Wilmette Institute Board Meets, Develops Far-Sighted New Plans

by Robert Stockman

Wilmette Institute blue logoAt its meeting June 22–23, 2018, the Wilmette Institute Board reviewed its progress and refined its goals for the next several years. Its articulation agreement with the United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities in Minnesota, USA, has been a great success: one student, a Bahá’í, took six Wilmette Institute courses for credit toward her Master’s degree in interfaith chaplaincy; two of her friends, who were not Bahá’ís, took one course each. The Wilmette Institute has successfully upgraded its educational operation by designing six accreditable courses, raising courses standards to meet college and university standards, conducting faculty training, and organizing the Institute’s courses into departments.

Increasing Number of Courses for Credit. As a result of its success with the Union Theological Seminary, the Wilmette Institute has permission to expand its program of accreditable courses and thus plans to increase its courses for credit from five to at least twelve. It will publicize these courses at the Association for Bahá’í Studies annual conference in Atlanta in August and at the Parliament of World Religions in Toronto in November. It will also use its marketing facilities to let Bahá’ís and their friends at universities know about its accreditable courses, two of which are available for credit starting this September: The Bahá’í Faith: A Comprehensive Introduction and Introduction to Bahá’í History, 1863–2018. The Wilmette Institute’s courses are now offered in terms that relate to college and university offerings: September, January, April, and June. The Institute will be scheduling courses for credit at the beginning of each term. If you have ideas about how to make the Wilmette Institute’s accreditable courses more widely available, please send suggestions to rstockman@usbnc.org.

Increasing Number of Staff. The program of courses for credit will require new human and financial resources. Faculty members who teach courses for credit are offered a larger honorarium because such courses require additional work for developing and maintaining them and for working with students. In addition, the Director will need to visit universities to talk to students, faculty, and deans about the Wilmette Institute and its services and devote time to maintaining such relationships. Hence the Board’s second focus is the Wilmette Institute’s need for additional human resources. It hopes to hire an Associate Director to assist with course development, faculty training, and day-to-day operations. Such an addition will allow the Institute to continue to develop greater capacities while the Director focuses more time on outreach. The job description for the new position is being developed.

Increasing Fund-Raising. The need for additional staff led to the Board’s third action: increased fund-raising. As the Institute’s programs have expanded, tuition payments have gone from 100 percent of the Institute’s income to 45 percent in 2017. Fund-raising has grown to 55 percent of the Institute’s income, and it needs to expand considerably because the number of students taking Wilmette Institute courses (1,300 in 2017) is not likely to increase significantly in the near future. In the fiscal year 2017–18, the Institute received $70,000 in donations from its very generous supporters. But it did not reach its goal of $100,000, resulting in its first large deficit since it began in 1995. The Institute has set a goal of raising at least $200,000 during the fiscal year 2018–19, a necessary sum if it is to hire additional staff and fund needed travel.

Other Goals. In addition to its focus on making courses available for credit, the Board spent considerable time on plans to increase its services to young adults and the community of interest. It authorized a pilot project. It is considering other, possibly longer, deepening videos.

The Wilmette Institute also plans to expand its discourse webinars in which a Bahá’í hosts and possibly interviews a well-known expert on a subject related to the Bahá’í teachings. The first discourse webinar, in May 2018, featured Dr. Leonard Swidler, a well-known Catholic theologian who has been involved in interfaith dialogue for decades. If the Institute can obtain the resources, it could easily offer a live webinar of some kind once a week. Some would be discourse webinars, some would be Web Talks featuring Bahá’í speakers, and some might focus on young adults.

A Bright Future.  The Wilmette Institute Board left its June meeting filled with excitement about all the possibilities. Online education has an enormous potential to serve academic audiences, provide basic deepening, illuminate specialized aspects of the Bahá’í teachings, foster discourse with leaders of thought, and promulgate Bahá’í scholarship. The Institute hopes that—bit by bit, day by day—it can strengthen its capacities to provide all such services.

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