Written by Dr. John Morgan, former GTF President and Karl Mannheim Professor of the History and Philosophy of the Social Sciences and Director of Doctoral Programs in Clinical Psychotherapy.
This year we celebrate 54 years with the Graduate Theological Foundation. During that time we have worked with hundreds of clergy and ministry professions from a wide range of Protestants (ministers and laity), Roman Catholics (priests and laity), Jews (rabbis and laity), and Muslims (imams and laity). With nearly 3,000 alumni and over 70 faculty members, the GTF has been serving the educational needs of professional practitioners in a wide range of ministries for over 50 years and currently the enrollment at 650 students is larger than ever in its history. There are over 250 American universities, colleges, and seminaries and over 75 international institutions where our alumni have held faculty appointments. These institutions include both Oxford University’s Department for Continuing Education and the Centro Pro Unione in Rome, institutions with which the GTF maintains formal relationships. The question is often asked – “How do you account for the tremendous success of the Graduate Theological Foundation at a time when theological institutions all across the country are either closing or shrinking?” We like to be asked this question and here we offer the simple answer.
The success of an educational institution with over 50 years of history and nearly 3,000 alumni cannot simply and easily be explained. And yet, there is justification for asking just how it has happened. Three specific features immediately come to mind. Quite clearly, those features are the faculty, the curriculum, and the library. Of course, every educational institution has this tripartite foundation and yet many have failed over time while the GTF continues to thrive. The explanation for our on-going success has to do with the manner in which we have chosen to define and implement these three features. Simply put, (1) our faculty are contract rather than residential, (2) our library is an electronic aggregation rather than a physical repository, and (3) our curriculum is a composite of internet tutorials rather than a roster of residential courses. Let us explore briefly each of these components in our success.
Traditionally, faculty hold full-time and tenure-track appointments or they are part-time adjunct and non-tenure track appointments. Increasingly at mainline universities, faculty are appointed based on a time-sensitive contract for services rendered and whereas in an earlier time these would have simply been adjunct appointments, more common today is the practice of limited contracts with renewals based on inter-institutional assessments of competency and performance. Because the GTF offers its courses primarily over the internet, we have chosen to contract with individual scholars to teach for us based on their specialization. They are paid per course and, as we shall shortly explain, all of our courses are strictly individualized tutorials, i.e., one student to one professor per course. This practice has allowed the GTF to provide our students access to some of the most outstanding scholars in the field with whom we have contracted to teach a particular course relevant to each student’s individualized needs. Quite commonly and ideally, the course is based upon the book written by that scholar. Issues of tenure are not involved and each faculty person is as busy as the required needs of each of our students demand. Many of our faculty find that the stipends paid for each course taught become a major source of revenue and the joy of teaching one’s own book or specialization to a doctoral-level student who already holds at least one, and more commonly, multiple graduates degrees, makes the tutorial conversation enriching to both the professor and the student. The massive expense of maintaining a residential faculty is avoided while providing a top level roster of distinguished scholars as contract faculty to our student body.
The second feature accounting for the success of the GTF has to do with our library. Most educational institutions find that maintaining a physical library – staff, books, periodicals, facilities – constitutes a major source of expense. However, increasingly mainline universities are developing library facilities based on internet access to aggregated libraries in lieu of the traditional physical facility. University libraries are becoming increasingly transformed into interactive student centers, recreational facilities, food courts and shopping malls for the on-campus student with the shelved books devolving into what appears to be a book museum. Since our graduate students are not on campus but rather “on the job at their place of employment,” we have avoided this massive expense of staff, books, periodicals, and facilities. Rather, like leading universities, we have chosen to provide a massive internet library based on an aggregation of existing free and fee-based sources of books and periodicals. Our aggregated library has been so respected internationally that foreign educational institutions have requested access to our research library. Presently, it is available to all of our students, alumni, faculty, and the general public gratis. With free access to this massive aggregation of scholarly literature in a full range of topics cognate to ministry, i.e., psychology, education, music, liturgy, theology, philosophy, history, counseling, etc., the GTF provides a major one-stop service for anyone doing doctoral-level research anywhere in the world where access to the internet is available. And, amazingly, the maintenance of this library is cost free to the institution.
Finally, the third feature characterizing the GTF success story is that of our curriculum. Presently, we offer 225 courses called “e-tutorials.” These e-tutorials have been patterned after the traditional tutorial offered at Oxford University for nearly a millennium with the caveat that our tutorials are offered over the internet via the use of email. The traditional tutorial consists of one hour discussions with a professor each week for 6 to 8 weeks. At these tutorials, the student presents a short paper (500-1,000 words) based on the assigned readings for that week from an agreed upon text. The student presentation is followed by comments, questions, and observations by the professor leading to a give-and-take discussion of the textual materials and presented paper for the week. The GTF elevated this ancient practice to the 21st century by using the same format via email. The student receives a syllabus via email based on a six-week reading schedule using the text(s) required for the course. Only one student and one professor are involved in the process, leaving out group chats, etc., with other students. All courses are strictly tutorials. Each week the paper is sent by the student to the professor via email and the professor responds by email within 72 hours. At the end of six weeks, the student has written up to 6,000 words on the topic of the course based on the assigned readings. These six weekly papers plus the six formal responses from the professor are integrated into a final paper presented within the next four weeks making the entire process 10 weeks.
Clearly, these three factors, viz., contract faculty, aggregated library, and internet tutorials, combined with the quality of strong administrative leadership, the vision and imagination of the staff and faculty, and creative ideas responding to the demands of the professions being served all constitute the fundamental ingredients accounting for the overall success of this institution.