Friday, June 22, 2012

What's Up Down South?

A month ago, we read with mild interest that Lenoir-Rhyne College was merging with the (badly named) Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary.  "Ah," we thought.  "A cost-saving move.  Fire some secretaries and IT people and whatnot."  Our assumption was that the two would become one principally at the administrative level, retaining their separate campuses (for a while), as well as their degree programs and faculties.

Oops.  Our bad.

Today, we learned that the merged institution has declined to re-hire three members of the seminary faculty:  Mary Havens (history), Robert Hawkins (worship) and David Yeago (systematics).  All three are long-serving, tenured and prominent in their fields.

An online petition by and for alumni suggests, strongly, that this development came quite a surprise.

Bear in mind that the seminary only has 13 professors, so this is a substantial number.  Bear in mind further that church history, worship and systematic theology are part of the core curriculum of a theological school.  Fire the Greek, Hebrew and homiletics teachers, and you might as well teach engineering.

Now, we're not especially well-informed about any of this.  We didn't go to Southern, for one thing.  We do know a couple of profs there, but, save by reputation, not these three.  So we certainly won't fly off in a righteous dudgeon (nor would we even if our dudgeon were fueled up and waiting on the runway).  We have not signed the petition, and don't intend to.

But we'd certainly like to know what is going on.  Do any readers, by chance, have more information about what the rationale might be for a such a seemingly odd move?


Jonathan said...

I graduated from LTSS in 2003. Drs. Yeago, Hawkins, and Havens played big parts in my spiritual formations. I do not know why they have been let go, but if I hear anything I will let you know.
Although I understand the sentiment behind the petition, I want to believe LR has a vision and reason. And I will wait until I hear from them.
I am not sure what LTSS will look like in the future.
This is not the beginning LR wanted.

Diane M. Roth said...

hmmmm. I don't know what's up either. but I will be listening with care.

I hope it doesn't have to do wtih these certain professor's position on the ELCA 2009 decisions. We are supposed to be able to disagree about these things...

Diane M. Roth said...

I do seem to remember that Dr. Yeago was a persistent voice of warning after the sexuality agreements in 2009. I don't know about the others' positions, but he seemed to think, like Carl Braaten and others, that we were on a road that he was concerned about.

I hope that this action doesn't have anything to do with theological positions. The writing that I have by Dr. Yeago is at least 2 years old.

Father Anonymous said...

I've had the same thought, of course: could this be a chance to shed a couple of nonconformists? I sincerely hope that's not the answer; academic freedom is pretty important, and in any case the ELCA is well-served by remembering its commitment to offering a big tent.

On the other hand, there are other possible reasons, less sinister if no less short-sighted. Senior faculty members are expensive, for one thing. Perhaps LR has its own even-more-senior systematician, historian and liturgiologist, although this seems unlikely.

Or perhaps -- and one hopes it is something like this -- the three faculty members have received interesting offers from other institutions, and quietly signalled as much to the trustees. In which case, this will all be settled when they make a public announcement and move on.

Anonymous said...

Seminaries are expensive. Fewer and fewer graduates are competing for fewer and fewer jobs that pay well enough to not only pay off the Master's degree loans but support a pastor "in the style to which he wishes to become accustomed".
It's less and less a job that can support a middle-class family and more and more a second career choice and/or a job for a woman's supplemental income, rather like a secretary's or RN's or teaching job.

Father Anonymous said...

This is true, of course -- every minister knows how true it is! -- but I'm not sure it's relevant.

The publicity around the merger presented it is a win-win proposition for the two institutions. The idea was that LR would gain a graduate faculty and LTSS would ... well, continue to exist. I don't recall reading any bold promises that a seminary education would get cheaper or ministry better-paid.

So, sure, the senior faculty members are expensive -- to the institution. But I'd be shocked to learn that they were so expensive that firing three of them was going to save any any theological student a measurable amount of loan-money. And even if it did, there's the question of whether the resulting degree is devalued by having attended a seminary without a qualified professors teaching its core subjects.

Anonymous said...

Don't know if you've seen this yet... doesn't really answer all my questions, but I thought I'd pass it along.

Father Anonymous said...

I hadn't seen it, thanks. Basically, the document describes the extremely dire economic circumstances at LTSS, and says that the seminary identified to L-R three specific faculty members who ought not be offered new contracts.

A very close reading, of course, leaves open some questions about how the decision was made. But this is a start.

Mark C. Christianson said...

After reading the letter from Miller and Trexler, I have the impression that seeing three faculty leave, as difficult as that kind of decision is to make, is getting by fairly easily under the circumstances.

I thought the most disturbing (but not necessarily surprising) information in that letter was that support from the church has been down 30% since 2008. I can't imagine that Southern is unique amongst the ELCA's seminaries here. We have too many seminaries. Perhaps the better course of action would actually have been for Southern to close.