ESR Update from Dean Matt Hisrich

Dear Friends of ESR,

I hope this message finds you doing as well as possible under challenging circumstances. Now more than ever we need to hold one another in the Light, minister to our own needs, the needs of others, and the needs of the world. I trust that we are each doing that in ways large and small and thank you for what you bring to this work.

I write to share an update with you on some of the recent changes that have taken place at Earlham School of Religion and provide some information on where we are headed for the fall. As you may have seen, Earlham College has announced significant budget reductions and a change in part of its endowment that have and will impact ESR. Endowment

De-Designation and Budget Reductions

On the morning of May 11 President Anne Houtman informed ESR’s employees by email that the Board had come to unity regarding the de-designation of portions of the Earlham College endowment previously designated by the Board to secure ESR’s financial stability. This amounts to roughly half of the approximately $49 million amount that ESR had previously considered its endowment, which means that ESR still retains a large endowment for a school of its size. I then met with ESR’s employees that afternoon to discuss the details of this decision, including an accompanying 20 percent budget reduction and changing the direct lines of administrative reporting away from ESR’s Dean and Vice President to other Earlham Vice Presidents in their respective areas. Dotted-line reporting to the Dean will remain in place.

The goal of all these changes is to help secure the College’s financial future and improve efficiencies in operation. Unfortunately, this does mean the loss of deeply valued ESR employees. Last week, I informed Director of Community Engagement Mandy Ford, Custodian Mike Jordan, and Director of Student and Alumni Engagement Brent Walsh that their positions would not continue after June 30, 2020. I encourage you to reach out to them and offer your encouragement and support to them in this difficult time of transition. In addition, the search for a Contextual Ministry Education teaching faculty position has been cancelled. I will teach Supervised Ministry for the 2020-21 academic year. These are not positions that will be easily absorbed, but our goal is that in partnership with the College we can find ways to cover as many of the responsibilities as possible between Earlham and the remaining ESR staff and faculty.

Of course, it is impossible to know the full implications of these changes. On the one hand, there is no getting around the fact that this is devastating news for many of our employees and may have significant impact on the planning work we have already undertaken. On the other hand, ESR was incredibly fortunate to have benefitted from the Board’s decision to designate these funds for ESR at a time when they were critically important to the seminary’s survival. That they can be utilized by the Board for the College at a time when they are critically important to the College’s survival makes good sense. Our hope is to hold on to what has made us successful and find our way through the challenging times ahead with a sense of integrity to our mission.


In the early days of the pandemic we made the decision not to ask for donations. Despite not sending out a Spring Appeal Letter, ESR remains currently over $267K ahead in gifts as of April 30, 2019. This year we will also receive the first installment of a $1.5 million 10-year annuity gift from Jim Perkins of Heartland Friends in Wichita. We were able to work with Jim in the months since our December visit to finalize this agreement. I am pleased that Jim and ESR are mutually excited about the facilities, event, and scholarship support that this amazing gift provides the school. Also, if you have not been to ESR’s website recently, when you visit again you will see a “Give To ESR” button on every page. Now would be a wonderful time to make a gift designated to ESR!

COVID 19 and ESR’s Fall Calendar

This spring, ESR followed the College in closing the campus and moving classes and operations online. ESR has taken many steps to provide relief and support to students and employees, including increased financial aid for the next academic year. We do have approval from the College to proceed with offering our August intensives in residential format, and we welcome those of you who are ready to join us on campus. Your health and safety are our priority, and we will have enhanced cleaning protocols and physical distancing in place. For those who are not comfortable moving or traveling to campus for these courses, however, we will be offering them through Zoom, as well – what we are describing as a “residential optional model.”

The August intensives mark the launch of our Professional M.A. in Peace and Social Transformation. For those students, as well as any of our students receiving residential-based scholarships, while the August intensives will be residential optional the regular fall semester will begin residency for fall and spring semesters. While we do not anticipate the need to pivot fully online, should that need arise as a result of broader health concerns ESR will honor its residential scholarship support for students even if it is not possible to study on campus. Those students not ready to commit to this for the coming academic year will have the option to defer until fall 2021.

Fall Admissions

As of June 1, we have over 30 applications or highly anticipated applications compared to fewer than 20 at this time last year. The diversity of the applications is very hopeful (African-American, Latinx, Iranian-American, Kenyan, many different faith backgrounds, LGBTQ+, etc.). Julie has been doing a wonderful job coordinating information sessions on our programs with prospective students and applicants via Zoom.

In conclusion, ESR remains well-positioned for success in the future – we still have a strong endowment designated by donors for ESR, we still have strong programs that are attracting an increasing number of strong applicants, we still see gains in our contributions to ESR, we still have an excellent staff and faculty, we still have strong partnerships, and we still have a niche in the graduate theological education market serving a unique and important segment of the religious landscape. If you have any questions or concerns about any of the above or anything else related to ESR, please do not hesitate to reach out to me. I look forward to hearing from you!