A Flourishing Seminary, a Flourishing University

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Guest column by Terry L. Brensinger, Ph.D., president, Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary

You’ve perhaps heard that the Fresno Pacific University Board of Trustees voted at its meeting last October to give Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary and its committee far greater authority in overseeing the work of the seminary. This decision came after a rather lengthy process of discernment, a process that included a consultation with the Association of Theological Schools (the seminary’s accrediting agency) President, Daniel Aleshire. Why, however, was such a decision made and what does it actually mean?

The decision to grant greater authority to the seminary and its committee, first of all, was made because the FPU Board agreed that such authority would ultimately empower the seminary to carry out its mission more effectively. The board reached such a decision, not because the seminary is “better” than other schools in the university, but because it is “different.”

The seminary, for example:

  • Has a long and rich history apart from the university
  • Nurtures its own constituency that extends beyond the Rockies
  • Raises a significant amount of funds to support its operation
  • Recruits students with a unique vocational calling
  • Serves as the national seminary for the Mennonite Brethren Church

In short, the board acted as it did for the same primary reason that it earlier approved the designation “president” for the seminary’s chief administrator; namely, to give the seminary freedom to pursue its mission among both its traditional and expanding constituencies.

But what does the decision to give the seminary and its committee greater authority actually mean in everyday practice? To be clear, it does not mean that the seminary has regained status independent of the university, nor does it imply a desire on the seminary’s part to withdraw from the university’s corporate life. Both are far from the truth. What it does mean is that the Seminary Committee, rather than functioning simply as an advisory board, now:

  • Works, in consultation with the university president, to recruit, evaluate and compensate the seminary president.
  • Oversees the financial well-being of the seminary, including the development, management and funding of its budget.
  • Ensures that best practices, policies and procedures common among seminaries (i.e., teaching loads, sabbatical policies, expectations for promotion, etc.) are followed at FPBS.
  • Identifies which support services offered by the university are best used by the seminary and which are better performed by the seminary itself. The seminary, for example, will surely not establish its own IT or HR departments. It may, however, assume a greater responsibility in such areas as advancement and communications.
  • Ensures that the seminary plays an active role and makes a truly constructive contribution to the life and overall mission of the wider university.
  • Maintains first-priority usage of the property on the corner of Butler and Chestnut avenues, the long-standing home of the seminary.

By assigning these responsibilities to the Seminary Committee, the FPU Board of Trustees is expressing a confidence in the seminary and its committee as well as a deep desire to see the seminary flourish. Needless to say, I am profoundly grateful to the board for both its affirmation and empowerment. I hope you are too, for in reality, a flourishing seminary will greatly help a flourishing university.