Below you will find the first of many updates regarding the future plans for Starr King School for the Ministry. We will be adding to this page monthly with updates of our progress, decisions, and other developments in this process. Please check back often to be kept up-to-date with our journey.
Visit our New Beginnings FAQ page for answers to some common questions regarding changes at Starr King. Reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org with questions, concerns, ideas, or comments. Visit our giving page to learn more about how you can help us continue this holy work.
May 16, 2019
Thank you to those who attended one or both of our open forums on Monday, May 13. The turnout was wonderful and we had some great questions!
We’d like to start out by saying that our ‘new beginnings’ process is just in its early stages. Ordinarily, these conversations would not be made public for at least another six months. But we’re different from other theological schools. We are starting these conversations now because, ultimately, we are doing this for you – so that our current and prospective students can continue to receive the theological education they will need to go out and serve our hurting world. To train 21st century religious leaders, we need to fully become a 21st century theological school. That means not only strengthening our curriculum and commitment to educating to counter oppressions, but also to become a sustainable school that can best serve our students now and in the many years to come.
Because we are just starting this process, there are many things we do not yet know or cannot yet speak of, for reasons of confidentiality. What we can say is that Starr King School for the Ministry is NOT closing. We have been educating progressive religious leaders for 115 years, and we intend to continue to do so for another 115 years! But the reality is that theological schools across the country have had to find ways to become more nimble as the nature of theological education is changing. In this sense, we are no different from other theological schools. What we can also say is that as we move throughout this process, we will let you know as much as we can as we move toward decision-making, as well as telling you ways in which you can engage in this process.
The purpose of these forums was to answer questions, address concerns, and get ideas from all of you. Below you’ll find some key questions and answers that came up on Monday, as well as the full recordings from both forums.
Q: How will these changes effect the reimagining of ECO?
A: Team ECO is constantly working on how people experience the school and the ways in which we engage across the school. Our ECO work in regards to the board is not on hold. Each meeting, there is an ECO-focused training. In all the conversations that are happening about the future of SKSM, our commitment to educating to counter oppressions remains firmly at our core. Our philosophy and ECO mentality is ALWAYS present in these conversations., but specific discussions around ways to strengthen our work have not yet begun.
Q: Why has SKSM’s tuition increased?
A: One of the changes happening across the country is that it is more expensive than ever to do theological education. Some of the reasons for that are structural and out of our control. We also happen to have a high-advising educational model that takes a lot of faculty and staff time.
There are also larger costs associated with our building. It costs $100,000 per year to run it IF we have nothing to fix (and there are always things that need fixing). That is why one of the options we’ve been considering is whether it makes sense to leave this building and find a new space that is more efficient to run so we can use that money in better ways. For example, for far too long we have been undercompensating our staff and faculty for the work they actually must do. We want to change that and become a more sustainable school not only for our students, but for everyone.
Increasing our tuition to $775 per credit does not close this financial gap. However, it does move us closer to that goal of becoming a more sustainable school.
Q: How much tuition will increase after this initial increase?
A: We don’t know yet. In many ways, the other decisions we still need to make will affect that decision. Once we have greater clarity about the decisions we are making and what those decisions will mean, we will share that information with you.
Q: What are the options that are being considered? Partnerships? Leaving this building?
A: We are still in the beginning stages of this process, so there is a great deal we either don’t know yet or cannot yet talk about for confidentiality reasons. What we do know is that no one solution will make us a sustainable school. There will be several decisions and changes that will need to happen in order for us to do that. That is why our Board of Trustees has broken up into three working groups to explore all of the different areas that need to be explored in this process. The three working groups are: financials, reviewing our budget and how much it costs to run the school; partnerships, looking into other organizations and schools (some with Unitarian origins) that may be able to help us meet our goals; and business and educational models, exploring how we can strengthen our curriculum and educational model given the larger trends within the school and within theological education.
We do expect that we are going to leave this building. However, we are at least a year away from knowing where we might be going.
Q: If we move, how far away would we be moving?
