Trustees from Episcopal Divinity School (EDS) released a letter today that reveals staggering financial losses at the troubled progressive seminary.
According to Board of Trustees Chair Gary Hall and Vice-Chair Canon Bonnie Anderson, the October 27-29 trustees meeting on the seminary’s Cambridge, Massachusetts campus “accepted the 2016 audit report which contained the sobering news that EDS’s net assets decreased by $7.9 million (11%) in the last fiscal year.” The deficit is nearly a third larger than EDS Board Treasurer Dennis Stark revealed in July, an amount that was already 30 percent “above a reasonable amount” according to the official.
This follows a decrease of nearly $6.5 million (8.5%) in 2015.
“As the fiduciary stewards of EDS’s assets and mission, we are obviously dismayed at the size of EDS’s losses, but the news has redoubled our commitment to finding a more sustainable and prudent future for the seminary by the end of fiscal year 2017,” Hall and Anderson wrote.
One of ten seminaries educating students for ministry in the Episcopal Church, EDS announced in July that it will cease granting degrees at the conclusion of the current academic year, citing “unsustainable” levels of spending. At the same time, the school’s dean tendered his resignation.
At the time, EDS was thought to have the second-largest financial reserves among Episcopal seminaries. According to the school, EDS’s investments were valued at approximately $53 million plus the real estate value of its campus, which is adjacent to Harvard University. More than half of the endowment is restricted.
The seminary, already among the smallest members of the Association of Theological Schools, disclosed today that it will only have 23 students remaining after the last degree-granted class is graduated in 2016.
In August, Hall wrote about the seminary’s transition planning: “The endowment has been dwindling at an alarming rate (see Anthony Ruger’s financial presentation to the trustees) in the last several years as we sought to maintain degree programs that are not sustainable.”
In September trustees approve a severance plan that will cost approximately $2.5 million if all benefits are claimed. Arrangements for “teaching out” the EDS students who will not have completed their degrees by next May will likely involve another tiny liberal Episcopal seminary, Bexley-Seabury, which is housed at Chicago Theological Seminary, to complete the degrees of distributive learning students. United Methodist-affiliated Boston University School of Theology will take in EDS residential students.
According to Hall and Anderson, only seven of the teach-out students are Episcopalians in an ordination process; they come from three dioceses.
A committee tasked with reviewing proposals for EDS’s future has culled a list of nine potential partners to three finalists; a final partner will be selected in February.
Episcopal Divinity School is regarded as one of the Episcopal Church’s most liberal seminaries. The seminary’s board describes EDS as “leaders in educational programs that are enlivened by theologies of liberation, especially the many voices of feminist, congregational, ecumenical, and global studies.”
UPDATE [11/17/2016]: Figures for the 2015-2016 academic year made available by the Association for Theological Schools reveal a massive disparity between the financial expenditures of EDS in contrast to other Episcopal seminaries. EDS reported total expenditures of $7,237,000, nearly 30 percent greater than the $5,159,000 of Trinity School for Ministry the same year. This is despite the fact that EDS has a student body only 23% the size of Trinity (in total headcount) and a faculty 25% the size of Trinity (full-time equivalent). EDS expended approximately $150,000 per enrolled student, in contrast to $24,000 expended per enrolled student at Trinity.