The University of Winnipeg has announced plans to phase out its Faculty of Theology in an effort to curb costs.
Jeremy Read, senior executive officer and advisor to university president Lloyd Axworthy, attributes the restructuring to an effort to reduce the department’s operating costs and maintains that students will not be affected.
A Bachelor of Theology and Masters in both Divinity and Sacred Theology will still be offered.
“The intention is to maintain the current programming, but also to heighten the program of theology in the community,” he said.
Recognized by the university’s charter, the Faculty of Theology was established as a program in 1871 and later led to the creation of the university in 1967.
Although the nature of the changes remain to be seen, former faculty dean James Christie said there are two reasons for the re-imagination of the program.
First was restructuring its size.
The faculty, which includes only three professors and serves less than 100 students, has the same number of administrative responsibilities as other faculties.
“There needed to be serious reflection on our form. This was an exercise in form following function,” said Christie.
Secondly, it was evolving into something much different than a regular faculty.
“Although we maintain the name of ‘Faculty of Theology,’ we had already begun to do things a little differently,” Christie said.
“When we talk about the ‘Faculty of Theology,’ for almost two decades, it’s been the enterprise of theology throughout the community, extending beyond the walls of the university.”
The university will have to appeal to both the United Church of Canada and the Senate in order to proceed with its restructuring plans.
In 2010, the faculty received its last year of funding from the United Church, which has slowly ceased funding to four of its 10 affiliated theological schools. Until that point, the church supported the U of W faculty with $103,200 annually.
“We’re already in conversations with them. We’re well aware of the longstanding history (of the Faculty),” Read said.
The General Council of the United Church of Canada will still appoint 10 members to the university’s Board of Regents, and the Dean of Theology will continue to sit as a member of the Senate.
Christie says the relationship between the church and the university is as strong as ever.
“It’s always an unpleasant thing when an institution you’ve had a relationship with has to pull the dollars,” he said.
“They’ve been shrinking for decades. The problem for them is that the ways in which Christianity itself is expressed is changing.”
Pauline Pearson, president of the University of Winnipeg Faculty Association (UWFA), says the organization has no reason to be concerned.
“Any time we can do restructuring that’s positive for the university financially, I think that’s a good thing.”
Published in Volume 67, Number 23 of The Uniter (March 14, 2013)