By Candice Hill Buchbinder, ELCA News Service
Lifting up this church’s commitment to the 500-year-old Lutheran intellectual tradition, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) has created the Network of ELCA Colleges and Universities, established in collaboration with the ELCA’s 26 colleges and universities to promote their shared mission and identity.
“We needed a better vehicle for our schools collectively to be the community that is ELCA higher education,” said the Rev. Mark Wilhelm, ELCA program director for colleges and universities. “The network provides a new structure to help maintain a dialogue among the schools about their shared mission and identity.”
The network will be overseen by a board of directors composed of the presidents of the 26 institutions and an executive director. Most authority will be delegated to an executive committee made up of from four to eight presidents, along with the executive director. Wilhelm has been named the network’s first executive director.
“The newly formed network of ELCA colleges and universities is groundbreaking,” said Michael Maxey, president of Roanoke College in Salem, Va., and chairperson of the executive committee. “We believe it will develop and sustain a stronger, more viable vision of Lutheran higher education in the ELCA. The links between and among our colleges and universities and the ELCA will make all of us stronger, separately and collectively.”
“With all the pressures on higher education today, I hope that the network will assist ELCA colleges and universities to continue as effective institutions of character development, citizen development and faith development,” said Wilhelm, highlighting distinct characteristics of Lutheran higher education.
“Education is for the whole person – body, mind and spirit. Making such an education available through ELCA colleges and universities is one of the main vehicles by which this church, to use Luther’s terms, serves the neighbor,” he said.
Wilhelm emphasized that the network is not intended to operate as a central system of higher education similar to many state university systems.
“Each of the schools will continue to be responsible for its own governance and operations, but the network will facilitate collaborative work,” he said.
“The creation of a formal network of our 26 ELCA colleges and universities will certainly enable us to promote the distinctive character and identity of Lutheran higher education across our institutions, but more importantly it has the promise of creating new, shared opportunities for our students and faculty,” said Paul Pribbenow, president of Augsburg College in Minneapolis and a member of the executive committee. “Together in partnership our institutions will develop curricular and co-curricular offerings that model the abundant resources found across the network. That promise is what has energized my deep commitment to the creation of the network.”
One example of a co-curricular initiative for undergraduates is the discussion around awareness of interfaith relationships.
“To be an educated person in this country means you are able to live among people of many faiths and many cultures without carrying some of the negative legacies of the past around how we treat people who are different than we are,” said Wilhelm. “I hope that through common conversation and a shared mission we will enhance our capacity to improve the student experience of interfaith engagement.”
“I think this will be an important new day” said Wilhelm. “I hope the network will lift up more publicly and collectively what our schools already do exceptionally well.”