Union Theological Seminary
chooses ‘dying’ brand name
By Edward Terry, The Layman, May 28, 2009
Union Theological Seminary and Presbyterian Christian Education, with campuses in Richmond, Va. and Charlotte, N.C., now will be called Union Presbyterian Seminary.
Photo courtesy of Union Presbyterian Seminary.
Union Theological Seminary and Presbyterian School of Christian Education has dropped “theology” and “school of Christian Education” from its name. Already in use but not official yet, the new name will be Union Presbyterian Seminary.
Approved May 15 by the board of trustees, the new name was announced this week by Union’s president, Brian K. Blount. The renaming comes at a time of transition for Union, which welcomed a new president in 2008 and is implementing a five-year strategic plan that could bring additional changes to Union. Goals stated in the strategic plan include: lessening dependence on its endowment, balancing the budget by 2014, decreasing enrollment and initiating the largest capital campaign in school history.
In a sermon posted on Union’s Web site, Blount acknowledged that the name change might be tough for some to swallow and described his own apprehension to it, but also says the name change is key to Union’s future.
Citing names that didn’t make the cut, including Crosshill, Grace, New Union and Providence, Blount describes why “Union Presbyterian Seminary” fit best. Putting “Union” and “Presbyterian” together offers more than a name, but a cause, he said.
“Perhaps that is what we Presbyterians have been lacking so much for so long,” he said. “We have issues, Lord knows, we have issues. But we have no cause. Perhaps the cause is us, telling the world about us, not giving up on us.”
Reactions have been positive and most of the criticisms have been tongue-in-cheek, said Phil Graham, interim director of communications.
“The concern has been with the acronym it creates,” he said of UPS, which is most commonly identified with United Parcel Service.
Acknowledging the loss of PCUSA membership in his sermon, Blount offered a preemptive defense of giving “Presbyterian” a higher profile.
“The word looks to the past in a world whose future appears more and more likely to be non-denominational,” he said. “Presbyterian as a brand and as a church is I fear, dying. Perhaps the cutbacks and enduring staff layoffs at Presbyterian central in Louisville is a metaphor for the entire church, shrinking away before our eyes.
“The people who stay will determine how significant what is left will be. In naming ourselves, we have a chance to position ourselves inside the shrink or outside it. We have the opportunity to fight.
“If we are as ecumenical as we have always claimed we are, here is our chance to live what we say by not running from our name but by reinvigorating what our name stands for.
“Union promises not to let PSCE disappear because Union is both Union Theological and PSCE,” Blount said in his sermon. “Those who have fought and continue to fight for all that PSCE was and is will and must continue to do so through a legacy that is stronger than any name because the name is built upon the legacy.”
As for the removal of “theological” from the title, it’s an implied part of most seminary names, Blount said.
“We’ve not moved away from that at all,” he said. “What the name signifies in this case is a way of trying to recognize the strengths of the two previous institutions that have been really critical to the lifeblood of what we do in theological education in Richmond and Charlotte … It’s always implied in the work a seminary does.”
Though the new name already is being used, it could be a year or more before it’s more widely used. The strategic plan calls for the new identity and mission to be implemented no later than the 2010-2011 academic year. The next step for the identity change will come with a report in November when the board of trustees meets.
The last name change for the institution followed the 1997 merger between the seminary and Presbyterian School of Christian Education. The seminary was founded in 1812 and relocated from Hampden-Sydney College to Richmond in 1898.
Plans for the future
Financial and property issues are at the top of the strategic planning list for Union over the next five years. Plans to balance the budget include shrinking enrollment, selling some buildings on the Richmond campus and paring down degree offerings.
According to the registrar’s office, total enrollment for the 2008-2009 academic year was 344, with 221 at the Richmond campus, 88 at the Charlotte campus and 35 in the Extended Campus Program. Union’s strategic plan calls for the seminary to lower enrollment to a number that can be supported by the seminary’s resources. The plan does not have a target, but does call for an applicant increase of 30 percent.
In 1997, Union’s endowment was estimated at $101.7 million and has since shrunk to $83 million, Graham said. The loss of nearly $20 million is attributed to the recent stock market woes, as well as dipping into those funds to operate the school. The plan sets a goal of a balanced budget by 2014 and drawing no more than 5 percent annually from the endowment, which in 2007 ranked sixth in size for U.S. seminaries.
Budget cuts in personnel, property and programs will be considered to accomplish those goals, and in some cases, the cuts have already begun. In December, eight full-time positions were eliminated and five faculty members will not be replaced after they retire, Graham said.
Union also has suspended its Master of Arts (Theological Studies), dual Master of Divinity/Master of Social Work dual degree, dual Master of Arts in Christian Education/Master of Social Work and the Doctor of Minister degrees. Graham said all students currently enrolled will be able to finish their degrees, but new students will not be accepted into the suspended degree offerings. The plan calls for the future elimination of the MATS and MACE/MSW and M.Div/MSW degrees, but will bring back the Ph.D. degree, which has temporarily suspended admissions, as soon as it’s fiscally possible.
Both campuses can count on some major physical changes in the coming years as well. The plan will consolidate all seminary services and activities in Richmond to the historic quadrangle and include the sale of the DuBose, Lingle and Newbury properties. Charlotte operations will be moved off the campus of Queens University by 2012 when the lease expires. Blount said a space committee is considering two primary options: leasing an existing space or looking for a location to build physical space. The plan also calls for more connectivity among its three platforms (Richmond, Charlotte and the Extended Campus Program) allowing students to utilize them interchangeably, as well as a new emphasis on securing new faculty positions in evangelism and New Testament.