The United Methodist Reporter is offering the latest headlines in the RSS format.
UMC freezes funds for two seminaries Bill Fentum, Feb 16, 2010
More than 200 students attend Claremont School of Theology, a United Methodist seminary in southern California.
By Bill Fentum Staff Writer
The University Senate of the United Methodist Church placed two of the denomination’s seminaries on “public warning” Jan. 21, freezing church funding to the schools until at least this summer.
Claremont School of Theology in southern California had failed “to consult fully” with church authorities on a new mission statement that includes plans to convert the campus into a multifaith university, the University Senate said in a news release.
In addition, both Claremont and United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio, were cited for not submitting recent financial audits to the Senate, a 25-member group that determines whether institutions meet criteria to be affiliated with the United Methodist Church.
The schools were cut off Feb. 1 from the Ministerial Education Fund (MEF)—an apportioned fund that supports scholarships and budgets at the 13 United Methodist seminaries. Review panels will visit the seminaries this spring to evaluate their mission, management and budgets. The Senate will then consider both cases at its meeting June 23-24.
If the Senate decides the schools can remain affiliated, the denomination’s General Board of Higher Education and Ministry (GBHEM) will release the funds.
Meanwhile, both schools must submit monthly fiscal reports and five-year business plans.
“We expected to receive roughly $800,000 from the MEF this year, though we budgeted 10 percent less to be conservative,” said Jon Hooten, Claremont’s communications director, in an e-mail response. “Like most schools in this economy, this is a tight budget year for us, so the impact will be significant.”
Founded in 1885, Claremont has struggled financially through much of its history. The seminary nearly lost but retained its accreditation from the Western Association of Schools and Colleges in 2007, when it had operated under a deficit for three years.
Then trustees launched the Claremont University Project, a 10-year plan to add new schools on the campus that will train Jewish and Muslim clerics. An interfaith center—the School of Ethics, Politics and Society—will open there this fall with classes on social justice, grassroots organizing and global sustainability.
“I think the thing that has disturbed some people is the worry that we’re turning a United Methodist-related seminary into something very different, but the seminary will stay intact,” Claremont President Jerry Campbell said in an interview.
“Eventually, I suspect we will have a cluster of seminaries,” he said, “each with its own specialty, but in an environment that emphasizes mutual understanding and makes religion the parent of peace rather than the parent of conflict.”
Dr. Campbell said he has consulted with leaders in the denomination’s California-Nevada and California-Pacific conferences about the University Project and has made reports on the seminary’s progress to the Association of United Methodist Theological Schools and a team that represented both the GBHEM and the University Senate.
“So the caveat is, what does anyone mean by ‘consult fully’? That isn’t spelled out,” he said.
A $5 million anonymous gift to the University Project has helped pull Claremont out of debt. Duane Dyer, the school’s executive vice president for development, has set a goal of raising $125 million by 2012.
“Fundraising is still a challenge,” Dr. Campbell said, “but we ended the last three years in the black and we’re still guardedly optimistic.”
Claremont submitted its audit and management letter for the 2007-08 fiscal year, he said, adding he expected the audit for 2008-09 to be finished by mid-February. “We will present it as soon as it’s done,” Dr. Campbell said.
In an open letter to University Senate President Marianne Inman, the Rev. Wendy Deichmann Edwards, president at United Theological Seminary, said that the school plans to appeal the action against it.
“There’s always an option for reconsideration,” Dr. Inman said in an interview. “The process for that is very clearly laid out in the guidelines.”