Below you will find 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 recently updated 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.
August 5, 2020
Dear Ones —
I am writing to you tonight from my home office — and from liminal space, that territory we encounter as we move from one reality to another. This letter is meant to acquaint you with some of the steps we’ve already taken toward our new reality.
I’m pleased to say that Starr King has signed its Memorandum of Understanding with Mills College to co-locate on the Mills campus. The school’s new home will be situated in the Vera Long Building, originally built in the 1930s but remodeled in the early 2000s, nestled in a beautiful spot across the road from the Mills Post Office and its Tea Room, or cafeteria. Vera Long includes a comfortable conference room and as well as a lounge area with a kitchen and is adjacent to a large and well-equipped classroom that we can reserve as necessary. We will share the building with several senior Mills College faculty.
And yet, we have not arrived at our new home, and will not until October 1, 2020. Like the rest of the country, the spike in infections and death from the coronavirus here in Alameda County make it necessary to phase in the number of people and institutions allowed to have access to the Mills Campus. Even when Starr King ultimately arrives at Vera Long, we will be instituting strict protocols, including initial coronavirus testing for everyone on staff, as well as rotating the numbers of faculty and staff who will be present at any one time. For now, having already made the decision to conduct the work of the school online for the fall semester, nothing has changed for us except our new physical address:
Starr King School for the Ministry
5000 MacArthur Blvd PMB 9937
Oakland, CA 94613-1301
This past week, a team of experienced movers and dedicated Starr King staff completed the process of packing and moving our possessions. Over the course of six days, movers transported the school’s books, files, selected furniture and other equipment, and placed them into storage until October. Our most challenging task, by far, was the preparation, packing and moving of the Wilbur Rare Book Library into climate and humidity-controlled storage space. Several staff members, led by Matthew Waterman, created an assembly line of boxes, bubble wrap, and archival tissue to separately wrap each volume and pack it so that the delicate books would not be damaged in transit. We owe a great debt of gratitude to Matthew, as well as Kim Moebius, Teresa Joye, and Fred Williamson, who together managed nearly every aspect of our move. By early afternoon on August 1, our work was complete, and we said farewell to our home of 78 years. We know that several of you are eager to craft a more formal goodbye to the Le Conte Avenue site. In the coming weeks, plans for an appropriate leave-taking ritual will get under way. If you would like to be part of that, please write to us at email@example.com, so that we can be in touch with details.
We abide now in liminal space — the space between what has been, and what will be. It is a space even more uncertain than it might have been, for we cannot control Covid-19 and its capacity to cause even more upheaval. But in this space in which we rest, we gain valuable insights, the most important of which is this: Starr King is not its building — old or new. It is not even its impressive collection of artifacts and books. Starr King is found most abundantly in the people who dedicate themselves to counter-oppressive, intersectional, sacred social change — as students and staff, as faculty, friends, and donors. I am especially aware of this now, as orientation for a new school year begins on Thursday afternoon, August 6. Our new class of 17 people will join us (electronically) on the journey to build a new world and a new way of being in it. We know from experience that they will be transformed in their preparation for the work — and so will we. It is a part of the grace that holds us in this holy task.
There is a certain grace in letting go — at least for a little while. Once orientation is done and our new semester begins, I will be leaving for a much-needed sabbatical, beginning August 15, 2020, and returning on February 15, 2021; the Rev. Dr. Sofia Betancourt will serve as acting president in my absence. I look forward to finishing my spiritual autobiography and some other writing projects, working on voter-registration and election-protection activities, and getting some rest and recreation with family.
I end with these words from the progressive evangelical writer Sarah Bessey: “The Spirit is often breathing in the very changes or shifts that used to terrify us. Grace waits for us in the liminal space.” May all of us encounter abundant Grace — and abundant Love — in the days ahead!
April 2, 2020
I’m writing to you with an update to our ongoing New Beginnings project; it relates to a recent action taken by the Starr King Board of Trustees concerning the school’s relationship with the Graduate Theological Union (GTU). The board has voted to withdraw from the GTU effective April 1, 2022.
This decision was a difficult one; there is a deep commitment at Starr King to what Ibrahim Baba named as “organic multireligiosity.” For many years, our membership in the GTU made this commitment easy to fulfill. Yet we had to face the reality that the cost of supporting consortial membership — $311,000 in the 2020-2021 school year alone — is frankly unsustainable. In addition, as much as our students value a multi-theological education, we also had to acknowledge that only a minority of our students take courses at other GTU schools; the total number of credits taken at the other schools amounts to only 20% of total credits taken by our students. These two pieces of information were important drivers of our decision. Yet we remain committed to finding less expensive ways to provide education in a variety of religious traditions and practices, so that our graduates are fully prepared to embrace the multi-religious realities of the 21st century.
I want to offer a special word to our students: In a year full of stress and change, I imagine that our decision may be yet another shock. Some of you may feel that your educational plans have materially changed. I want to ask that you allow this news to settle in, then let us know your thoughts. Please be sure to confer with your academic advisor about specific concerns related to your course of study. We want to be of help and support as you begin to navigate these changes. Remember: for the next two years, your use of the GTU Library and your ability to cross-register for other courses remains the same.
In the midst of so many changes at the school and in our world, I want you all to know that our commitment to counter-oppressive, multi-religious theological education is unwavering. In the next two years, we expect to build opportunities for study and practice with schools and communities of many faith traditions. As those opportunities develop, we will let you know. As always, we promise to be as transparent as possible, even when the news is not always what you hope. Please take good care, especially now.
