The University Senate, established as the oldest educational accrediting agency in the U.S., commemorates its 125th anniversary. Since its founding, the University Senate has provided oversight for the requirements, fulfillment of those requirements, and general operational health of schools, colleges, universities, and theological schools affiliated with The United Methodist Church (UMC).
The Senate recently convened for one of its two biannual meetings in Atlanta, Georgia. During the meeting, the group acknowledged the longstanding history and work of the Senate throughout the years. At each convening, the two commissions composing the Senate, the Commission on Institutional Review and the Commission on Theological Education, discuss the standing of the 118 affiliated schools.
The Commission on Institutional Review is tasked with reviewing the program quality, sound management, institutional integrity and church relatedness of each of the schools, colleges and universities affiliated with the UMC at least once every ten years.
The Commission on Theological Education reviews the academic quality, compatibility with a Wesleyan ethos and the social principles of the UMC, the freedom of academic inquiry, and the racial and gender inclusiveness of faculty, staff, and students for each of the 13 United Methodist Schools of Theology, and the approved non-United Methodist institutions.“The University Senate is a tremendous resource for the church and for its educational institutions. Site visits and free consultations offer our schools, colleges and universities a review of their work through the lens of the United Methodist connection and the simultaneous lens of academic excellence and financial well-being,” said Rock Jones, Ph.D., president of the University Senate and president at Ohio Wesleyan University. “Members of the University Senate care deeply about United Methodism and its commitment to education.”
University Senate Beginnings
In 1892, with an endorsement from the President’s Association, what is now the National Association of Schools & Colleges of The United Methodist Church (NASCUMC), the General Conference approved the creation of a 16-person board to provide guidance for the Methodist-related education institutions. Over the years, the size of the Senate has grown to include 27 voting members and a number of advisory members.
“The University Senate provides a healthy and robust set of guidelines and peer review to ensure that institutions approved for listing in relationship with The United Methodist Church offer quality educational programs, have the financial strength required to serve students and demonstrate their church-relatedness in appropriate ways,” explained Jones. “Most importantly, the University Senate ensures a healthy, dynamic relationship between The United Methodist Church and its related educational institutions at a time when many do not understand the need for or distinctions of church-related education.”
In 1975, the University Senate underwent a reorganization to further enhance the value and impact within higher education at United Methodist institutions. “GBHEM created the National Commission on United Methodist Higher Education to review church policy with respect to the church’s involvement in higher education through related institutions, campus ministries and the support services of the agency,” said Ken Yamada, Ph.D., former associate general secretary of the Division of Higher Education at GBHEM. “Because of the National Commission’s recommendation, the University Senate was reorganized and revitalized. The University Senate was organized by the Commission on Institutional Review, and later the Commission on Historically Black Colleges and Universities was added. The policies and guidelines continued to be revised and refined throughout my tenure (1979-2005).”
GBHEM serves as the administrator for the Senate. GBHEM General Secretary Dr. Kim Cape, Associate General Secretary for the Division of Higher Education and Ordained Ministry Rev. Greg Bergquist and Special Assistant to the Office of the General Secretary at the General Board of Global Ministries Glenn Kellum each serve as ex officio members. Bishop Kenneth Carter, Florida Episcopal Area, is the episcopal advisor to the Senate.
The associate general secretary of the Division of Higher Education at GBHEM serves as the executive secretary for the Senate. The late Dr. Ted Brown held this role until his death in May 2017. The Senate honored Brown for his service during the recent meeting.
Looking Toward the Future
“Today, more than ever, the work of the University Senate is needed to help maintain the tradition, history and quality of United Methodist education programs,” said Bergquist.
Yamada added, “Today we are rapidly moving toward secularization of church-related educational institutions. We are seeing the institutional identities as United Methodist fade. It will be challenging but we must fulfill the founding mission of the Senate to help maintain the connection to the church.”
Dr. Gerald Lord, former associate general secretary for the Division of Higher Education at GBHEM, recognized the ongoing need and importance of the work of the University Senate. “The Senate is one of the key linkages or structures that hold together the connection among our institutions of higher education. We must remain relevant and helpful to institutions and to the church, as well as selective with the theological institutions on the approved list for the education of United Methodist pastors.”
Jones added, “The University Senate will face the challenge of both providing support and encouragement to institutions that face seasons of hardship while also knowing that there may be times when institutions are no longer willing or able to meet the guidelines for affiliation with The United Methodist Church, requiring the Senate to face difficult decisions.”
Recognizing the challenges facing the University Senate, the group also recognizes the steps needed to continue to move the Senate into the future of higher education. “I would like to see the University Senate continue to sharpen its focus on church-relatedness with United Methodist-related higher education and on ensuring there is an appropriate Wesleyan ethos in theological schools approved for educating United Methodist clergy,” said Jones. “Continuing to involve very distinguished educators from our institutions in the peer review process and as members of the Senate will help to maintain and continue the quality work of the Senate, its processes and our institutions,” Lord added.
For 125 years, the University Senate has been about the work of the church and the Wesleyan tradition of joining education and ministry. The Senate and GBHEM are working to ensure that the Senate evolves to continue that work and maintain the rich traditions of the educational institutions affiliated with The United Methodist Church.
“It is important to highlight the past, but what the University Senate will do in the future is significant, especially working closely with the associations in the five regions (Africa, Asia Pacific, Europe, Latin America and North America) of the International Association of Methodist Schools, Colleges, and Universities (IAMSCU). Assuring the highest quality education in the John Wesley heritage will be a real differentiator among United Methodist school and college graduates,” said Yamada.
About GBHEM: As the leadership development agency of The United Methodist Church, the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry’s mission is to lead and connect the educational and ministerial life of the church. Every elder, deacon and licensed local pastor benefits from our training and candidacy programs. Many young adults find help in clarifying their vocation and God’s call on their lives through our leadership and discernment programs. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook: @GBHEM.