Uniting the secular on Holy Hill

Richard Lindsay

A popular contemporary hymn, based on I Corinthians 12, has the words, “We are many parts, we are all one body.” The hymn avoids the messier subject of how to get those parts to move together. The Graduate Theological Union has been trying to figure out that bodily configuration for almost 50 years. Begun as an experiment in Christian ecumenism in 1962, the GTU has expanded its reach from academic collaboration to shared library services and to developing an interfaith body made up of Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and Buddhist parts. Facing increased economic challenges, recent changes have brought PSR, the Church Divinity School of the Pacific (CDSP), and the GTU even closer together.

This “consortial” effort is the fruit of efforts by the GTU Alternative Futures Task Force, chaired by PSR President Bill McKinney, which has been working on issues of sustainability facing the consortium and member schools. They have decided to combine  the “secular side” of the activities of PSR, CDSP, and GTU—accounting and payroll, human resources, information technology (IT), dining, and facilities.

“Hard economic times enable one to do things that were unthinkable before,” McKinney says. “Can we imagine PSR being a strong, free-standing school that also cooperates with others to get a lot of its work done? We’ve achieved that with the library and with the doctoral program. I think combining the ‘secular services’  is simply taking it to the next step.”

This new administrative enterprise is headed by Steve Argyris as vice president and chief financial officer of GTU, PSR, and CDSP. Argyris has a long history with the GTU and is an alumnus of Jesuit School of Theology. (Alert readers will notice there is no “Berkeley” in the school’s name; the seminary recently underwent its own merger, with Santa Clara University.) Argyris spent 17 years as a Jesuit, serving an inner-city parish in San Diego. After leaving the order, he worked in JST’s development office. In 1999, after earning an MBA, he was hired to his current, and recently expanded, position at GTU.

The advantages to combining services come not just in reducing redundancies but also in sharing the strengths of the different schools and the talents of their personnel. According to McKinney: “We’re fighting redundancies not in personnel but in function. We don’t simply want to merge departments, we want to take a fresh look at the work we’re doing and whether it’s being done in the right way.”

At the same time they are combining services in an effort to be more efficient, the three schools are aware of the need to retain their distinctive cultures. “There are cultural differences between the schools,” Argyris points out, “and the schools want to retain their separate identities.” Argyris said that PSR would retain its IT office, human resources would move to CDSP, and the expanded services of accounting and payroll would be on the GTU campus.

As he nears his retirement, PSR President McKinney anticipates what increased collaboration could mean for the three schools. “My successor will get to work with the faculty around increasing our academic cooperation—we’re already doing some exciting new things, again with the Episcopal seminary—as we rethink the way we deliver our educational services.”

All a part of being many diverse parts of a distinctive body of religious education.