December 2, 2011
PLTS and CLU explore possible merger
California Lutheran University, Thousand Oaks, and Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary are exploring a proposed merger where PLTS would remain in Berkeley, Calif., as a full seminary of the ELCA. This fall, both schools' governing boards gave formal endorsement to the exploration process. A decision on whether and when to merge could come as soon as May 2012.
PLTS President Phyllis Anderson and CLU President Chris Kimball both say a merger would strengthen their Lutheran identity and service. They also agree that Columbia, S.C.-based Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary's merger with Lenoir-Rhyne University, Hickory, N.C., helped influence their proposal. "That's a model we're evaluating for ourselves," Anderson said. "In a challenging time for seminaries, we're looking for ways to secure our future as the Lutheran seminary in the West."
A merger could be a step on the path to increased enrollment, delivery of shared programs for the church and growth in fundraising capacity, she added.
"At colleges, most income comes from tuition, but at seminaries like ours only about 17 percent comes from tuition," Anderson said, emphasizing that fundraising needs would continue. In a down economy, the traditional sources of seminary revenue: endowments, individual donors, 11 synods and churchwide, are all "hurting so they have less to pass on," she said.
PLTS already "achieves economies of scale" through sharing a library, IT services and cross-registration with eight other seminaries in the 1,000-student strong Graduate Theological Union, Anderson said. "Merging with CLU would enable us to plan and deploy resources together to reach out in new ways to our Lutheran constituencies," she noted.
Though the proposal is in early stages, CLU faculty and staff are "interested and excited to see where [this] leads," Kimball said. "There's a sense of tremendous potential for [undergraduate and graduate] education, [a CLU] foothold in the Bay area and serving the church." In the West, ELCA schools "prepare students and pastors to serve where there aren't very many Lutherans," he said. "That affects your courses, internships, clarity of expectations, everything."
A merger could be a "game-changer" for CLU, Kimball said. "Seminaries have relationships and commitments to the ELCA that are very different from those of [ELCA] colleges," he explained. "For me, moving into that relationship is appealing and an opportunity to reflect on what a university of the church is."