The featured speaker of the retreat was Robert Cooley, who served as president of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary for 16 years. On Friday morning, in “Cultural Context and Change,” Cooley described how a sweeping transformation of the cultural environment is dismantling the “industrial” era of the 19th and 20th centuries. Theological education, like every other type of organization, must leave behind the era of “corporate bureaucracy” – a form of organization well suited to the urbanized, specialized, hierarchical environment of the last two centuries, but poorly suited to the horizontal networks and team systems of a globalized digital world. In afternoon remarks on “Governance Processes and Change,” Cooley described how faculty can learn to navigate the governance of their schools and help build new approaches that will accomplish the mission of theological education with economic sustainability. Audio of his talks are available below and his slides are available here, here, here, and here.
The seminary is already in economic crisis, and it does not have long to respond, he warned. “In 10 years, the faculty as we know it will be a relic.” But wherever schools use their knowledge assets to serve their students, constituencies, and publics, he testified, revenue has always followed. The challenge is that existing processes don’t deliver value in the new context; better processes would do so.
Cooley urged the faculty to become leaders in changing the seminary. “Faculty are responsible for 80 percent of the revenue” in theological education, and this gives them power in their organizations. They have a professional responsibility to use that power to build systems that serve students, constituencies, and publics.