Saturday, February 4, 2012

Protecting Unitarian Universalist Identify

Eighth in a series of posts about the January UUA board meeting

The board took a controversial vote right before I joined it in 2007 -- a reduction from $250,000 to $225,000 each to Meadville Lombard Theological School and Starr King School for the Ministry (the Schools), distributed from a trust established with the board by the North shore Unitarian Universalist Society, now known as Shelter Rock*. This was the first stage of a recommendation from the Panel on Theological Education (Panel), which administers the fund, to drop operational funding to zero over four years.

It was not popular with the Schools, particularly Starr King, whose board members' calls to the UUA board were not particularly welcome. Though the decrease was arrested after a few years at $190,000, the board has never reversed its 2007 position.

Until now. Recognizing that distributing trust funds is not board work, the board voted to transfer the administration of the trust to the Staff. Under Policy Governance®, such moves are delineated with limitations -- in this case, limitations that are meant to safeguard what the Panel had decided it should focus on at their October retreat: Unitarian Universalist identity. As described in my May 7, 2009 post, identity was the path back to right relationship with the two schools. The limitations read:

5. [The President shall not] Jeopardize the formation of Unitarian Universalist identity within our professional ranks. Furthermore the President shall not:

5.1 Jeopardize right relationship with Meadville Lombard Theological School and Starr King School for the Ministry

5.2 Jeopardize the historical relationship between the UUA and Harvard Divinity School

Because this is uncharted territory, the Panel (as represented by me and UUA Director of Ministries and Faith Development Sarah Lammert, both members of the Panel), worked to provide the second step in this Carver-structured transfer: an operational definition that outlined how right relationship with Meadville Lombard and Starr King would be defined and measured, and the historic relationship with Harvard will be maintained. The idea was to provide some comfort to the board over how this trust would be administered.

The motion was approved with one abstention: the abstention to make a point that the three schools mentioned had Unitarian heritage, not Universalist, and had not always been hospitable to People of Color.

Though I am happy with the outcome of the vote, I am happier still with the process we went through to get there. The ideas behind the transfer started with the Panel itself, the policy crafted with the help of the Panel chair (Rob Eller-Isaacs). The operational definition was a collaborative process that brought out the best of our respective board/staff roles.

This is how Policy Governance should work.

*A paper with the background of the establishment of the trust and historic relationship between the Schools and the UUA board was provided in the January 2012 board packet, available from the UUA website.


John A Arkansawyer said...

Linda, I'm puzzled about something. The original funds cut you mentioned was a board action. The limitation later passed was on the president.

So, I don't get it.

It seems to me the board should be attempting to limit the ability of itself, and of future boards, to shortchange the seminaries.

What am I missing?

Linda Laskowski said...

We have transferred the responsibility for dispersing the Panel funds to the President -- the Board no longer will approve what is distributed to the Schools, which they did up until last year. The operational interpretation, which I mentioned but did not include in the post (it is also available in the January board packet) calls for at least 60% of the funds (between $550k and $600K per year) to go to the Schools, which was the original proposal. With the move to Policy Governance, the Board no longer approves any line items in the budget, but rather monitors whether or not various conditions are met, such as being balanced, based on reasonable assumptions, and in line with the Shared Vision (goals) of the Association.

Linda Laskowski said...

To clarify -- the total funds to be dispersed each year are between $550 and $600 k, so the minimum is 60% of that. A "predictable amount" will be determined by the UUA president working with the presidents of the Schools.