GTS Community Update
February 12, 2011
This Update will expand on several of the subjects mentioned in the one we sent to you on February 7. We would like to reiterate our thanks to the GTS community for the hospitality shown to our visiting trustees last week. It should come as no surprise that many trustees gauge the climate at GTS and how well our mission is realized by the attendance they find at our Chapel worship services. For this reason we were very pleased by the extra effort made by so many of our students, staff, and faculty members to be present in Chapel during the trustees’ visit. An update on the trustees meeting will follow, but first we have some important news to share.
Progress on the Plan to Choose Life
We are delighted to report that the New York State Supreme Court on February 9 ratified the Attorney General’s recommendation that the sale of Chelsea 2,3,4 be allowed to proceed. While a few documents still need to be finalized, this highly significant development allows us to move ahead with a “soft closing” on 2,3,4 and with the full closing that will take place a few weeks later. The full closing will clear the way for our team of professionals to begin work in leveraging the Tutu Center to rebuild the Seminary’s endowment. We are greatly indebted to our attorney Max Friedman for his good work in making this approval a reality.
Please remember that the sale of assets is not only about the reduction of debt and the reduction of high interest costs but is also about increasing student housing on the Close, providing renovated offices, and further eliminating deferred maintenance (on the property being sold). With respect to debt, we have been asked by our bank to reduce our debt as quickly as possible which will mean that “422” needs to be sold by June 30th. Since we must have a vacant building by then, we are busy now assisting outside tenants to find other living arrangements and securing off-campus housing for students this summer and into the fall if needed. This will be discussed in the community meeting this Tuesday. We expect that we may need up to 12 units depending on variables that have yet to be worked out. We are extremely grateful for the spirit of co-operation shown by those whose living quarters will be affected. We are very aware of the stress and inconvenience these relocations cause and thank everyone in advance for their forbearance. If you have not seen it, the rationale behind our plan was featured in a recent story in the Wall Street Journal (Feb. 9 issue, p. A19). Though accurate in most respects, the story wrongly alluded to “declining enrollment” at GTS, while in the interview President Lowrey had been speaking about a church-wide decline. With 59 new students attending GTS this year, our enrollment is very healthy indeed.
February Trustee Meeting
We both want to acknowledge and thank our student representatives to the Board of Trustees. Their contributions to the commission meetings were highly valued (and this is where so much of the Board’s work is done). Likewise at the plenary sessions their comments were thoughtful, forthright, and very much appreciated. Our new meeting format sets aside time for spokespersons representing students, faculty, and staff to address the Board directly with their concerns while also allowing the voting members of the Board to meet by themselves (both with and without the presence of the Dean and the President) for equally beneficial deliberations. Meeting in executive session no longer means that just student, staff, and faculty representatives are excluded but the Dean and the President also. This new format will not only respect the role of all participants but will allow elected trustees time and space to build corporate identity, to become a more cohesive body, and to engage in longer-range discussions about the institution’s future. This format is widely considered a best practice in the governance of many types of institutions.
Of some concern to continuing students will be the decision of trustees to raise tuition at the Seminary by 5% beginning next year. This is a modest increase in light of our ever-increasing operational costs and the fact that there was no increase last year. Trustees believed this action was a fair increase and was needed to fulfill their fiduciary responsibility, especially given that the responsible management of our income sources is being closely monitored. Regarding the related issue of student debt, it needs to be restated that after the goals of the Plan to Choose Life are met (particularly the rebuilding of our endowment) a primary focus will be on finding ways to reduce student indebtedness. At the February meeting trustees began this process by calling for a committee to study the cost of theological education and student debt. The issue of seminarians’ debt has been a church-wide concern voiced by the Society for the Increase of Ministry, General Convention, and others.
Our financial situation has also caused leadership at GTS to reconsider a number of other practices of governance and the Board now has a committee on trusteeship to make recommendations about other changes concerning governance of the Seminary which will be discussed and voted on at their May meeting. These may include an expanded Executive Committee with greater breadth of expertise in the disciplines of business and finance. Although everyone recognizes the value of face-to-face meetings, more telephonic meetings are also being considered as a hedge against the considerable cost of bringing so many participants to New York City and to promote involvement of trustees in all aspects of the Seminary. We will share these recommendations with you as they are published to the trustees. We invite you to check the Newsroom section of the GTS website as more items from the recent trustee meeting (including President Lowrey’s speech) are posted there.
In trustee matters beyond the most current meeting, we have asked the trustees to look into academic governance as well. The recent meeting made everyone acutely aware of the urgent need to replace and add new faculty members, to improve enrollment numbers in our masters degree and certificate programs and to make the necessary changes to make study at GTS more attractive to commuter students. We have therefore asked our Board’s Executive Committee to make a comprehensive evaluation of academic governance at GTS and to recommend changes that need to be along a number fronts, including our faculty policy agreements.
Both your Interim President and Dean believe that we need to make improvements in our Business Office both in its functioning and in customer service. Given the financial challenges and opportunities that GTS faces and the complex nature of the Plan to Choose Life, we have decided that we need a CPA to lead the day-to-day affairs of the Business Office. We are grateful for the past efforts of Frank DiMaiuta as our Associate Vice President and Controller. We would like to thank Frank for his good work in this regard. Frank has agreed to remain with the Seminary until a new CPA controller can be found and to use his best efforts to facilitate a smooth transition, a task we feel can be accomplished in the next 90-120 days.
We also wish to thank Maureen Burnley for her years of service to GTS. We want to focus Maureen more fully on the upcoming renovations and issues with housing as well as on achieving the very demanding timetable presented by the Plan to Choose Life. It is extremely important that the Seminary be on time and on budget with these projects and we believe it will require Maureen’s full time concentration on them. Therefore effective immediately responsibility for human resources will be lodged with Sandra Johnson as CFO. Maureen will remain in her role as Executive Vice President and will assist in the transition this summer when the EVP’s former responsibilities for operations are moved to the Dean’s Office and former finance responsibilities are lodged with the CFO. This new configuration will also strengthen our institutional checks and balances. Sometime in the future Sandra will relocate to Maureen’s current office to gain closer proximity to the Business Office staff and Maureen’s office will move to the second floor of West Building. A new organization chart will soon be uploaded to the Rookery.
GTS Goes Green!
This was a tagline General used to publicize its geothermal heating and cooling initiative several years ago when the articles began to appear inBusiness Week, Christian Science Monitor, and the Chicago Tribute on the Seminary’s innovative program (a New York Times story remains available on line). GTS is still going green and at an accelerating pace! The network printers in our offices now default to double-sided printing to save paper, our communications efforts are going increasingly electronic, other printed materials been enormously reduced, and we are trying to reduce the number of meetings we have for which participants need to attend in person instead of utilizing distance technologies. The carpeting throughtout the Tutu Center and the Keller library are made from recycled materials. Both facilities use only high efficiency lighting, as will the new offices in Seabury. The library and Seabury will be equipped motion detectors. All of the paper and pens used in the Tutu Center are made from recycled materials. The Tutu Center even recycles its cooking oil which is made into biofuels. Our trustees have given great support to these efforts and we hope you will also. Please let us know if you have other ways we can be more environmentally responsible as a seminary.
The Rev. Lang Lowrey The Rt. Rev. Peter James Lee
Interim President Interim Dean