The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


March 25, 2013

Luther Seminary reduces faculty, staff

Luther Seminary, St. Paul, Minn., will move ahead with 18 fewer staff members and eight fewer faculty members after June. With some open positions remaining unfilled, the total staff and faculty decreased from 125 to 95.

The seminary announced March 19 a plan to reduce annual operating expenses by at least $4 million. Tuition will not go up nor will the seminary back off on recruitment, said Rick Foss, interim president.

“We have good people, and many of them are hurting right now. We just had too many good people, more than we could afford. Some things won’t feel good no matter how well you handle them; we’re trying to handle them faithfully and well. I learned as a bishop during the Red River Flood in North Dakota that we all grieve at different rates and heal at different times,” Foss said in an interview.

Luther’s doctoral program will not admit new students for three years. Foss said the faculty is exploring a new model for this program, which will continue to offer high-quality curriculum and will be financially viable for the future. The master of sacred music program, presently on hold, will not accept new students for now.

In October 2012, Luther’s Board of Directors learned that spending was beyond the seminary’s means. Foss explained in a letter to the community, “When we investigated the situation, we found we were overspending on an annual basis by several million dollars. Unfortunately, we were relying on loans from financial institutions, as well as from our endowment, to cover our expenses. While the money was being spent on excellent initiatives, including personnel, programs and innovative missional work, it was clear we could not sustain this rate of spending.”

Foss said, “Clearly finances were not working.” While the situation “came as a surprise,” he said “Luther is so strong, it’s like a really good student or athlete who can compensate for a while [in spite of mistakes]. Whether it was overconfidence or under competence, nobody meant ill.

“It appears that we didn’t fully anchor our high-flying hopes in financial reality. Now we move forward in a more reality-based hope.”

The board called for a reduction in expenses for fiscal year 2014 by at least $3 million.

Foss said Luther will “make additional adjustments to begin paying back [its] loans and fund [its] deferred maintenance. In light of this stark financial reality, the administrative cabinet created a comprehensive plan to evaluate all program, faculty and staff expenses.”

Five faculty members plan to retire June 30: Terry Fretheim, Fred Gaiser, Gracia Grindal, Roland Martinson and Paul Westermeyer.

Three faculty plan to take another call on June 30: Carla Dahl, Mary Hinkle Shore and Christian Scharen, who will move to director of contextual learning at Luther.

Foss said in a press release: “We will deeply miss the people who are leaving us and are thankful for all their contributions.”

Luther will continue to recruit students for its master of divinity, master of arts, master of theology, and doctor of ministry programs.

Luther’s mission is equipping leaders for the world today, in communities so diverse that we will need all the innovation we can muster,” Foss said.

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