A: We do not yet have an answer to this. We are most likely not leaving California. About half of our current students live on the West Coast. We also are hoping to stay within the East Bay. As we begin to make decisions on this matter, we will be as transparent as we can about next steps.
Q: How will this affect the multi-religious and “spiritual but not religious” community aspect of the school?
A: Unitarian Universalism is inherently multi-religious. Moreover, the history of Starr King has always been both Unitarian Universalist and multi-religious. This will not change. In fact, part of our process will explicitly include strengthening the multi-religious offerings of our school.
Q: What is the reason behind making these changes?
A: It is more expensive than ever to do theological education. That is true for most theological schools across the country. That is why many seminaries have found creative ways to remain financially sustainable. Our building costs $100,000 to run each year IF nothing needs to be fixed. Our enrollment has tipped to more low-residency students and fewer high-residency students, in part due to the rising housing cost and overall cost of living in the Bay Area. So, there are many factors that have encouraged us to begin this process.
Q: How can people get involved in this process?
A: We aren’t yet clear about everything that will need to happen throughout this process. In the meantime, please send ideas and suggestions to email@example.com. We read every email, and have already received a lot of really interesting ideas from our community. You can also let us know if you’re interested in helping out as our plans evolve. The board working groups may need more help, depending on the solutions we decide to pursue.
Thank you again to all who attended and thank you for your support. Some of these changes may be joyous ones; some may be painful or sad. What is most important to us is what we expect to come from this: a school able to provide a transformative theological education for many generations of religious leaders to come.
Below you’ll find both recordings of the forums. Be sure to check back often for updates, and please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org with questions, ideas, or concerns. We can’t promise to respond to each one, but we do read every message.
Please note: The sound in these recordings is not the best quality. We recommend using headphones for easier listening.
April 29, 2019
Join us as we kick off Commencement Week with TWO Conversations with the President! Learn more about our plans for the future and get a chance to ask questions. President Rosemary Bray McNatt will be meeting with the greater Starr King community both in person and via Zoom for these special Q&A sessions on Monday, May 13 at 9:30 am PT and 5:30 pm PT. You can join remotely here: https://zoom.us/j/819797923
In the meantime, feel free to direct your questions, concerns, and ideas to email@example.com. Be sure to check back here often to stay up-to-date on the future of SKSM.
When Starr King School for the Ministry began in 1904, it was a radical idea – one with no guarantee of success. The school’s initial classes were held at the First Unitarian Church of Oakland, welcoming not only American Unitarians but also students of other faiths from around the world. Now, 115 years since our founding, Starr King has become one of the most progressive theological schools in North America – a school far larger and with a vision far more expansive than our founders could have dreamed. We were able to transform our founders’ ambitious idea into reality only by taking risks. Our capacity to be at the forefront of change has always required us to evolve to meet the needs of the day.
That’s why it’s now time to take yet another risk, to transition into the next chapter of our school’s history. After long and careful discernment by our Board of Trustees, we are beginning a series of steps designed to ensure a sustainable future for our beloved school. We expect those steps to include:
- Temporary relocation of the school to another site in the Bay Area
- Staff reductions
- Appropriate tuition increases
- An in-depth exploration of the best use of our current property
We’re taking these steps because Starr King faces the same financial pressures as other seminaries, as theological education changes and the costs of theological education increase. Other schools are undertaking a variety of creative solutions to address such issues. We’re responding to the challenge by examining several avenues meant to strengthen our ability to provide our cutting-edge theological education for future generations.
We are at the very start of this process. There is much that we don’t yet know, and there are many conversations still to be had. But we do know that these are the initial steps we must take to continue to prepare our students for the work of 21st century religious leadership.
We expect many challenges ahead. But this moment provides us with an opportunity for new beginnings. The work of religious leadership requires fearlessness in the face of challenges, as well as creativity and sacrifice. We are hopeful about the changes that lie before us, and excited about the ways in which these changes will allow us to fulfill the mission that is at our core: to prepare counter-oppressive, justice-seeking, progressive religious leaders for the 21st century.