Plan for the Work of ATS
The mission of The Association of Theological Schools in the United States and Canada is to promote
the improvement and enhancement of theological schools to the benefit of communities of faith
and the broader public.
The Association seeks to implement this mission with attention to four key values:
Diversity—ATS values the different expressions of faith that are represented by member schools and seeks to respect the varying understandings of theology, polity, religious leadership, and social commitments.
Quality and Improvement—ATS schools value quality in the practice of ministry and in educational practices. Quality is always linked to improvement; even schools that have achieved a high degree of quality can improve. The Association encourages schools to advance in quality.
Collegiality—ATS values the contributions that schools make to one another. Regardless of differences in theological perspective, organizational complexity, or institutional size, ATS schools, as peer institutions, can learn from one another, cooperate on common tasks that benefit the broader community of theological schools, and hold themselves accountable to common practices and quality.
Leadership—ATS values leadership and considers it essential for schools to attain their missions. ATS is committed to developing the skills and capacities of administrators, faculties, and boards of member schools.
In addition to these core values, the Association values formal education for ministerial leadership and advocates on behalf of its benefits for religious leaders, religious institutions, and the work of religion in broader publics; values justice in society and institutions and seeks to embody justice in its organizational life; values accountability for student learning; and both values and advocates for quality in the practice of ministry.
In support of this mission and these values, the Association has three core functions that it performs on behalf of graduate, professional theological education in the United States and Canada: leadership education, issues and initiatives, and communications and data. The Association maintains a plan that identifies strategies and relates those strategies to the core functions of the Association. The plan of work extends for six years and is revised biennially; the current plan is based on, and updates, the 2008 version of the plan of work.
Leadership Education. ATS provides a venue for the education of senior administrative officers through conferences and seminars and the development of faculty through regranting programs and workshops related to skills, perceptions, and knowledge crucial to their work as theological educators.
Issues and Initiatives. The Association conducts applied research and convenes conversations about critical issues in theological education that need to be addressed in order to enhance understanding of theological education or to enable the schools to develop new skills or perspectives necessary for their development and improvement.
Communications and Data. The Association publishes the Bulletin as the formal record of its work; a journal, Theological Education; the Fact Book on Theological Education; and a variety of publications in support of various programs and emphases. The Association and the Commission on Accrediting maintain databases on student attitudes and perceptions and a comprehensive database on the member institutions. These data provide resources that serve the member schools, the media, and the scholarly study of theological education and the theological disciplines.
Strategies related to the core functions of the Association 2010–2016
The strategies listed below do not describe every aspect of the Association’s work; rather, they are the ones that require authorization by the ATS Board of Directors because they undertake new work or require grant funding from external sources. In most cases, the current grants supporting areas of work will expire during this six-year time frame, and continuation funding will need to be sought. If no funding has been identified, it is noted with the agenda item.
As the Association implements its work during this six-year planning cycle, it will give attention to continuing the grant-funded work of leadership development and support and initiate a new effort to expand the pipeline for presidents and deans, especially as it might include racial/ethnic persons and women, as appropriate to different ecclesial communities. It continues directions in racial/ethnic work in building capacity in schools. It continues to offer support to women in leadership in theological education, with particular attention to women in senior roles. Grant-funded work for faculty is expanded to include active discussion of topics of critical importance in these times: governance, educational curriculum, interdisciplinary issues, and the relationship of schools with churches and ecclesial communities. In all areas, there is attention to increased use of technology to advance educational and communications strategies.
In the context of the ongoing core functions of the Association, the following strategies are being or will be implemented. While work may rightly be classified in more than one ATS function and, at times, may best be understood in terms of its importance for more than one function, this plan identifies strategies within the function of the Association with which they are most closely related in terms of the kind of work the strategy primarily entails. This document does not include all ATS work, just new work or continuing work that requires grant funding.
1. Leadership education
ATS will maintain and enhance its system and curriculum for the ongoing education of administrative leaders and the development of faculty, addressing the interconnection of accreditation issues and leadership education events, as well as those pragmatic concerns specific to each group. It will continue to administer grants programs in support of faculty development and the advancement of scholarship in the theological disciplines. While these programs will benefit individual administrators and faculty, they will be conducted with the goal of enhancing and improving theological schools.
1.1 Education for administrative leaders
. ATS will continue to conduct the annual New Presidents Seminar, the week-long Presidential Leadership Intensive, and the University Deans Meeting and will develop an event for those presidents, deans, or principals whose schools are nested within other educational entities. In addition, support will continue for educational events in particular settings, such as the yearly gathering of African American Presidents. (Funding provided by participant fees and ATS Leadership Education for Theological Educators grant through 2013.)
