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President's Community Update - August 27, 2010

GTS Community Update from President Lowrey
August 27, 2010


These are busy days for our faculty, students, and staff members as we are all gearing up for Orientation Week and the start of classes. Many of us have the added anxieties of moving into a new home and beginning life as students after many years away from school. It’s a time of new beginnings for everyone. Throughout the turbulent times in our lives worship and prayer are always powerfully centering elements, and so in the days ahead I would invite us all to be present in the Chapel of the Good Shepherd for as many of the services as we are able and, of course, to be faithful in our daily prayers. You have received several updates from me over the summer (also available at in the Newsroom section). This update will fill you in on important new developments in several areas.

Seminary Finances
As explained in my last update, GTS and M&T Bank finalized a $5.3 million short-term loan on August 9. We are drawing upon these funds for current operating expenses. The loan will be repaid from the sale of residential units in the building known as Chelsea 2,3,4. Revenue realized from this sale is also expected to reduce the Seminary’s overall bank debt by up to $3.9 million. While the loan achieves the critical goal of sustaining us through the upcoming school year, it is a small component of the following four-point plan that the Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees and I are working on to achieve financial and institutional health:

•    Eliminate all significant debt. The Seminary cannot afford to service its $33 million of current bank debt (which, with the sum the Seminary has borrowed from its endowment, totals $36 million). Moreover, GTS is an institution that should really carry no debt whatsoever.

•    Restore our endowment.  The Seminary’s current $13 million endowment must be restored to a level of at least $50 million to yield sufficient revenues to sustain operations.

•    Balance our budget. With a negative cash flow of over $5 million annually, we must find ways to reduce operating expenses and increase revenues.

•    Refresh and renew our institutional health and mission. Financial instability has had an understandably negative effect on our programs and mission.  We need to refresh GTS to full institutional health and vibrancy. This will be a major focus of Bishop Peter James Lee, our new Dean.

Together the first two points of the plan, eliminating debt and restoring our endowment, represent a “swing” of over $60 million. We are actively investigating how the Seminary’s current assets can be leveraged to generate this sizable level of cash. The specific actions that we must take to effectively eliminate our debt and restore our endowment are currently being formulated. Even while they are in the formative stages it is clear they hold much promise but involve risks and pitfalls as well.  I hope to continue this process and, with the Executive Committee’s approval, to be able to submit a detailed plan to the full Board of Trustees at their meeting in October.

New Operational Structure
The elements of our four-point plan cannot be undertaken sequentially but must be achieved in tandem with each other. Toward the goal of balancing our budget some very difficult staff reductions have been recently implemented. I regret to report we have had to do a reduction in force this past week that included staff members in a number of GTS departments. I would like to thank all of those leaving GTS for their dedication to the Seminary and for the contributions they have made to our mission. We were as generous as possible with the terms and conditions of the notice and severance and, it should be noted, Tutu Center Coordinator and M.Div. student Chris Ballard resigned in order to undertake full-time study. These staff reductions, along with other related changes, will generate over $500,000 in savings. Although we anticipate no further significant reductions in our work force, we are working on some additional departmental reorganizations. The outcome of this I hope to report to you in my next community update.

New Working Group

Our life together last year and over the summer has been significantly impacted by increasing use of the Close for outside events and weddings. This is a sizable revenue stream for the Seminary. Another change to which we must adjust is the presence of our neighbors in the Chelsea Enclave. While these changes can involve understandable tensions, I do hope we will not succumb to having a fortress mentality about our Seminary. The church commissioned by Christ after all exists for the world and not the world for the church.  To address the very real issues of privacy and security however, I have asked Billy Webster, our Director of Admissions, to convene a working group composed of staff, faculty, and students to consider ways in which the tensions arising out of our new openness can be effectively addressed.

Conduct Compliance Officers
This is a new title for the position held by Prof. Deirdre Good until her sabbatical term began. It assures that the Seminary has designated officers to whom any member of our community can bring concerns about sexual harassment, the safety of our children, or instances of discrimination of any kind. I am pleased to report that Debra Bush Ford, Financial Aid Administrator and Drew Kadel, Director of the St. Mark’s Library, are now our Conduct Compliance Officers. You may turn to either of them in complete confidence with any of these concerns knowing they will take immediate and proper action.

IT Survey
A survey of the Seminary’s information technology will be underway shortly, aimed at increasing end-users’ abilities as well as the capabilities of our network. More on this in future updates.

As mentioned in a recent email concerning Orientation Week, we are working to consolidate several Seminary calendars to create a single, all inclusive source for all Seminary programs and events. In the meantime, please note that the designated purpose of the calendar on the Seminary’s website is to inform external audiences of public events happening at the Seminary.
The calendar on iGoogle is the seminary’s academic calendar. I plan to have news for you soon about a new comprehensive calendar for all events.

Tuesday Nights
Seminary alumni/ae from not too long ago will remember the wonderful sense of community enabled by having an evening meal together following the Holy Eucharist on Tuesday nights. I am pleased to report we have reinstated this supper and that it will be free to members of the community. It will be a simple meal consisting of a hearty soup, salad, bread, and, I’m told, a scrumptious desert. Please plan to make this a part of your week.

Our Faculty
I  would also like to recognize our esteemed faculty for all the work they have done over the summer to prepare for the upcoming school year, not only to prepare the full slate of offerings for the Michaelmas term, but also for the work of Dr. Ted Gerbracht in arranging courses featuring our splendid adjuncts and visiting professors.

Bishop Peter James Lee
As reported earlier, Bishop Peter James Lee, will be joining us for several events during Orientation Week and, after completing his ministry at Grace Cathedral, San Francisco, will arrive as our Dean on September 30, in time to officiate at our Matriculation Service.  Those of you present for Orientation will want to extend to him a warm GTS welcome.

I realize that nearly all the news in this update involves change, something all of us have difficulty with from time to time. But I would challenge us that our stated mission is to educate and form leaders for the church in a changing world. We, as the church, are in the “change business” and have been agents of change from our earliest days.  So, as we begin this school year perhaps the challenge before us is to actually embrace change, knowing its proven potential to reify our mission in the world!

As always, I’m pleased to meet with you to discuss questions or concerns you may have about items in this update or other matters related to our life together. Simply contact Chris McFadden to schedule a time with me. Best wishes for the exciting days ahead!

God’s peace,

The Rev. Lang Lowrey
Interim President

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