Episcopal Divinity School

November 14, 2016

Shuttering Episcopal Divinity School Burning Cash

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.


  • Mike Ward

    Is this the school that was trying to make itself sustainable a couple of years ago, but had all their plans blocked by the faculty?

    • wyclif

      No, I think that was General Seminary in NY.

      • Mike Ward

        I remember that one. That’s the one that fired most of its faculty. But there was another one that had a battle between the faculty and leadership I think.

        • Jeff Walton

          Yes, there was conflict at EDS as well as General. The EDS faculty voted “no confidence” in then-dean Katharine Ragsdale over a cancelled governance assessment project in which faculty protested that they were shut out of planning. She departed within two years. More here: https://juicyecumenism.com/2015/01/05/high-priestess-abortion-exit-episcopal-divinity-school/

          • Mike Ward

            Thanks.

            I see the article you link, links to another that includes this comment: “A team of consultants canceled a governance assessment project in June [2014] in the wake of public protest from dissenting faculty, who said they were shut out of planning. The consultants’ decision to withdraw leaves EDS unable to launch the review, which was supposed to lead to a new business model at the Cambridge, Massachusetts, school.”

            I don’t know who was right in this fight, but I do find it interesting that it impeded their ability to create a new business model which in hind sight they very clearly needed.

          • Jeff Walton

            This is essentially the same matter raised by GTS Dean Kurt Dunkle, that the old way of doing things wasn’t working — and hadn’t worked for some time — but that entrenched older faculty were firmly against any change. Either way, a denomination of 1.8 million members doesn’t need ten different seminaries, it probably could be effectively served by five.

  • Razz

    As a priest who graduated from Seabury-Western (now shuttered) in Evanston, shortly after it closed I looked around the Episcopal seminary landscape and realized that with one exception all of the seminaries were free-standing graduate schools offering degrees in only one discipline, theology. The only seminary that is part of a university setting is at the University of the South. It appears that many other traditions have seminaries who are graduate school- more appropriately, I suppose, divinity schools- and seem to be in much better shape fiscally than the “stand alone” seminaries, but that is just my observation. Would be curious if my observation is on the right track.

    • Jeff Walton

      I’m told that the only free-standing Episcopal Church seminaries which are on a sound long-term financial footing are VTS and Trinity. Sewanee and Berkeley are tied to larger schools, and GTS, EDS and Bexley-Seabury are really on the ropes. I’m told Nashotah is doing “okay”. I know little about CDSP or Seminary of the Southwest.