This recent article in Theological Education provides a brief history of the ATS Commission Standards of Accreditation, as well as a review of what other accreditors have done recently with their standards.
Redevelopment of ATS Commission Standards and Procedures
Overview of the redevelopment process
Once a generation the ATS membership does a comprehensive redevelopment of its Standards and Procedures. The last such major revision was in 1996 (the revisions in 2010-2012 were more modest), a generation after the previous redevelopment in 1972. It seems timely then that the ATS membership voted at its June 2018 Biennial Meeting “to authorize the ATS Board of Commissioners to undertake a comprehensive redevelopment of the Standards of Accreditation and the Commission Policies and Procedures expeditiously and with a substantial participation process.” The unanimous vote was based on a five-point rationale and was followed by a membership discussion of key questions and concerns. The ATS Board of Commissioners appointed a 19-member Task Force to lead the redevelopment process.
Metaphor for the redevelopment process
While called a comprehensive redevelopment, the Board does not envision this process as “tearing down and rebuilding from scratch.” There is much in the current Standards (especially the opening paragraphs) that constitute—to continue the metaphor—a solid building that should remain essentially intact. This redevelopment is viewed more as an opportunity to have serious conversations about how we might collectively strengthen our “foundation” (fundamental assumptions about accreditation and theological education) and focus on our “supporting walls” (key educational principles), while possibly eliminating other “non-supporting walls” (reducing/combining some standards) and removing some of the “furniture” (details about educational practices).
The goal is to provide “a strong structure with a few furnishings” that gives schools the freedom to “decorate their own rooms” as they see fit (e.g., various educational practices). The Task Force envisions fewer rules and regulations, but strong framing principles that “promote the improvement and enhancement of theological schools to the benefit of communities of faith and the broader public” (ATS mission).
Membership involvement in the process
Two primary purposes for this site are to inform the membership of the Task Force’s progress and to invite the membership’s comments throughout the process. The current timeline envisions a two-year process (June 2018 to June 2020), with regular membership involvement. The first year (2018-2019) is called “a year of listening, researching, and reflecting” during which the Task Force will engage a wide variety of membership groups. This website will also be updated periodically with other ways in which members can offer their perspectives in the process, though anyone can email comments or questions at any time (see below for contact information).
The second year (2019-2020) of this two-year process is called “a year of writing, revising, and recommending,” during which the Task Force anticipates proposing two public drafts for input from the membership. The first draft will be distributed in late fall 2019, and the second draft in early spring 2020. The second draft will be followed by a series of regional meetings and webinars to further inform the membership and to invite additional feedback before the Board makes its final recommendation for a revised set of Standards and Procedures in April 2020. The revised documents will then be distributed to the membership in May 2020 for a vote at the June 2020 Biennial Meeting in Vancouver. After approval, the Board would provide a grandfathering process over the next year or two (with details to be provided before the final vote).
Contact information for the process
Anyone with suggestions, questions, or comments about the redevelopment process can email Redevelopment@ats.edu. The Commission staff liaison for this process is Tom Tanner. The chair of the Redevelopment Task Force is Sarah Drummond (Andover Newton Seminary at Yale Divinity School), and the vice chair is Oliver McMahan (Pentecostal Theological Seminary).
The Redevelopment Task Force held its first meeting in Denver at the conclusion of the ATS Centennial Biennial Meeting.