Sunday, June 14, 2009

'The resources we’ve known to support the [Presbyterian] seminary have diminished significantly'

In a letter of 2009, The Reverend Doctor Philip W. Butin, President of The San Francisco Theological Seminary (Presbyterian) wrote: The resources we’ve known to support the seminary have diminished significantly.
This same Spring season, the San Anselmo Seminary is taking action with a strategy supported by its Board:

To overcome a 33 percent decline in the value of its investments, the board of trustees of San Francisco Theological Seminary has approved a four-part strategy to achieve "financial equilibrium"…

• the sale of off-campus property at market prices to add to the seminary's endowment and thus support long-term operating expenses;
• planning for a capital campaign;
• repayment or refinancing of bank debt; and
• a commitment to continue to provide adequate student and faculty housing.

Additionally, several Seminary programs will be eliminated, including three administrative faculty positions. The internship program will find itself under “streamlining,”, and the role of Seminary Chaplain is to be combined with other duties of faculty and staff.

Further impact for the campus and students includes moving the Lloyd Counseling Center, the leasing of the Seminary’s Children Center, and modest salary reductions for employees making more than $50,000 a year. There will be changed or reduced employee benefits.

Children’s Center staff will be retained, but this cannot be guaranteed, reports the Seminary. The Children’s Center’s full time staff members have been offered severance packages.

There are 500 students enrolled on two campuses, tuition is $9,900 a year for the Seminary whose President declares, “At SFTS, we believe that God’s purposes are for the wholeness of the whole world; they don’t end with the church. The church exists for the sake of God’s reign and the restoration of the whole creation.”

Speaking to the reductions and financial plan, he states: “Unfortunately, this is happening all across the country,” explains Butin. “After a year of research and analysis, we are acting decisively to secure the Seminary’s mission and future in preparing a wide diversity of potential church leaders for holistic ministry in the church and world.

“Make no mistake, however. These are painful reductions. We enjoy a very close-knit community on both of our campuses. In San Anselmo, our faculty and students live and study side by side.” There is a Pasadena campus.

In a press statement, the Seminary declares:

• The sale of off campus housing combined with a successful capital campaign will position the Seminary to improve the condition of its San Anselmo property. $1.6 million in operating cuts will enable the Seminary to have balanced budgets for the next three years and time to create new innovative education models that will increase student enrollment and widen the Seminary’s donor base.

• San Anselmo housing options for both faculty and students will be greatly improved, while building and maintenance costs will decrease.

Both Seminary Board and key staff are hopeful of the plan, and notes this quotation from Jeremiah in the Bible in one of its papers on its website:

“For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 12 Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”

This plan set forth by the Seminary is a work of much effort. “The winter of 2008 really forced us to face an economic ‘perfect storm,’” added Barbara Brenner Buder, vice president of finance and administration. “Our endowment assets lost 33 percent
of their value, causing operating deficits to move from manageable to unmanageable levels. In addition, the maintenance of our 47 buildings in San Anselmo was approaching $1 million per year.”

“Administrators, faculty and trustees worked together over the past year to develop a plan that will enable the Seminary to address its pressing financial challenges,” said Jana Childers, dean and professor of homiletics.

The Reverend Doctor Butin clarifies some misunderstandings of the issues, providing more light on plans:

I understand this to be a strategic plan. At what point in your project evaluation period will you know your plan is the right one and working? That you have results?
The seminary has adopted a financial plan to reflect our educational mission that applies to the next five years. The plan will be monitored and adjusted quarterly. The plan includes raising funds over the next three years through sale of off-campus property and a multi-year capital fund-raising campaign. The scope of the campaign has not been determined.
The plan also includes operating cuts of $1.6 million over the next two years. These reductions included a reduction of staff, faculty and operating budget cuts

I note you look to reduce costs of building or property maintenance by $1.6 million a year, a savings of sorts?
This is a misunderstanding. The cuts you mention relate to the operating fund, not the capital maintenance funds. By selling some of our property and building new, more energy efficient student and faculty housing, our maintenance costs will be lower, but we haven’t determined the total savings in this area.

My understanding is the money from the sales will go into student housing, mainly for student families. Is this so?
No, primarily the income from the property sales will be placed in our endowment, which lost one third of its value last winter. Some funds from the property sales may be used for student and faculty housing, but we’re hoping to raise most of those funds from our friends and alumni.

Founded 1871 in San Francisco, and moved to 14-acre hilltop site in San Anselmo in 1890, established the Graduate Theological Union in 1962, a consortium of 9 seminaries housed on the Berkeley campus, the Seminary opened a second SFTS campus in Pasadena in 1990. It’s Mission Statement, as published on its website says, “San Francisco Theological Seminary prepares leaders for the church of Jesus Christ sent by the Holy Spirit in God’s mission to the world. We are scholars and servants of the church devoted to Biblical interpretation and theological education in the Reformed tradition within an ecumenical context. We are committed to the education of students in spiritual formation, critical theological reflection, and the skills and arts of ministry, to serve in congregations, the wider church, the classroom, and the public sphere.”

Notes from the website say,“The Rev. Dr. Philip Butin joined San Francisco Theological Seminary in July 2002 after nearly a decade of service as pastor of Shepherd of the Valley Presbyterian Church in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Dr. Butin was an active member of the Presbytery of Santa Fe and co-founded the Ecumenical Institute for Ministry in New Mexico. He holds an M.Div. degree from Fuller Theological Seminary and a Ph.D. from Duke University.”

Images: Castle. Photo courtesy San Francisco Theological Seminary; The Reverend Doctor Philip W. Butin. Photo courtesy San Francisco Theological Seminary.

--Peter Menkin, Spring, 2009

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