doctoral fellowship programs with significant changes.

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The Return of FTE’s Doctoral Programs

By: Matthew Wesley Williams
October 01, 2013

Today, FTE reinstates its doctoral fellowship programs with significant changes. The doctoral programs will include two fellowships for doctoral students of color with funding focused on students nearing the end of their studies. We return to the business of granting doctoral fellowships after a year-long hiatus during which we conducted a rigorous evaluation and planning process to assess the needs of the field and determine the future strategic direction of FTE. North American church life and theological education has changed. Organizations like FTE must adapt in order to effectively serve the present age. President Stephen Lewis recently framed FTE’s shift in this way:

“FTE will adapt and shift from primarily being a fellowship supporting organization to a leadership incubator that inspires young people to make a difference in the world through Christian communities.”

Read more about FTE’s new organizational model here.

While we return to granting fellowships as a primary strategy for supporting doctoral students of color, we now operate in an environment that is drastically different from the one in which these programs began over 50 years ago.

We are now faced with a chronic diversity deficit in theological education amid a new and increasingly complex set of factors. So what does this mean for FTE’s historic efforts in supporting and advocating for people of color in doctoral theological education?
Fellowships, which include both money and mentoring, are still necessary interventions to support students of color pursuing advanced degrees. However, if we hope to improve the quality and relevance of theological education by diversifying the teaching force of theological schools, financial support alone for students is insufficient. FTE must be a part of a coordinated effort among academic institutions and related organizations that addresses the complex, often hidden factors that have created the status quo. The field has an opportunity to imagine and implement a different way forward that institutes sustainable economic models, values diverse epistemological frameworks, infuses diversity with justice, expands scholarly canons, and ultimately helps to cultivate the conditions for students and scholars of color to flourish.

  • Most employed professors are in adjunct, post-doc, or contract positions that offer few prospects for a sustainable livelihood (and in some cases a living wage).
  • Both the cost of higher education and the level of student debt are at record levels and have spiked in recent years.
  • The dominant models of church and higher education in North America are in a period of upheaval. Faculty preparation struggles to keep up with the creative approaches to education, Christian formation and congregational life are emerging in response to the needs of the diverse local communities.
  • North America’s population is more diverse than ever—and will continue to be. Yet, 83% of professors in theological schools are white while nearly 40% of their students are persons of color.

However, if we hope to improve the quality and relevance of theological education by diversifying the teaching force of theological schools, financial support alone for students is insufficient.

Important questions remain as we advance our historic aims in a new environment. In tandem with financial support, what kinds of mentoring resources might we develop with partners to enable current graduate students to develop skills, sensibilities, and networks that expand their visions and professional options for living into the vocation of a theological educator? How might FTE organize structures of accountability for institutions that express a commitment to diversifying their faculties and developing culturally and contextually responsive pedagogies? How might we partner with schools, mentoring programs, professional societies, and other organizations to create a new reality within theological education in which authentic, sustainable models of diversity emerge?

We begin with the announcement of a new round of revised doctoral fellowship offerings. Stay tuned. As we approach our 60th anniversary in 2014 we will continue to roll out initiatives through which we will work with partners to cultivate scholars of color whose ministry and scholarship will transform our world.

Tags...: Inside FTE

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