Do we seek Efficient Graduations or Effective Graduates?
The Confessing Movement is an unofficial caucus within the United Methodist Church that seeks to maintain or revert the doctrine and practice of the UMC to traditional/orthodox perspectives.
One of the CM’s constant criticisms is of the seminaries (the academy) because all that pesky knowledge past the 17th century, interaction with other valid ways of believing, and varieties of theological tools seem to get in the way of doctrinal rigidity. Oddly enough.
Their attack line in the past few years has been to focus on the cost per graduating seminarian with the framework that some seminaries don’t graduate as many Methodist clergy as others and yet they get the same funding as the ones that graduate a lot. They seem to often take aim at the two UM seminaries who are closest to my heart: Boston University (BU), my alma mater, and Claremont (CST), the California seminary that does lots of interfaith work and indeed now is a multi-faith initiative.
Here’s one of the CM’s articles from 2011.
In 2009 Boston School of Theology received $863,235 dollars from the Ministerial Education Fund (MEF). For this investment a grand total of seven students in 2008 received United Methodist ordination at the cost of $123,319 per student. The School of Theology at Claremont did a bit better; ten students from Claremont were in the newly ordained elders and deacons 2008 class in the various conferences. The church’s investment per Claremont ordained student totaled $84,967.
And now this week’s article from 2012:
Last year the United Methodist Church gave Claremont $869,000 in funding. During that year a total of eight United Methodist students graduated. Figure that cost per student! Just imagine what that $869,000 could have produced if it had been designated for seminary training in Africa!
So their basic point is that the UMC is investing over $100k per student who graduates from these two particular heathen seminaries. Why are we wasting so much money on them? The “good” Methodist seminaries (as if there is such a thing to the CM) churn out preachers more efficiently and the cost-per-graduate is half the above in some cases.
If I was a bit arrogant, I would say this:
- Both seminaries are in the American mission fields of United Methodism: BU in New England, CST in the Western Jurisdiction. Both of these annual conferences have had significant membership losses during the past few decades and are now practically considered to be mission fields due to their high numbers of non-Christians and, moreso, non-Methodists. Is there any wonder that less UMs go to these mission outposts than the other seminaries who have it easy and are reflecting their predominantly Christian culture? So do we abandon the mission posts to Satan (rhetorically or literally)? And how many Southern pastors are applying to move to these mission fields, anyway?
If I was rather arrogant, I would say this:
- Both seminaries train more religious specialists than pastors. I’m in the minority as a pastor in my class as most were going onto higher education or social services positions. Doesn’t it take more money and training to be a specialist? Ones who can be a Protest Chaplain with Occupy Wall Street and know how to use nonviolent rhetoric and action? Ones who can advocate with Interfaith Worker Justice and know how to reinforce workers self-worth to God and to each other? Ones who can create novel approaches to interfaith dialogue so they can share a common mission to serve others even as they keep their own values and identites. Ones who…you get my drift? Little wonder that it takes less money per student at some other seminaries: they train primarily pastors. Even though each individual pastor has obviously amazing gifts and graces and can customize their advanced classes, the approach is more broad than specialized. Just as it costs more to become a specialist surgeon than a family practice doctor, religious specialists cost more money but hopefully give back knowledge and practices that benefit the whole. Don’t mistake my meaning with this paragraph: It doesn’t make them better, but it does make them more expensive.
And if I was really arrogant, I would say this:
- Look, I’m worth $100,000 dollars. I could have taken my presumed gifts to other venues. I could have applied my computer skills and be earning $100k as a computer specialist. I could have applied my writing skills and be earning $100k a year from journalistic endeavors. I can pantomime as well. 😉 Instead I’m serving a church that I won’t even earn half those wages until I’m probably 40, much less $100k a year unless I go the mega-church route (doubtful). Some of my friends are powerful singers and writers and technical specialists but instead of going the way of fame and money, they became pastors, to our benefit. Are we worth it?
- Here’s the kicker: even if I paid a full tithe on my $100k a year, it would be far less than the amount I encourage my church to pay its full apportionment each year (which they do) as a pastor. And given that each clergyperson costs the denomination 2.1 million dollars if they have a 40 year tenure, my full personal tithe of that would be $210,000. Back to the church that contributed to my education. So really, I’m worth $100k and so are hundreds of seminarians like me. [restart humility]
Luckily, I’m not really that arrogant so I’m not going to say those things….oops. 😉
Can we do better? Can we make the cost-per-student ratio better? Of course. I just fail to see how $100k per seminary student is not a good investment, even if other seminaries manage a smaller cost-per-student ratio. Are we seeking efficient graduations or effective graduates? My hope is the latter, and if so, then a variety of gifts, the many parts of the Body of Christ…some parts just cost more. And that’s okay.