February 4, 2020
We are one month into the new year, and 2020 has proven to be an exciting time for Starr King. We’ve been heartened to hear from so many students, faculty, alumni and friends about their excitement about the school’s future, particularly about our planned move to the Mills College campus in Oakland.
In December, I shared with you that we still had several decisions to make on the details of our move. Since then, I’ve been in active conversation with our partners at Mills, learning more about various options for student housing, meal services, transportation, and more.
It’s important that the options we pursue, whenever possible, meet the needs of those we serve. That’s why we’re seeking input from our students, faculty, and staff on areas of specific concern by Monday, February 17. Their input will help to inform our decision making. If you’re part of one or more of these communities, please check your inbox for an email from us.
Thank you for your continued partnership with Starr King! We look forward to sharing more news in the weeks ahead.
January 17, 2020
On Tuesday, January 7, 2020, Starr King School for the Ministry held two Q&A sessions regarding our New Beginnings process. Below you’ll find Zoom recordings of both the morning and evening sessions.
December 18, 2019
December 12, 2019
Dear Ones —
We are rapidly approaching the new year. And so, in that spirit, we have some exciting updates to share with you!
The first update is bittersweet. After a review of several options and much reflection, our Board of Trustees has voted to sell our Le Conte Avenue property and to vacate the building at the close of this academic year. Yet Starr King is not the building; it’s the people. The spirit of learning and community, of prophetic witness and deep joy that is Starr King remains ever present, and will certainly follow us to our new home.
I’m also thrilled to announce that Starr King has signed a letter of intent with Mills College in Oakland, CA to co-locate our school on the Mills campus in August 2020. Mills is a nationally renowned independent liberal arts college for women and gender non-binary students, with graduate programs for all genders. Founded as the Young Ladies’ Seminary in 1852, Mills has a long legacy of defying convention and breaking barriers to ensure that all people have access to high-quality instruction. Their educational philosophy beautifully matches our own commitment to educating to counter oppressions.
Our decision to co-locate with Mills brings with it a host of opportunities that will help us grow stronger and more fully live into our mission. Located on a sprawling 135-acre campus in East Oakland, Mills is a perfect mix of state-of-the-art facilities and the natural world. We will also be rooted in a community filled with opportunities to hone our skills in social justice and sacred social change. We are particularly excited at the likelihood of accessing traditional student housing on campus, reducing the financial burden for students who would otherwise have to find their own housing in a deeply competitive market.
Co-locating at Mills College also reconnects us to an earlier part of Starr King’s history through a common ancestor: Dr. Aurelia Henry Reinhardt. Dr. Reinhardt was a renowned educator, activist and leader within American Unitarianism. She served as the first woman moderator of the American Unitarian Association, was a member of the association’s first Commission on Appraisal, and was a member of Starr King’s Board of Trustees. In 1981, Starr King established an endowed faculty position in her name, currently held by Dr. Gabriella Lettini, to ensure a feminist voice and presence on our faculty. For 27 years, Dr. Reinhardt also served as president of Mills College, making her the longest serving president in that school’s history. Her legacy creates a beautiful synergy that now brings our two schools together in partnership.
Of course, there are terms to be negotiated and more details to come. And we must make time and space to say goodbye to the place Starr King has called home longer than any other in our history. But for now, let us celebrate this important step into our future! In the new year, we will schedule another community Q&A so that you can ask questions, share concerns and learn more about what lies before us. Please check the New Beginnings page on our website for the date and time of those meetings, as well as our usual updates as news develops.
At this turning of the year, let us embrace all that has come before, and rejoice in all that is to come. Thank you for walking this path with us. The future of Starr King is bright, and much of that brightness rests with you!
November 21, 2019
Below is the Zoom recording from the President’s Report and open session from the SKSM Board of Trustees meeting on November 13, 2019.
November 7, 2019
Dear Ones —
I’m writing with a brief progress report: all three board working groups have moved quickly to focus on some attractive options for the future of Starr King. Our board of trustees will meet next week to consider those options and to vote on them. The decisions they are likely to reach will mean a new era for the school. I wish that we were free to say more, but conversations are continuing on aspects of our plan and thus must remain confidential for now.
We continue to receive feedback from students, alumni, and donors about their dreams for the school, even as we approach a decision point. We are working to incorporate that information into our ongoing planning process wherever we can. We’re also grateful for the thoughtful conversations among faculty and staff about the ways we can amplify what is best about Starr King, while transforming the school in ways that will meet the needs of our students, our Unitarian Universalist tradition, and our multi-religious future.
As we approach this critical juncture, I give thanks for each one of you who have engaged with us. Whether you have pulled me aside at a conference, or joined several school leaders on Zoom for conversation, or sent a note or email to board members, we are all enriched by your love for our school and your confidence in our future. I look forward to sharing more soon!
July 19, 2019
As we spend this month preparing for the start of the academic year, we offer you this update:
Our Board of Trustees has authorized an exploration into selling or leasing our Le Conte Avenue building. A listing will be available to interested parties beginning next week. The Board working groups continue to gather information about possible partners to enhance our mission, including ways to improve energy efficiency and reduce annual operating costs. The board’s next face-to-face meeting is November 12-13 here in Berkeley, CA.
Next month, SKSM President Rosemary Bray McNatt will conduct a student-only forum during her Intensive class on Thursday, August 22, from 2:15 to 3:30 pm Pacific Time. It’s a chance for students to discuss the opportunities and challenges facing religious leaders who must guide communities through institutional change and growth.
Please reach out to us with questions, ideas, or concerns at firstname.lastname@example.org and check back here regularly for updates. Thank you for your support.
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.