Wednesday, February 25, 2015

13. There are advantages to being embedded in a broader university. (2)

... 5. The Graduate School at IWU has seemed enigmatic to some since the restructuring of the university in 2009. It has none of its own faculty but, rather, all graduate level faculty within the university are part of it. Most of what the Graduate School does is set standards and make sure the graduate programs of the university are meeting them.

It has been very important for me or someone from the Seminary to be present at Graduate Council meetings for fear that they would pass a policy that makes sense to most graduate schools and the broader university, but not to the Seminary.

The standards of seminaries are not the same as those in the rest of the academy. Primarily, we are a professional rather than an academic master's degree. It was tiring at the beginning when we took proposals through the broader university that were appropriate for seminaries but puzzling in the broader academy. There was often a look that said something like, "You can't do that in a graduate program."

For example, seminaries accept more transfer credit than any other graduate program in the university. We accept credit for courses students took as part of degrees that they have already earned. Other parts of the university don't do that. These are common practices among theological schools that had to be explained and justified every time.

Another example is advanced standing with credit. This is where, if a student has taken certain undergraduate courses that relate to certain elementary seminary courses, they can actually be granted Seminary credit. These are courses like basic Bible study method, introductory theology, and basic church history.

When I went to seminary, you didn't get credit in this way. You simply were allowed to take more advanced electives in those areas as a substitute. But that's not where the theological academy is today. Today we grant credit. It helps decrease the total number of hours a student has to take and thus diminishes student debt.

(It's an important reminder that academic excellence is a moving target. It is not some timeless absolute that stays the same over time. Academics often don't seem to realize this fact and then romanticize the good old days when standards were higher.)

So it has always been important to be present at these Grad Council meetings, so that policies won’t be passed that make perfect sense in most graduate programs but would be detrimental to the Seminary in the light of standard theological school practices.

6. Despite the occasional frustration, the advantages for us of being embedded far outweigh these smaller inconveniences. For example, I was resistant to using the student advising services of the broader adult programs at first. I felt like our students, especially as we were starting up, needed a high touch. I was afraid that a machine built for 13,000 might treat them more like a number and be insensitive in the administration of policy.

(And let me also hint that IWU was on a strong bureaucratic trajectory three years ago. I believe the situation has now changed dramatically.)

But on the other hand, I/we were dropping balls too. Some things were falling through the cracks. When I went on sabbatical in the Fall of 2011, one of the things I believe Jim Vermilya was tasked to do as Interim Dean was to explore possible areas where the Seminary might rely more on the university infrastructure. For example, there's no question that it was a benefit to our students to put our course writing on the university's instructional design schedule.

And I was too soft on some students, especially at the beginning. I needed to make less exceptions for students who ultimately were not strong enough to be in a seminary program. This hopefully has been an area of growth for me these last six years. I strongly believe that IWU and Wesley should be a house for as many students as possible. But not everyone will make it, despite appropriate levels of compassion and flexibility.

7. When I got back from sabbatical, Spring of 2012, Karen and I submitted, and we let the Enrollment Services of the broader university take over the bulk of our student advising. This has proved to be a great win for the Seminary. Alison Toren took over the bulk of student advising from March 2012 to January 2015 (part time for us, part time for nursing) and did a fantastic job.

There's no question that our lives became much more bearable after she came on board. She handled all the normal student registration and enrollment with great skill.  She only brought me in when there was something unusual. Her razzing of our oddness gradually diminished over time. She was a clear advantage of being embedded.

(We are just about at the size where the Seminary really needs a person whose sole responsibilities are Seminary advising, but we will have to pay for it too. In the meantime, we now have Richard Wollen as our new part time Advisor to replace Alison.)

8. We moved into our new building in May 2013, at the end of our fourth year. At that point it was a delight to have a now full-staffed admissions team join us in the new building: Aaron Wilkinson, Dianne Clark, Kami Mauldin, and Moses Avila. Kris Douglas, who is Associate Vice President for Adult Enrollment Services, also has an office in our building.

Kris, Aaron, Jerry Shepherd, and Wayne also make up the Seminary marketing team. Jerry is Associate Vice President for Enrollment Management. (Janelle Vernon used to be part of this team too.)

Technically, however, the admissions team does not work for the Seminary. They are part of the adult services wing of the university. The Seminary pays their salaries, but they officially work for a different part of the university. It is a somewhat complicated set-up, but it works because they and we see each other as fully on the same team. Their offices are in our building, and we don't feel any tension.

9. We are incredibly grateful for the blessing of a broader university that has supported the Seminary and blessed us time and time again with its favor, first under President Henry Smith and now under David Wright. It helps that Wayne Schmidt is a class act, unlike his current, cantankerous Dean.

So there is a give and take to embeddedness. There is a calculus to contextualization when you are part of a broader university. There are innovations you might make if you were free-standing that you just can't as part of a broader university because the consequences would be too disruptive to the broader institution. Then there are times when it is worth trying to bend things, even though it requires modifications to "the way we have always done it."

Previously on Seminary take-aways:

1. There are key moments of opportunity.
2. You need the right people.
3. Good leaders collaborate and navigate.

Year 1: Launch Year
4. Innovation requires some trial and error. (1)
5. Innovation requires some trial and error. (2)
6. Innovation requires some trial and error. (3)
7. New leaders bring new strengths. (1)

Year 2: Growing Pains
8. Administration never ends.
9. New leaders bring new strengths. (2)
10. New leaders bring new strengths. (3)

Year 3: The Year of Maturity
11. Complexity works against sustainability.

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