The forthcoming issue of the Southwestern Journal of Theology (56:1, Fall 2013)
includes a short review I wrote sometime back on book that gives a unique perspective to service in the field of theological education. C(H)AOS Theory: Reflections of Chief Academic Officers in Theological Education
is a compilation volume that arose out of the work of the Chief Academic Officers Society of the Association of Theological Schools.
While directed specifically toward Chief Academic Officers, much of the volume is applicable to anyone working in other positions of higher education administration. Where the volume discusses “academics” or “faculty,” for example, business officers, development officers, student services officers, etc., could easily read in their appropriate constituencies.
In her introduction, editor Kathleen Billman explains, “The title, C(H)AOS Theory
, is a fitting name for the work contained in the these pages because it holds the name of the society from which it was created and hints at both the seriousness of the perplexities leaders face in tumultuous and every-changing times and the playfulness and partnership that bring some order, some ‘theory,’ to bear even on the thorniest problems.”
Here is my review followed by some selected quotations from the volume:
This collection of essays published by members of the Association of Theological Schools’ Chief Academic Officers Society (CAOS) is appropriately titled C(H)AOS Theory as it represents the reflections and experiences of those serving in positions commiserate only perhaps with the air traffic controller. In 33 chapters organized in three broad headings, “Reading Institutional Context,” “Nurturing Commitments,” and “Developing Competencies,” this volume addresses a variety of issues facing those serving as Chief Academic Officers in the specific venue of theological education.
Many of the authors cite Jeanne P. McLean’s Leading from the Center(1999) as one of the more helpful interpretations of how the role of the CAO had grown in importance for theological schools in the late twentieth century. C(H)AOS Theory provides a up-to-date reference handbook for the student, the faculty member, the newly appointed dean, the veteran CAO, presidents, and board members.
Particularly concise and worth reading are the chapters by Willie James Jennings of Duke Divinity School, “Leading from the Middle,” on relating to the CEO, Dale R. Stoffer of Ashland Theological Seminary, “Lessons from the Anabaptist-Pietist Tradition,” on faculty leadership and development, and Robin J. Steinke of Gettysburg Theological Seminary, “The Budget as a Mission Tool: Vision, Principles, and Strategies.” Rare is it that compilation volumes offering reflections and instruction from a diverse group of people provide a finished product with a majority of recommendable chapters. C(H)AOS Theory has chaotic chapters worth skimming to be sure, but overall the interested reader will find help and wisdom here for the task.
- From Willie James Jennings, “Leading from the Middle,” on how an administrator in a middle position on the organizational chart can maintain a healthy perspective:
Universities are complex places, and one of the most complex positions to hold in a modern university is that of an academic dean in a university divinity school or a school of religion. The position places the academic dean at the intersection of several busy streets, and from that risky place you must direct a lot of traffic. In this regard, the academic deanship is an ironically ‘middle position.’ Its irony is clear only to those who are deans. As academic dean you are at the center of so much, but you are actually de-centered. That is, so much of what you are responsible for you do not control. It helps to remember this lack of control, because it can place assessment of your appropriate fit for the position in healthy perspective. Whether you feel at any given moment particularly competent (bordering on brilliant) or particularly inept (bordering on suicidal), it is helpful to recognize that the position has a life and personality independent of you that must be respected (89).
- From Dale R. Stoffer, “Lessons from the Anabaptist-Pietist Tradition,” on servant leadership, communication, and collegiality for administrators:
Authority derives not so much from one’s institutional rank or status but primarily from the respect that comes because the people in a community of faith know that their leader values them and seeks their welfare (143).
A trait that theological schools generally have in common with other institutions of higher learning is the tendency to wall off distinct disciplines from one another, thus creating the silo effect so common today in Western universities. One facet of working toward a greater sense of common vocation is to develop strategies for increasing conversation across disciplinary boundaries and for creative forms of teaching and learning that highlight integration (148).
Servant leadership does not mean an abdication of the role of leader, but rather a willingness to lay aside the prerogatives of title and rank in order to lead people, through highly relational means, to goals that advance the welfare of each individual and ultimately of the community (149).
- From Gary Riebe-Estrella, “The Dean as Administrator: ‘It’s All a Matter of Relationships,’” on how an administrator relates to the President/CEO.
If a dean wants to sleep at night, it is necessary to identify and accpe the role of chief academic officer. The dean is not the president, and it is the president who makes the final decisions. A good relationship with the president depends on a non-begrudging acceptance of this distinction of roles. While the president’s vision for the school and involvement with the larger church and secular community context is only one of the avenues of traffic in the institution, it is the one with the motorcade! Vis-a-vis the president’s role as chief executive officer, the dean’s task is primarily one of facilitation rather than representation.
The dean’s office is not the headquarters for a courier service that delivers messages from the president to the faculty or from the faculty to the president. Rather, the dean’s service to the president is in helping get inside the faculty’s corporate mind, allowing the president an inside sense of their motivations and morale. Equally, the dean needs to help the faculty understand the variety of pressures the president faces, what’s driving this particular solution, what underlies the president’s preoccupation with that particular issue. By directing the traffic and interpreting its flows to the parties involved, the dean is able to grease the wheels of collaboration. But again, that calls for relationships of integrity and trust with both the president and the faculty (253-254).
- From Robin J. Steinke, “The Budget as a Mission Tool: Vision, Principles, and Strategies,” on the importance of administrators relating well to the CFO:
A pattern in some institutions is that the CAO simply receives the draft budget from the CFO and pleads for increases in some areas or reluctantly agrees to decreases in other areas. It can be helpful to become a student of your CFO early in your tenure as dean, requesting regular meetings to review detailed parts of the budget well before it is time to begin budget drafts. Deans can do a lot to honor the vocation of CFOs by respecting their experience and by demonstrating a posture of readiness to learn from them so that informed decisions about the budget can be shared (282-283).
Read more about the latest issue SWJT
, “Biblical Theology: Past, Present, and Future Vol. 2” at swbts.edu/journal