An aerial view of Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg, Pa. Photo courtesy Lutheran Theological Seminary

Two Lutheran seminaries will merge instead of closing, forming a new school

(RNS) Two Pennsylvania Lutheran seminaries have dropped plans to dissolve both schools and start a new one as they navigate hurdles in their quest to forge a new institution.

The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia and the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg said in a joint statement Thursday (April 28) that they would be “forming one seminary” from the two existing institutions.

That marks a change in direction from January, when the two schools affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America said they’d be closing to launch a new one.

Accreditation concerns caused the change of course, according to LTSG President Michael Cooper-White. Under state regulations, a new school would not be licensed to grant degrees or federal student loans for about two years, he said.

“We would not have been able to attract new students,” Cooper-White said. “To have students who would not be in an accredited school -- that was just untenable.”

The consolidated institution is expected to open in July 2017. With new support from ELCA partners, all full-time residential students preparing for ELCA ministry will be able to attend tuition-free, according to LTSP President David Lose.

Back in January, both boards hoped a new school launch would provide flexibility for a radical redesign. They foresaw building a new, leaner faculty while eliminating costly tenure-track positions at the predecessor institutions.

Now they’re exploring whether both schools will endure under the umbrella of the new institution, or if one will cease to exist. Either way, at least some tenured positions should be retained, according to Hans-Joerg Tiede, an associate secretary at the American Association of University Professors.

“From our perspective, this is a kind of merger," Tiede said, "and it does create obligations regarding the tenure of faculty from both institutions."

(G. Jeffrey MacDonald is an RNS correspondent based in Boston)