In July, the Board of Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, MA announced that they would cease granting degrees in order to preserve assets for the future mission of the school without exactly defining what that future would be. Many were taken aback by the decision, including the Alumni/ae Association whose executive committee offered a written reply expressing their deep sadness and disappointment;
“Our concern is compounded by the fact that the decision to cease the granting of degrees is not one that was recommended as a first or best choice by the multi-constituency Futures Committee, tasked by the trustees with envisioning a sustainable and vibrant future for our School.”
Though that future still remains unclear at this time, Board Chair, Gary Hall, yesterday sent a letter providing some updates on the process (if not the goal). The letter, in its entirety, is below.
September 13, 2016
Dear Episcopal Divinity School community members:
We’re writing today, as we did last month and as we’ll continue to do this academic year, to update you on our progress toward developing a sustainable plan to conserve the seminary’s resources for future mission.
First, we want to be sure that you saw the good news, released just before the Labor Day long weekend, that the Rev. Dr. William C. Nelsen has joined EDS as interim president. We hope you will be as pleased as we are that such an experienced leader and pastor has joined EDS at this pivotal time. As you may remember, former Interim President Francis Fornaro submitted his resignation at the board meeting in July and made it effective in mid-November, as per the terms of his contract. He asked us, however, to be relieved of his responsibilities as soon as possible, and in order to honor that request, we quickly began the search that brought Interim President Nelsen to us on September 2. We kept Interim President Fornaro apprised of the progress of our search process and notified him well in advance of Interim President Nelsen’s start date. We are grateful to Interim President Fornaro for his seventeen months of service to EDS; he will, of course, be paid his full salary and benefits through his contractual resignation date of November 19, and will be teaching a course on campus this fall.
When the board voted to end degree programs at EDS, we did so to end unsustainable spending and preserve resources for the school’s future mission. One of the principal reasons we made this difficult decision when we did was to insure that we would have adequate resources for student, faculty, and staff transitions. Given current financial trajectories, it would have taken only a few years before those resources would have been significantly diminished. In keeping with our desire to provide generous salary and benefit continuation for all faculty and staff, today the board voted unanimously to approve a plan that more than doubles the severance policy that the board approved in 2009.
Under this new severance plan, all untenured faculty and full time or part time staff whose positions will end in June 2017 and who have not found comparable positions elsewhere will be provided with full salary and benefits for between four and 19 months depending on their length of service at EDS. Tenured faculty will receive 19 months of salary and benefits. All faculty and staff will be provided with outplacement assistance as well as help from the employee assistance program that is already in place with counselors on campus. You can review the details of the salary and benefit continuation plan online; to ensure the privacy of our staff and faculty, positions are identified in it only generally. Interim President Nelsen has met with the staff and faculty today to review the overall plan, and each staff and faculty member will have a private meeting with Samaria Stallings, EDS’s director of human resources, to answer specific questions.
All of us on the board are enormously grateful to Samaria and to EDS’s attorney, Jeffrey Swope, who worked diligently for weeks with the board’s Transitions Committee to develop the salary and benefit plan that we passed today. They were especially responsive between our board meeting last Wednesday when we first discussed the plan and our second meeting today when we took a final vote. It was only with their help that we were able to reach an informed and clear consensus and approve the severance plan with a unanimous vote of the eight board members on the call and the support of four members who were unable to be on the call to vote but indicated their intention to vote in favor of the plan.
Between last week’s board meeting and today’s, we were surprised to receive a resignation letter from Bishop Carol Gallagher ’89, the alumni representative to the board. Bishop Gallagher’s demanding schedule has often made it difficult, understandably, for her to participate fully in board meetings and calls. Even so, we are sorry to lose the benefit of her perspective and passion for EDS, and we wish her well in her ministry across the church.
The board’s next meeting on campus takes place October 27-29. Between now and then, the New Directions Committee will continue considering options for EDS’s future including those in the Futures Task Force report, prepared earlier this year by a group of EDS faculty, staff, trustees, and alums who received suggestions from many people across the EDS community. Many of the possibilities that have been suggested for EDS’s future involve relationships with other institutions, and now the New Directions Committee members are gathering information, financial data, and other perspectives from some of those institutions in order to develop possible paths forward. We are grateful to the scores of EDS community members who have contributed to the Futures process in the last year, and look forward to providing an update on the work of the New Directions Committee at the board meeting in October.
At that meeting or before it by phone, the board also hopes to approve a teach-out plan to ensure continuity in education for EDS students who will not complete their degrees by June 2017. We requested a draft plan from the EDS administration in July and look forward to receiving and reviewing it soon.
The 2016-2017 academic year at EDS began yesterday, and we hope that you will join us in praying for EDS students, faculty, and staff as they begin what will be a year of great change, but also great promise for our common commitment to advancing God’s mission of justice, compassion, and reconciliation.
The Rev. Dr. Gary Hall ’76
Chair, Board of Trustees
Canon Bonnie Anderson (Honorary Degree ’06)
Vice Chair, Board of Trustee