Since 1851, when Normal College President Braxton Craven offered to educate Methodist pastors free of charge, theological education has faced recurring financial challenges.
1851 A decade after Brown’s Schoolhouse, a private subscription school since 1838 in rural Randolph County, N.C., is chartered as Union Institute Academy, it is re-chartered as Normal College. The first degrees are offered in 1853. In exchange for his school’s affiliation with the North Carolina Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, President Craven offers to educate Methodist ministers free of charge.
1859 In recognition of that partnership, the school’s name is changed to Trinity College and the college’s motto becomes Eruditio et Religio. Enrollments increase, but plans for a new facility are put on hold by the Civil War. During Reconstruction, Trinity finds the resources to complete an addition to its campus.
1892 Durham businessmen Washington Duke, Benjamin N. Duke, and Julian Carr offer Trinity College $85,000 and 67.5 acres of land to move to Durham. From this point on, Duke and his family become the chief benefactors of the university.
1924 James B. Duke’s $24 million indenture for the non-denominational Duke University provides the resources that Trinity College President William Few, who took office in 1911, had long sought for a School of Religion. While Trinity College included a law school, religion becomes the new university’s first graduate and professional school.
1926 The School of Religion, recognized as one of the official Methodist theological seminaries, opens in September with seven professors and 18 full-time students. Tuition is free, in keeping with Trinity College’s practice of providing full tuition for pre-ministerial students, but the new university lacks the resources to compete with seminaries that offer free rooms and scholarships to cover living expenses, as well as help finding part-time jobs in area churches. Aware that J.B. Duke had earmarked 4 percent of the annual income from his indenture establishing The Duke Endowment—which is separate from the endowment for the new university—to maintain and operate rural Methodist churches in the Carolinas, Few “soon came up with the idea of summer apprenticeships for the students in rural Methodist churches, work that would be a valuable learning experience for the student and that The Duke Endowment could pay … [helping] cover the students’ basic living expenses for the academic year (Durden 312). Single students received a $400 stipend per year; later a $600 annual stipend is added for married students.
1928 Construction of Duke’s original West Campus begins and continues through the 1929 “Crash” at a cost of approximately $20 million.
1930 The School of Religion moves into Gray Building on West Campus. York Chapel is used for University worship until Duke Chapel is completed in 1935.
1931 The number of summer interns in Duke Endowment apprenticeships increases to 67 (from five in the summer of 1927). Local churches provide students with room, board, and transportation. The Duke Endowment advances each student $200 per semester to cover room, board, books, and fees during the academic year.
1933-34 The Depression’s “grim consequences hit Duke, belatedly but seriously…. (Durden, 322). Kenneth W. Clark, who began a temporary appointment in 1931, narrowly averts losing his faculty position as the school adjusts to the financial crash.
1939 Many students work as part-time or assistant pastors in Durham-area churches; others compete for jobs in the School of Religion Library or elsewhere on campus. Student fees are $43.50 per semester. Alumni serving rural four-point charges report annual incomes ranging from a high of $1,800 in Louisiana to a low of $400 in an isolated area of Kentucky. The Methodist Episcopal Church South and Methodist Episcopal Church merge.
1944 Dean Harvie Branscomb notes that the Divinity School has both “the opportunity and commitment to provide leadership” in the field of religious education in the South, then considered the nation’s Protestant stronghold. With 28 percent of the nation’s population, the South was home to 41 percent of Protestant church members. Out of every $1,000 of income, Southerners commited $16.02 for religious purposes, compared with $10.50 for the nation as a whole (Durden, 339-40).
1956 The Duke Circuit Rider reports that as of summer 1955, 1,821 divinity students have received Duke Endowment grants-in-aid totaling $736,580 for summer internships at rural Methodist churches in the Carolinas.
1965 In response to rising costs, the Divinity School begins charging tuition.
1968 The United Methodist Church forms the Ministerial Education Fund (MEF) to provide financial support for its 13 seminaries.
’70s A funding shortfall put plans for a new chapel on indefinite hold, but New Divinity opens in 1972, more than doubling the school’s size.
’80s Master of Theological Studies degree is added; efforts begin to build the school’s endowment, which is significantly lower than peer institutions.
1997 L. Gregory Jones is installed as Divinity’s 11th dean.
1998 The university-wide Campaign for Duke is launched. The Divinity School’s goal of $35 million includes $13 million earmarked for endowment.
2000 New programs, including the Duke Institute on Care at the End of Life, Spiritual Formation, and Pulpit & Pew, create urgent space needs. York Chapel, the school’s worship space since 1930, serves alternately as a chapel and classroom. Divinity’s fundraising goal is raised to $85 million.
2001 On Nov. 10, the school celebrates its 75th anniversary and breaks ground for the addition beside Duke Chapel.
2003 The school surpasses its goal with gifts and pledges of $102.2 million. Included are endowments for scholarship and professorships; the Learned Clergy Initiative, with 60 new full scholarships for students planning ordained ministry, and sustained learning programs for clergy, laity, faculty, and students; major renovations of the Divinity Library; Pulpit & Pew; the Duke Youth Academy; and a strong start toward $22 million for the new building.
2005 The official dedication of Goodson Chapel and the Westbrook Building— and the naming of the 1972 addition as the Langford Building—takes place Oct. 11, 2005, in conjunction with Convocation & Pastors’ School.
2007 Major grants launch Leadership Education at Duke Divinity and the Clergy Health Initiative, a partnership with the two North Carolina conferences of the United Methodist Church and The Duke Endowment.
2008 In response to the global financial crisis and a 19 percent drop in the market value of the university endowment between July 1 and early December, President Richard H. Brodhead asks deans and administrators to begin preparing scenarios for future savings. (Duke’s policy of spending a fixed percentage of the value of the endowment, averaged over several years, helps minimize dramatic changes in available funds.)
2009 Duke announces plans to trim $125 million from its budget over three years. New construction projects are put on hold for two years and university-wide salary freezes are announced. When FY-09 ends on June 30, Duke’s endowment is down 24.3 percent—a loss of more than a billion and a half dollars. Despite ending FY’09 in the black, and with a balanced budget for FY’10, the Divinity School’s deficits—reflecting shrinking endowment and rising costs—are projected to reach $1.6 million by FY’13. Dean Jones calls for a “new financial model.” In March, faculty and staff are invited to join one of five task forces, each charged with exploring how the school can meet financial challenges in keeping with the school’s mission. The task force recommendations, which range from new degree options to better use of teaching technologies, become the basis for an update of the school’s 2006 strategic plan, which is approved Sept. 21 by the faculty. In his “State of the School,” Dean Jones announces the changes “will help make the Divinity School a financially stronger institution that is better able to fulfill its role of service and witness to the Triune God in the midst of the church, the academy, and the world.” With hoped for approval by the university and the Association of Theological Schools, new degree programs could enroll students beginning in fall semester 2011.
Sources: The Launching of Duke University, 1924-1949, by Robert F. Durden (Duke University Press, 1993); Divinity News & Notes: “75 Years of Transforming Ministry”; and Divinity School Archives.
See more information on Duke Unversity’s response to the financial crisis.