers, and your work in the world.

3 comments:

Katherine said...

Thanks for this excellent response. I just sent a letter to the members of the University Senate in support of the school and to express my dismay that they have taken this punitive action.

I continue to be so grateful for your leadership of my alma mater.

Emily Click said...

Thank you for your excellent leadership and vision, President Campbell. I am outraged by this action and strongly urge the University Senate to realize that CST is a vital force in strengthening preparation for ministry in the United Methodist tradition. Your plans for the future should only enhance your already impressive abilities to prepare students for ministry in our world. I am proud to list CST on my resume for my years on the faculty there, and also to hold a PhD from Claremont.

Emily Click, Assistant Dean for Ministry Studies, Harvard Divinity School

Steve Hanusa said...

President Campbell's vision and leadership has been an inspiration and a guiding light to the entire Claremont community: faculty; students; trustees; and alumni. I was fortunate to study at CST during his first two years. What CST is doing for the religions of the world and the place of UMC in that world is magnificent. These new directions require courage from all engaged in the CST educational endeavors.
It is my hope and prayer that the UMC church as a whole shows the courage to support these new and world-changing ideas.
At times, I wonder if they will or if the University Senate's action is an aberration.
Peace,
Steve Hanusa MDiv 08