Q With a climate full of changes and challenges, how do you prepare students for the leadership that the future will demand?
We are blessed to have a lot of students who are fresh out of college. The median age of our entering class each year tends to be somewhere between 22 and 24. We also have a wonderful mix of second vocation people in their 30s, 40s, and older. The challenge is to go both “deep and wide,” to use the old hymn. We need young people steeped in Scripture and history so that the vibrancy of tradition informs their creative leadership.
If we try to prepare them to lead the church of 20 years ago, they’re going to vote with their feet and leave. We have to show them the connection between deep learning and appreciation of Scripture, and the cultivation of a scriptural imagination. The best organizations I know of have a habit of investing in young people, and that’s what education is about.
Q As you look to transition as society and the world are transitioning, how do you deal with the risk?
The Divinity School is a healthy enough institution, and a strong enough institution, that it wouldn’t be difficult for us to say “What’s worked for us is going to keep working for us.” It may be that the economic meltdown of the last year was a gift to us—because it presented challenges that compelled us to take risks that will help us get ahead of the curve.
For example, we’ve put strong emphasis on residential education and the formation that occurs inside and outside the classroom. I think it’s important that students engage one another over lunch about classes, or about the sermon they’ve just heard in chapel, and that they share their different sensibilities and reactions. The broader culture desperately needs people who know how to engage in what I call meaningful disagreements. That happens through residential formative education.
Some of the new initiatives we’re looking at involve “place and space” education, which combines face-to-face learning supplemented with web-based learning. [This allows] people who work during the day— and who are in positions of practice and engagement in the world—to access theological education here.
That’s a risk because our faculty is not used to teaching that way. It means engaging adult learners in a new kind of education. I’ve been really heartened to see the openness and the engagement of our faculty. They’re willing to take such risks, but it means that 10 years from now the school will be different in significant ways.