Divinity School preps for reaccreditation

The Divinity School is considering, among other things, the introduction of a doctoral program as it prepares to be reaccredited by the Association of Theological Schools in 2013.
The Divinity School is considering, among other things, the introduction of a doctoral program as it prepares to be reaccredited by the Association of Theological Schools in 2013. Photo by Sam Greenberg.

The Divinity School has begun a preliminary self-assessment to prepare for its reaccreditation in 2013. Among other issues, the school is exploring the possibility of creating a new doctoral program.

A long-range planning committee of faculty, students and administrators was formed in February and met last month for the first time to set the groundwork for the self-evaluation process, which will kick in to full gear in the fall. Headed by Associate Dean of Academic Affairs Emilie Townes, the committee will determine which major issues the school should consider in its self-assessment next year and, after the assessment, will submit a report to the Association of Theological Schools, which reaccredits member schools every 10 years.

In addition to considering adding a new degree program, Townes said, the committee will look at the Divinity School’s relationship with the rest of the University, inter-religious education at the Divinity School, the role of the chapel and prayer services in an educational institution, diversity of students and faculty, and the Divinity School’s global presence.

“We’re going to have to look at things like the state of religion in the world, the character of Christianity throughout the world,” Townes said, adding that the Divinity School hopes to do more work in Africa, where there has recently been a surge in Christianity, and strengthening the school’s exchange programs abroad.

Dale Martin, director of graduate studies in the Department of Religious Studies, said his department has been talking to the Divinity School about potentially creating a doctoral program for years. He said since there have been fewer religious studies doctoral students in recent years — about 10 per class — the Divinity School might be interested in having more advanced graduate students for itself, to assist in instruction.

The Divinity School currently offers three degree programs: master of divinity, master of arts in religion and master of sacred theology, and Martin said it granted doctorates until the Department of Religious Studies established its graduate program in 1963. But over the past five years, the number of divinity schools offering doctoral programs has increased, Attridge said. Harvard Divinity School, for example, offers a doctor of theology degree.

If Yale’s Divinity School creates a doctoral program, Townes added, it would want to make sure the degree would not compete with the religious studies doctoral program in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.

“We wouldn’t want there to be overlaps on the programs,” Martin added, explaining that if two programs existed, there could be some competition and one program would likely be perceived as second rate. “We might not want them to have a PhD at all, and that’s something we need to talk about.”

But because supporting doctoral students is very costly, Martin said he is skeptical the program will materialize.

Attridge said that although some programs may change in the self-assessment and reaccreditation processes, the size of the school (this year, there are 363 students enrolled) and the overall curricular structure will likely stay the same in the coming years.

The Divinity School was last reaccredited in 2003, when Attridge headed the self-evaluation committee. After the self-review leading up to that process, the school focused on improving its history of religion courses, international reach, practical ministerial skills and financial aid.

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