The Future of the Doctoral Programs | Forum for Theological Exploration

The Future of the Doctoral Programs

By: Matthew Wesley Williams
November 15, 2012

Recently we announced that FTE is putting a hold on fellowship programs to undergo a strategic assessment and planning process for the future of the organization. Thus, the doctoral programs will not accept new applications for fellowships that would be awarded during the 2013-2014 academic year. This is a bold and unprecedented move for FTE. These programs have been a vital source of support for underrepresented communities in the academy. There is much at stake in this decision for people of color. We don’t take this lightly.

The doctoral programs reflect FTE’s longest standing legacy and contribution to theological education. Our commitment to cultivating religious and theological scholar-educators from communities of color remains at the core of FTE’s values and mission. While we are in a mode of planning and discernment, we think it’s important to keep you informed about what’s going on and how you can help FTE to chart its path forward.

In tandem with our 60th anniversary in 2014, FTE will launch a new set of programs whose aim is to identify and cultivate wise, courageous leaders for the church and academy. This new set of programs will include a redesigned fellowship offering for students from communities of color pursuing the PhD or ThD in religion, bible, or theology. In the meantime, we are conducting a series of meetings and consultations with Alumni, partner organizations and stakeholders in the field to inform the design of FTE’s programs for doctoral students.

It is no secret that higher education, generally, and theological education in particular is in the midst of systemic change that is generating new norms for our sector. The shifts in the landscape of our field require organizations like FTE to reflect thoroughly on our thinking and practice; examine our assumptions, recognize our “blind spots,” and attempt to determine the big picture implications of the emerging patterns in the field for our work and the students we serve.

While new norms are emerging in higher education, the diversity deficit in theological education persists. Working with academic institutions, FTE and its partner organizations have effectively supported hundreds of underrepresented doctoral students toward timely completion of their degrees and impactful careers as theological and religious educators. But there is still work to do. Among theological schools, the proportion of faculty of color has neither kept pace with national demographics, nor with increases in enrollment of students of color. Funding for underrepresented doctoral students is still a key leverage point for increasing faculty diversity in theological schools. However, financial support for representational diversity must be coupled with culturally competent mentoring resources that enable students and faculty of color to flourish as educators, writers, and researchers. Going forward, FTE is considering how we most effectively collaborate with partners and academic institutions to provide students of color the funding and mentoring support they need.

Many organizations find themselves responding to crisis when they have no other choice. Healthy organizations, however, constantly think about their future, reflect on their strategies and practices, and proactively make changes to advance their mission. The proactive pause in this coming year gives FTE the time we need to begin the hard work of adaptive change. We see this process of organizational discernment as a community-based, participatory process. In other words, we need your help. This week, prior to the annual meetings of the American Academy of Religion and Society of Biblical Literature, FTE is hosting a consultation of Alumni from the Doctoral, North American Doctoral, and Dissertation Fellowship programs. We want the design of the doctoral programs to be informed by the experiences, insights, and hopes of the community we serve. This week’s consultation will be a part of a series of meetings and gatherings through which we attempt to hear stories, gather data, and test ideas. Thank you in advance for working and growing with FTE as we attempt to faithfully steward our resources in support of the next generation of leaders for the church and academy.

Tags: Inside FTE

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