This edition of Crucible contains some great articles and resources and we hope you enjoy and appreciate them all. But, unfortunately, I reckon there are certain factors in Australian theological education that are inhibiting the production of more of them. Now I could be wrong in the argument I am about to make, so I invite responses to the following argument.
Based on my own experience (teaching and administrating in theological education in Australia and overseas) and from conversations with other people involved in this ministry it seems to me that the continuous succession of organizational changes that have been taking place in tertiary education in general, and in theological education in particular, in Australia over the past 15 years have not been helpful to teachers as they function in lecture halls and tutorials, and they have seriously inhibited faculty from research and writing.
The various changes (administrative, quality assurance, course structure, educational form etc, etc) vary in significance from the greatly beneficial through to the trivial and unnecessary . People’s views on which is which vary considerably and so I will limit myself to the observation that in a context of continual change even the good changes are damaging in that those involved in teaching are distracted from the core business of teaching and, especially research and writing (which is always the easiest and first activity to forego).
Time and energy are required whenever changes are made and theological teachers are less able to devote themselves to those activities they should be focusing on. A major change in any area requires several years to incorporate into the teaching life of faculty and by the time it is settled down another change comes around. Thus the teacher’s primary time and energy cannot be orientated towards their core businesses. And this is particularly accentuated when teachers have to also act as administrators.
A further problem occurs when, in an attempt to relieve teachers of administrative responsibilities, professional administrators are appointed. New positions are, ironically, generally justified by the perception that they are introducing changes,. But irrespective of whether the changes are good or not they often involve more work by faculty.
Note that my point is not that the changes cannot be good and useful; it is that even good changes have to be weighed against the costs of implementation – which is often borne by teaching faculty – and I do not think that this is done. It is possible to measure the benefits of the change and pronounce a program to be a success without focusing upon the hidden cost – that faculty’s time, attention and energy has been spent on something other than improving their teaching and extending their research and writing.
Quality is achieved by having faculty able to focus on that which they do best, and distractions from that in time and energy are costly in terms of education and research.
There are a number of associated dilemmas faced by theological institutions including
- discerning which of the changes are good and beneficial and which are trivial and unnecessary
- finding ways to prevent even the good changes from distracting faculty from developing their teaching and writing
- getting the right form of educational administration – balancing change and stability
- knowing how to deal with changes required by participation in consortiums and government bodies; and
- overcoming the stress of administration in very small institutions (compared with the much larger secular ones which usually set the trends)
While you think about this, do appreciate the articles in this edition of Crucible.