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Stated Clerk/Committee on Theological Education express concern on San Francisco Theological Seminary merger

(OGA) The Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and the Committee on Theological Education (COTE) have released statements on last year’s merger between San Francisco Theological Seminary (SFTS) and the University of Redlands (UR). Both say the merger, which occurred on July 1, 2019, has raised questions about how the institutions relate to the vision, goals, and mission of the PC(USA).

“As Stated Clerk, I reaffirm the denomination’s commitment to the growth and support of theological education institutions whose ecclesial mission and professions, as reflected in those institutions’ governing documents and leadership structures, align with the ecclesial and theological commitments of the PC(USA),” said the Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the PC(USA). “Our call as stewards is also to honor the intent of many faithful donors whose giving has enabled the pursuit of theological education within our PC(USA)-related theological schools. As the questions raised by the SFTS/UR merger are addressed, these ecclesial and fiduciary commitments will continue to guide our collective endeavors as a denomination and any next steps.”

The San Francisco Theological Seminary campus in San Anselmo, Calif. —(Photo courtesy of SFTS)

In its statement, COTE said it appreciates the expressed intention of the University of Redlands to preserve, through the merger, a Presbyterian ethos and education.

“But the University of Redlands is governed by a board of trustees who have legal control over faculty appointments (which require a balance among the world’s religious and wisdom traditions) and sale of assets (including the campus),” the statement reads. “After six years, there is no requirement of any Presbyterians on the UR Board, and after five years the proceeds from any sale of former SFTS assets may be used as determined in the discretion of that board, who are fiduciaries for the University of Redlands and not for the former SFTS. In short, COTE is concerned that the distinguished legacy of the former SFTS could disappear after five years.”

Under the conditions of the merger, SFTS became a program of study within U of R’s newly formed Graduate School of Theology. Various PC(USA) entities have been engaged with the university regarding the impact of the merger. In recent weeks, the UR has issued various public statements to alumni/ae on the matter, including the announcement of a remedial case that has been filed within the General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission.

The full statements of both the Stated Clerk and COTE are below.

by Rick Jones, Office of the General Assembly

Statement from The Stated Clerk of the General Assembly:

Reaffirmation of Denominational Commitments

One of our historic Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) seminaries, San Francisco Theological Seminary (SFTS), recently merged into the University of Redlands (UR), becoming a program of study within a newly formed Graduate School of Theology within that non-sectarian institution. This event has raised questions concerning our understanding of the mission of our theological education institutions and their commitment to the vision, goals, and mission of the PC(USA). It has also raised questions of stewardship of assets that were given to support the mission of theological education by and for the church. Various entities within our PC(USA) family are carefully considering these questions with the University of Redlands.

As Stated Clerk, I reaffirm the denomination’s commitment to the growth and support of theological education institutions whose ecclesial mission and professions, as reflected in those institutions’ governing documents and leadership structures, align with the ecclesial and theological commitments of the PC(USA). Our call as stewards is also to honor the intent of many faithful donors whose giving has enabled the pursuit of theological education within our PC(USA)-related theological schools. As the questions raised by the SFTS/UR merger are addressed, these ecclesial and fiduciary commitments will continue to guide our collective endeavors as a denomination and any next steps.

— The Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

Stated from COTE:

Many public statements have made inaccurate and inflammatory claims about the actions of the Committee on Theological Education (COTE) regarding the changes brought about by the merger of San Francisco Theological Seminary into the University of Redlands.

On July 1, 2019, by vote of its board, San Francisco Theological Seminary (SFTS) was legally dissolved as an entity and merged into the University of Redlands (UR), a university with a stated non-sectarian mission that has no formal relationship with the PC(USA). SFTS dissolved its articles of incorporation and bylaws, its board of trustees, and the position of president. As described by University of Redlands, the SFTS that was has become and is now a program of study within its Graduate School of Theology (GST). On July 1, 2019, all its assets became assets of the University of Redlands.

COTE values the long legacy of theological education in the Presbyterian Reformed tradition rendered by SFTS through the years leading up to the merger, and specifically values the presence of such education on the west coast. Since learning of the merger, COTE has aimed to protect and preserve that historic legacy and the intentions of generations of faithful Presbyterians whose gifts sustained the former SFTS as a denominational seminary.

COTE repeatedly invited the UR to provide information that would help it understand the impact of the merger and inform its consideration of what kind of formal relationship with the University of Redlands might be appropriate. COTE asked questions about ecclesial identity, governance structures, accountability to the denomination and its mission, and stewardship of assets given exclusively or explicitly for theological education in a Presbyterian seminary (including its campus).

UR delayed sharing the full merger agreement with COTE until late February 2020 — seven months after the merger went into effect. The agreement confirmed many of COTE’s concerns about the legal ability to ensure the long-term protection of the legacy of the former SFTS and its donors.

COTE appreciates the expressed intention of the University of Redlands to preserve, through the merger, a Presbyterian ethos and education. But the University of Redlands is governed by a board of trustees who have legal control over faculty appointments (which require a balance among the world’s religious and wisdom traditions) and sale of assets (including the campus). After six years, there is no requirement of any Presbyterians on the UR board, and after five years the proceeds from any sale of former SFTS assets may be used as determined in the discretion of that board, who are fiduciaries for the University of Redlands and not for the former SFTS. In short, COTE is concerned that the distinguished legacy of the former SFTS could disappear after five years.

In post-merger discussions, the University of Redlands has insisted it is interested only in institutional membership in COTE, the same form of membership held by SFTS when it was an independent PC(USA) institution. COTE has communicated its desire for a relationship on numerous occasions but one that recognizes SFTS’ new realities. The possibility COTE has presented is its long-standing category of covenant membership that allows for development of a covenant specifically tailored to the University of Redlands’s Graduate School of Theology (SFTS as a program of study is now part of the GST). As stated in its report to the 224th General Assembly (2020), COTE hopes to bring a membership recommendation for the Graduate School of Theology of UR to General Assembly following successful completion of those conversations, with the aim of protecting and preserving the legacy of theological education in the Presbyterian Reformed tradition on the west coast.

 

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