EDS sets the record straight

by Jon White

In an earlier post we reported that there was some confusion emanating from the Cambridge city council concerning the campus property being sold by Episcopal Divinity School.  Local media had reported that the sale had “hit a snag” because some of the campus is owned or co-owned by Lesley University.  EDS Board Chair Gary Hall has since offered a statement to clarify the situation for concerned Episcopalians and local residents.

 

Statement from Board Chair Gary Hall on EDS Property

 A pair of stories regarding the property that Episcopal Divinity School owns in Cambridge have caused some confusion, particularly a story on the Curbed Boston website suggesting that the sale of the property had hit a “serious snag.” That isn’t the case. Indeed, the brokers with whom EDS is working have not yet circulated any offering materials regarding the Cambridge property that EDS will be offering to sell. Here is how the confusion occurred:

On Monday evening the Cambridge city council discussed a proposal by one city councilor to approach EDS about buying its property and developing it as low-income housing. It is true that EDS is, in fact, planning to sell its property as it moves into a new affiliation with Union Theological Seminary in New York City. However, EDS had no conversations with the city councilor who drafted the proposal so that EDS could confirm what property it owns in Cambridge that will be offered for sale, and was unaware that he would be making his proposal until he filed it.

Many of the participants in Monday night’s discussion before the Cambridge city council were apparently unaware that EDS had sold a significant portion of its campus to Lesley University between 2008 and 2010 and does not own all of the buildings or land that the city councilor suggested the city develop. When that fact came to light, it constituted a “snag,” but only for the city councilor’s proposal. Some of the reporting on the council meeting has left the impression that EDS was counting on selling property it had already sold to Lesley. That is not the case. When the EDS Board of Trustees made the decision to affiliate with Union, it knew about the prior sales to Lesley and exactly what property EDS still owns in Cambridge that it could offer for sale.

No negotiation with any potential buyer for the purchase of EDS’s property in Cambridge has yet begun, but one thing we can promise: we will not attempt to sell property that EDS does not own.

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Jim Strader-Sasser
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It is good news to hear from Board Chair Hall. His statement helps to resolve confusions in what is occurring at 99 Brattle. Albeit he places such confusion upon the Cambridge City Council's councilor who proposed to purchase the property. I suggest that Episcopal Divinity School is coincidentally responsible for the confusion.

It is difficult, at least initially, to determine what property EDS does and does not own on its former campus in Cambridge. This problem is indicative of other difficulties EDS' Board of Trustees has had in terms of expressing its intentions. In my opinion, the Board of Trustees has struggled to operate transparently and collaboratively with its immediate stakeholders and neighbors. The trustees have generally struggled to navigate through a myriad of adaptive problems. This is comprehensible given that human systems almost inherently resist change and or implementing new and creative solutions. Therein, it seems to me, that there are significant learning opportunities here for Episcopalians. My purpose here is not to shame or blame anyone. My Foundations Class instructors at Episcopal Divinity School taught me and others to actively listen and strive to craft interventions promoting well being as well as nurturing clarity and maturation. My purpose is to therefore ask: What should we be learning and how can we better handle the difficulties that we observe at EDS? Hundreds of parishes and missions across the denomination as well as other academic and missional organizations are dealing with similar institutional closures. Fiduciaries and stakeholders alike are wrestling with how to reallocate millions of dollars of resources even as they should be caring for the associated human pain and suffering that occurs when traveling through such difficult times. How would Jesus Christ guide us to accomplish such work?

Specifically, On May 19th, Episcopal Divinity School released a statement regarding its pending affiliation with Union Theological Seminary. The statement included this paragraph: "EDS plans to purchase a floor in a new building being constructed at Union that will house offices, residential space for the dean, and other facilities. The EDS campus in Cambridge will be sold after operations there cease in July, and the proceeds will be added to the school’s endowment, currently valued at $53 million." (J. Naughton, para. 11). A reader could very well assume that the phrase "EDS campus" implies that the entire campus is for sale. This statement does not indicate that Lesley University owns a significant percentage of the property. Moreover, It is quite difficult, at least for me, to determine via EDS' website or any other resource that some sort of joint property ownership exists between Lesley and Episcopal Divinity School.

Further examination of the Cambridge Day article suggests that a spokesperson from Lesley University was confused by the city official's proposal. My inference is that the Cambridge City Official may not have done as much research as possible. And, I believe that EDS' communications regarding its conclusion of activities at EDS were not as transparent as they should have been. What means might Lesley and EDS used to prevent such confusion and spark additional controversy? Where there elements of this transition that EDS' Board of Trustees avoided that we would almost assuredly avoid if we were in their shoes? If so, what can we do to name the issues and remedy them as they apply to our own contexts and circumstances?

One of the goals of transformational Christian leadership is to motivate people to creatively tackle tough challenges with Christ-like compassion, patience, and justice. This means that people exercising leadership, especially when they seek to do so from positions of authority need to work wisely to communicate clearly and collaboratively. These skills are critical when dealing with organizational decline, death, and rebirthing efforts. It is impossible to avoid suffering and loss in such times. And, our faith, and hope for resurrective renewal is dependent upon upholding the best values and virtues of our belief In Christ's reconciliation, compassion, and justice. This is true especially for those of us who are encountering similar adaptive challenges to be clear about their/our intentions, aware of the resistance we will encounter, and a willingness to collaborate and communicate when it is reasonable and righteous to do so with the communities they serve as well as to external partners.

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