1.1.2 Professional development organizations for administrative officers
. ATS will continue to foster the work of four organizations for specific leadership groups: the Chief Academic Officers Society (CAOS), the Chief Financial Officers Society (CFOS), the Development and Institutional Advancement Program (DIAP), and the Student Personnel Administrators Network (SPAN). ATS will provide ongoing support for the steering committees of each of these programmatic organizations in planning, implementing, and evaluating educational events. The Leadership Education Council will coordinate work across programmatic organizations. (Funding provided by participant fees and ATS Leadership Education for Theological Educators grant through 2013.)
1.1.3 Cultivating potential senior administrative Leaders. ATS will explore ways to develop and implement a comprehensive program of support aimed at cultivating potential candidates for senior administrative positions in ATS schools, including racial/ethnic persons, men, and women, as appropriate to varying ecclesial communities. (Funding will need to be secured to implement this effort.)
1.2 Education for women and racial/ethnic faculty and administrators
1.2.1 Women in leadership. ATS will continue its programmatic support for women in leadership in theological education, including both faculty and administrators, and with particular attention to women in senior roles in ATS schools. ATS will explore ways to thread throughout all its educational programming during this time period attention to the enhancement of the capacity of schools to provide hospitable environments for the leadership of women as they contribute to the common work of theological education. (Funding provided by the ATS Leadership Education for Theological Educators grant through 2013.)
1.2.2 Racial/ethnic leadership. ATS will focus building the capacity of ATS schools to function more effectively as racially inclusive environments and as educators of both white and racial/ethnic students for ministry in racial/ethnic and multicultural contexts. It also will continue programming support for racial/ethnic administrative leaders and faculty in theological schools. (Funding provided by ATS Leadership Education for Theological Educators grant through 2013.)
1.3 Faculty development
1.3.1 Newly appointed faculty. ATS will continue the annual New Faculty Seminar for recently appointed faculty who are new to theological education. The seminar is structured to explore the collective vocation of faculty as a corporate entity and individual vocational issues raised by employment in these institutions. (Funding provided by participant fees and ATS Leadership Education for Theological Educators grant through 2013.)
1.3.2 Mid-career faculty. ATS will host periodic conferences for newly tenured faculty. This effort is designed to help mid-career faculty engage the variety of issues that challenge them in their work, especially as related to their service within theological schools. (Funding provided by participant fees and ATS Leadership Education for Theological Educators grant through 2013.)
1.3.3 General faculty development. ATS will become a regular presence at large gatherings of faculty, that is, at the American Academy of Religion and the Society of Biblical Literature. ATS will host periodically a session related to the vocation of the theological educator led by a senior scholar. On other occasions ATS will host consultations on focused topics, ultimately aimed at producing Web-based resources for dissemination to a wider audience of all member schools to assist in faculty development. Focused topics may include but are not limited to the following: governance, curricular issues, interdisciplinary issues, and the relationships of the school with churches and ecclesial communities. (Funding provided by participant fees and ATS Leadership Education for Theological Educators grant through 2013.)
1.3.2 The Henry Luce III Fellows in Theology Program. ATS will continue to administer this premier program in theological research, in consultation with the Henry Luce Foundation. The program provides salary and benefit replacement funds, and when matched by the fellow’s institution, offer a full year of research leave to a scholar whose research will have a significant impact on the field. ATS also will engage the participation of Luce Fellows in other ATS conferences and workshops to cultivate their leadership as scholars in the broader work of the Association. (Funding provided on year-by-year basis by the Henry Luce III Fellows in Theology grant through 2010.)
1.3.3 The Lilly Theological Research Grants Program. This program makes three kinds of grants to faculty in ATS member schools: grants to faculty who have an approved research leave, grants to faculty as research stipends in lieu of some teaching responsibilities in the academic year or summer, and grants for expenses related to research, such as travel. Proposals related to the scholarly understanding of theological education will be considered as well as proposals for research that advances theological disciplines. The project sponsors an annual workshop for faculty that focuses on proposal development, finding resources for faculty research, and writing for different audiences. (Funding provided by Lilly Theological Research Grants Program grant through 2013.)
