{CAMPUS TODAY} at Roberts

The Relationship Between the College and Seminary

With Dr. Douglas R. Cullum

By Lisa Bennett

What is the relationship between Northeastern Seminary and Roberts Wesleyan College?

The relationship between Northeastern Seminary and Roberts Wesleyan College continues to be defined and understood in the way it has since the Seminary’s inception: The two institutions are legally separate, but intimately related to one another by a common heritage, ethos and governance model. This relationship is necessitated by the State of New York’s requirements for institutions that receive a form of state funding known as Bundy Aid. The Seminary is thus legally an independent, autonomous organization, yet functions in a strong and vibrant partnership with Roberts Wesleyan College, essentially as a graduate division of theology in a university model.

What does that mean for the leadership and decision-making process?

This “legally separate but closely related” status is most evident in the composition and functioning of the Seminary’s Board of Trustees, a governance structure that exercises oversight for both Northeastern Seminary and Roberts Wesleyan College. This shared arrangement allows both institutions to benefit from the vast legal, educational, financial and governance experience these 25 to 30 individuals bring to the table. And although the College is obviously a much larger and more complex organization, it is our experience that the members of the Board are equally interested in and committed to the success of the Seminary.

Do you have an example of this?

In order to clarify and further strengthen the Board’s investment in the Seminary, two significant modifications were made in 2009 to the committee structure of the Board. Originally, the Board of the College and the Board of the Seminary utilized the following committees: academic affairs, advancement, business affairs, constitution and bylaws, facilities, Seminary, student life and trusteeship. The Seminary committee had been established to oversee matters pertaining to Northeastern Seminary and to represent the interests of the Seminary to the Board. However, in two distinct accreditation site-visit reports, it was noted that the unintended consequence of this structure created the impression that the other Board subcommittees (and even the full Board) do not also have significant interest and involvement in the governance of the Seminary.

As a result, two modifications were made. First, the former Seminary committee became the Seminary Academics and Program committee to clarify the focus of this committee on Seminary academics, admissions, student life, etc., while oversight of the other aspects of the Seminary (finance, advancement, facilities, trusteeship, etc.) are provided by the respective trustee committees and, ultimately, by the entire Board. And second, the advancement and business affairs committees of the Board established separate subcommittees that focus exclusively on the affairs of the Seminary. The Seminary acknowledges the very real financial challenges it is faced with; these new subcommittees now ensure that the trustees have sufficient time to focus on the complexities of these challenges.

Is it common for seminaries and colleges to be related in this way?

In April 2011, Northeastern was invited to participate in a Conference for Theological Leaders in Relationship with Undergraduate Institutions, sponsored by The Association of Theological Schools. With the number of ATS schools employing this model growing beyond 30 percent, the prevailing judgment of those in attendance was that though the relationship requires a particular sort of diligent tending in order to ensure that the needs of both institutions are equitably cared for, the strengths inherent in the relationship far outweigh any deficits or difficulties.

What opportunities does this relationship offer?

The need for public awareness is central to institutional health. The relationship between Seminary and College increases the number of contact points and the variety of contexts that we can access and engage. In many ways, the Seminary fills a church-relations role for both institutions, creating the reputation as a resource in service to the churches from which we both draw our students. So, well beyond the economies of scale that the relationship affords us, we also enjoy the benefits of networking beyond what each institution could do on its own.

Two more specific and recent examples come to mind: The Seminary and College are exploring and gaining appropriate approvals for a joint 3/3 B.A. to M.Div. degree program. This is made possible as a direct result of the close and collegial relationship between the Bible, theology and philosophy departments of Roberts Wesleyan College and the graduate theology faculty of Northeastern Seminary. The goal is to have appropriate approvals in place so that the new program can begin in fall 2014. The success of this joint program will be mutually beneficial, providing a fresh incentive for new students to select Roberts Wesleyan College and Northeastern Seminary for both their college and seminary education. For several years, graduate students have been recruited because of the dual degrees through the social work department and the Seminary.

Another opportunity is the repurposing of available on-campus housing units — both dormitory rooms and apartments — for students of graduate programs at both the College and the Seminary. The College receives income for rooms that might have remained empty and the graduate programs have an added benefit to offer prospective students.