Online Education at Starr King

I was reminded last week how important Starr King’s educational commitments are when “Islamo-Facism Awareness Week” was observed on many college campuses across the country. With help from right wing scholars, “educational” events were held whose stated purpose was to discredit critique of the U.S. war against Iraq and to paint global warming as a false concern.

At Starr King, we provide a counterpoint to ideological “education.” We foster nuanced understandings of issues and promote critically informed activism on behalf of the environment and global peace. Our work on multi-religious understanding counters fear of “the other.” It also provides people with a breadth and depth of understanding of Islam that is an antidote to hate-mongering.

Because our kind of education is sorely needed in the world, we are eager to develop new modes for people to learn with us beyond the bounds of our walls. Already, we are offering a number of online courses in Islamic and multi-religious studies open to interested non-degree students, as well as our students. Visit to see what is available and consider enrolling in a course with us!

When the Starr King board of trustees meets this week, we will be hosting a community wide discussion of three working papers that lay the foundation for Starr King’s emerging new educational model. Last month in this message I sketched our design for how we can better embody our mission of preparing religious leaders for Unitarian Universalism and for progressive social change.

Building on the school’s long-standing educational values, our model involves tri-modal learning: online courses, community learning in the context of our Berkeley campus, and immersion learning in congregations and cross-cultural settings. This month, students, faculty and staff will be meeting with the trustees to discuss the model, and identify areas for further refinement of the design.

I was pleased to hear from many of you about last month’s e-message, in which I described our new model. Here’s a sampling of your responses:

“Plans for Starr King’s future reinforce all our admiration for the mission of the school and its fine leadership…We applaud all your efforts.” – Rori and David Kanter, Lenox Massachusetts

“I am most pleased to hear of such exciting and bold new changes coming to the school…I am one of those key individuals mentioned who just could not uproot my life and family to move to Berkeley…Please know there are many of us out here who would welcome the new opportunities to be connected with the SKSM community.” Kevin Lawson, Portland, Oregon

Our readers also raised some valuable observations that we will be taking into account. Another long-time friend and supporter of the school, Warren Ross of Rye, NY, observed,

“I welcome this initiative. You are broadening the reach and appeal of the school by taking advantage of new technology. I hope you will build in an ongoing assessment by following up with the non-resident students to see how they fare both objectively and subjectively. What no non-resident learning can offer is the human factor: the interaction with other students and faculty in a common environment. Perhaps there is a way to make up for this at least in part by having periodic regional ‘retreats’ with local ministers acting as adjunct professors.”

Our new model will actually be along just the lines that Warren suggests—it will include a variety of ways that students and faculty can interact in a common environment. Such interactions are at the heart of Starr King’s transformative educational process. Our new model will carry forward the tradition of learning through this type of engaged relationship with others, while adding new modes to do so. Even online communities of learning, we are discovering, have significant ways in which “the human factor” comes into play in life-changing ways.

As we continue to develop our new educational model, we’ll be testing our ideas with a variety of constituencies of the school. If you have questions or comments, please be in touch!

In Peace,
Rebecca Parker

510 845 6232 ext. 112

Additional Responses:

“I like the School’s retuning its process to the needs and technologies of the times.” – Rig Currie, Point Reyes, CA

“I am so excited!!! … I am currently taking my second online class [at Starr King]. I love the diversity of teachers and corresponding with other UU students. .. I live in Knoxville, TN, and have a full time job as a chaplain so I can’t up and relocate just to go to seminary. I get 2 weeks off a year, flexibility and a wide range of classes would be great. I think it’s wonderful SK has decided to move forward with this project.” – Pati Cox

“This is very exciting! I’m quite glad to see Starr King taking itself so seriously as an institution for the 21st century and for progressive leadership. … I know that online courses can be very flexible and organized for excellent oversight; the online universities are doing quite a business with this. So many have paved the way before, just not in seminaries so much! I wish you every success with this grand assessment and period of innovation.” – Stephanie Kaza, Professor, University of Vermont, SKSM ’91

One current student wrote, “As a person who couldn’t ‘afford’ to uproot my life, I made a myriad of sacrifices and uprooted anyway. The risks and losses have been many, as have the gains and rewards. There are few among us who could ‘afford’ to be here… I just know that the insistent call of the divine was so loud that I could no longer afford to keep ignoring it. … With deep gratitude, a multitude of thanks [for the revisioning work].” – Wendy Bartel

starr king is a member school of the graduate theological union