by Robert Stockman
Since its retreat June 5-7, the Wilmette Institute staff has hit the ground running. Through a series of almost daily two-hour meetings via zoom, the staff has considered the implications of the staff retreat and applied the resulting insights to the Institute’s programs.
A decision at the retreat was that we would offer only 35 extension (non-credit) courses in 2023: five brand new ones that we chose through a discussion of needs in the American Bahá’í community; five recurring courses that we will revise to upgrade their content and pedagogy; and 25 recurring courses that we will continue with minimal upgrade. Lack of staffing will not allow us to do much work on the twenty-five, but there is great interest in them among the Bahá’ís and their friends and we want to keep our faculty teams intact and active through the revision process.
Zoom training sessions in the summer and fall (starting with a faculty meeting on July 22) will inform the faculty about our new approach (which is not drastically different from what the Institute has been doing; see the article about our retreat) and help them begin the process of aligning their courses more closely. One result will be better support for the Nine Year Plan and its three areas of endeavor (community building, social action, and public discourse). Wilmette Institute courses are particularly able to support the development of discourse, ranging from significant conversation to local public discourse and to Bahá’í scholarship in the form of print and video.
The focus on discourse and scholarship has also helped the Wilmette Institute staff focus on the purpose of its monthly webinars and consider the audiences they serve. The Universal House of Justice’s 2013 letter about the Association for Bahá’í Studies has proved particularly helpful. The Institute will probably appoint at least one task force to create webinars that are able to reach younger audiences in 2023.