2. Issues and initiatives in theological education
During the period of this plan of work, ATS will extend its work on two projects:
2.1 Institutional Viability and Financially Stressed Theological Schools. A significant number of ATS schools are experiencing substantive and enduring financial stress that threatens their ability to attain their respective missions. In this project, ATS seeks to identify underlying issues that result in chronic financial stress, patterns of institutional responses that could ameliorate the impact of this stress while schools are seeking a remedy, and patterns of institutional effort that could provide for healthier financial futures for these schools. In collaboration with the Auburn Center for the Study of Theological Education and In Trust, Inc., the Association will redevelop the Strategic Information Report to strengthen its usefulness by the schools in the areas of governance, administration, and institutional planning and assessment. ATS will also develop instructional guides to enhance the usefulness of the Institutional Peer Profile Report and the Strategic Information Report. (Funding provided by Lilly Endowment through 2012.)
2.2 Christian Hospitality and Pastoral Practices in a Multifaith Society. Among the many changes that are occurring in North America is the growth of religious communities other than the Christian and Jewish faiths with which ATS schools have been most closely identified. The increasing number of adherents to these other faiths in North America will invariably affect the practice of Christian ministry. Ministers and priests will need to be better informed about the commitments and practices of these religious communities; they will need to expand their own theology with a theology of world religions; and they will need to be able to minister in the contexts of interreligious interaction and engagement in the settings where they will serve. Religion has been both a uniting and dividing influence, and ATS schools will need to identify those practices that the majority religion in North America should undertake to ensure religion’s positive contribution as the continent experiences the increasing presence and cultural power of other faiths. (Funding provided by the Luce Foundation through 2012.)
In addition, the Association will seek funding to initiate five new projects:
2.3 Educational models. This comprehensive project will research new educational models for accredited theological education. Theological education needs both the models that have developed over many years and new models that will extend theological education to the increasing variety of individuals who need it. The project will work with schools developing new models to assess their effectiveness and viability for use by other schools in the Association. This work will be conducted in a variety of ATS venues. (Funding will need to be secured to implement this effort.)
2.4 Theological education and environmental issues. This concern is pervasive in many areas of society, including member schools. This project will seek to discern methods by which member schools can embody the stewardship of creation in terms of curriculum, theological reflection, and institutional practices. (Funding will need to be secured to implement this effort.)
2.5 Theological schools and the church. A project was completed in 2008, and it was suggested that ATS maintain an ongoing emphasis in a variety of its activities to enhance churches’ understandings about the function of theological schools in the context of the churches’ missions, the schools’ understandings of the function of the religious leadership "workforce," and the relationship of these to the theological purposes, educational goals, curriculum, and educational practices associated with graduate professional degree programs conducted by ATS member schools. (Funding will need to be secured to implement this effort.)
2.6 Support for funding theological education. ATS is uniquely positioned to articulate the case for funding theological schools to foundations and other donors. ATS will work collaboratively with its own funding partners to raise awareness among family foundations and other potential donors of the value of theological education and its need for their support. ATS also will convene meetings of ATS presidents and major donors of ATS schools to create a setting for these unusual peers to encourage one another in their support for theological education. (Funding will need to be secured to implement this effort.)
2.7 Science and religion. The American Association for the Advancement of Science has invited ATS to partner with it in a project for which the AAAS has received grant funding from the Templeton Foundation. The goal is to encourage literacy in science among theological faculty and thereby influence future church leaders and people of faith. The project will also encourage theological literacy among scientists through a mutual exchange of ideas in each others’ professional contexts. (No ATS funding will be needed.)
3. Communications and data
ATS has a comprehensive information technology system, institutional and student information databases, Web site, and an array of print publications that support its work. The primary work planned for 2010–2016 focuses on promoting the use of these resources among the member schools and expanding efforts to communicate electronically with key constituencies in the schools.
3.1 ATS publications and resources. The Association maintains an extensive publications program in both print and electronic formats. During this cycle of work, the Association will make expanded use of electronic communication with various member school constituencies to direct them routinely to new editions of publications and other pertinent resources as they appear on the Web site. ATS will explore the development of an online resource center that will include such components as frequently asked questions, samples of institutional and administrative policies developed by the schools, and links to job postings by theological schools. (Funding from ATS operational budget.)
4. Association support
The function of Association Support undergirds the work and mission of ATS.
4.1 Strategic development plan. The Association will implement a development plan that addresses the need for additional revenue sources and increased unrestricted revenue. (Funding may be needed to implement this effort fully.)
4.2 Organizational structure. ATS will review internal organizational structures to enhance performance and sustainability. (Funding provided by ATS operational budget.)