At first, Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minn., could see itself as exempt from the economic forces shaking seminaries and theological schools nationwide. Luther is the biggest seminary for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the largest Lutheran denomination in the United States. Among its peers, it had a reputation for being innovative. Individual donors continued to give, and its local area — in one of the country’s most Lutheran states — was supportive.
Last fall, though, it all came crashing down. Enrollments were dropping. The seminary found it was running multimillion-dollar deficits, spending down its endowment and relying on loans. In December, its president, the Rev. Dr. Richard Bliese, resigned, as the seminary’s board began to look at options to trim at least $4 million from the seminary’s $27 million annual budget.
The results were announced…[not long ago]: layoffs for 18 of its 125 staff members, many effective within a few weeks; the voluntary departure of 8 of 44 faculty members at the end of the academic year, who will not be replaced; the termination of a master’s program in sacred music; and the decision to no longer admit Ph.D students for at least three years.