Seminaries cutting staff to save money

Lexington Theological Seminary, one of many seminaries nationwide and in Kentucky that are struggling in the economic crunch, is looking at cutting faculty and staff to save money.

President Jim Johnson said Wednesday that he is still determining which positions will be cut, and planning for a general reorganization to "reinvent" Lexington Theological Seminary. The seminary, located on South Limestone near the University of Kentucky campus, is struggling mainly because its endowment has shrunk by more than a third since 2007, according to Johnson.

"The whole process of getting the budget to where it needs to be probably will take a full year," he said.

Baptist Seminary of Kentucky, which is located on the Lexington Theological Seminary campus, continues to fare well and is adding two faculty positions, President Greg Earwood said. He noted that the small school, which opened in 2002, is less dependent on endowment money than Lexington Theological Seminary is.

Other Kentucky seminaries, however, are feeling the weight of the nation's economic decline.

Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore is watching its finances but plans no layoffs now, according to spokeswoman Tina Pugel.

"We're looking at other creative ways to shore up our budget," Pugel said. "But we're very aware of the situation, just like everyone else."

Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville expects to cut up to 35 full- and part-time administrative positions to help offset a budget shortfall of about $3 million, President Albert Mohler said. No faculty positions are being sacrificed now.

"We regret the reduction is necessary at all," Mohler said. "But the good news is that our glass is still well over 90 percent full."

Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary issued a statement from President Dean Thompson, who said the school is keeping a tight rein on finances "with cautious optimism that we can avoid eliminating positions."

"Seminaries around the country that rely heavily upon endowments have seen their incomes drop significantly," said Claude Wiggins, secretary-treasurer of the American Association of Christian College and Seminaries. "Schools that are more dependent on enrollment seem to be less affected, but that could change if the economic climate continues downward. I think all schools are operating on thinner margins. "

Eliza Brown, a spokeswoman for the Pittsburgh-based Association of Theological Schools, says the problem has been building since before the recent Wall Street meltdown. She estimated that up to 20 percent of seminaries that are not connected to a larger college or university have been running budget deficits for about three years.

Johnson, the Lexington Theological Seminary president, said his school was already working on a "reinvention plan" when the stock market plunged.

"We thought we had two or three years ... but the market crash just evaporated the time line we were working on," he said.