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Major reform for St John’s College

Sweeping changes are in store for St John’s College, the provincial Anglican theological college.

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Lloyd Ashton   |  12 May 2010  |  4 Comments  

Sweeping changes are in store for St John’s College, the provincial Anglican theological college.

General Synod today adopted the Reeves Commission report into the structure of the Meadowbank college.

That commission – comprising Sir Paul Reeves and the Auckland lawyer Kathryn Beck – was asked by Te Kotahitanga and the St John’s College Trust Board to investigate the structure, viability and effectiveness of the College, and to make recommendations on its findings.

Its key recommendations were:

  • That the St John’s Board of Oversight be suspended until the 2012 General Synod;
  • That a Commissary run the college for the next two years;
  • That this Commissary, who would be directly accountable to Te Kotahitanga, “would have no less than the powers of a CEO… with a mandate for change”;
  • He or she will be asked to pull together an action plan for the college (and its three constituent colleges) and to carry out that plan;
  • He or she will also have “the power to develop and implement policy, make rules and regulations and develop curriculum…”
  • The three heads of college will be required to “report and be accountable to the Commissary” and that person “would determine… what the duties and responsibilities of those positions will be in the future.”

Sir Paul and Ms Beck were at Synod to deliver their report, and while there was little argument with their conclusions, Synod spent a substantial part of the day debating the place of kaupapa Maori at the college.

After frequent breaks for tikanga caucusing, Professor Whatarangi Winiata brought an amendment that was passed by Synod.

This requires Te Kotahitanga “to introduce systems to allow them to report on the expression of kaupapa Maori in the life of the college.”

As a matter of courtesy, the Diocese of Polynesia delegation will report the course adopted by their tikanga partners to their diocesan standing committee in June – and Tikanga Pasefika's formal assent on this issue is expected after that.

A difficult task…

The Commission is under no illusions about the task facing the Commissary: “The role of Commissary,” it says, “will be difficult and on occasions isolated.”

At the end of the two-year period, and following a review of the Board of Oversight, the Commission suggests Te Kotahitanga appoints a principal “as the CEO of the college providing spiritual, academic and business leadership to the college.”

The Commission concludes its report this way: “The students are the heart of the College and represent the future of the church. We trust our recommendations will be seen to meet their needs as well as the church as a whole.”

The findings

No. Not: “On the one hand, this, on the other hand, that”. Just plain, unequivocal: “No”.

That’s the verdict passed by Sir Paul and Ms Beck on whether the present three-college structure of St John's College works.

In particular, they were asked to find whether the present structure enables the bodies ultimately responsible for educating our future priests (Te Kotahitanga, the St John’s College Trust Board, the Board of Oversight and the Tikanga Ministry bodies) to effectively carry out their responsibilities.

They were also asked to find whether the present structure of the college, and the relationships between Te Kotahitanga, the Board of oversight, the management team at St Johns and the Tikanga ministry bodies, allows each of these bodies to carry out their responsibilities.

“The answer to both those questions,” their report said, “is – No.”

Tikanga protectionism

Their report said the structure is “overly complicated, and multi-layered to the extent that it has become unwieldy.”

“It contains a number of cross accountabilities and memberships at different levels. The respective roles and responsibilities of the governing bodies, being Te Kotahitanga and the Board of Oversight, appear to have become confused…”

There’s a perception among college staff that membership of the Board of Oversight is driven more by Tikanga representation than by educational experience, and a concern that relationships and the workings of the Board have been driven by “Tikanga protectionism” rather than by a vision to deliver excellence in theological education.

This Tikanga representation and protectionism “is perhaps understandable,” says the report, in light of the Board’s responsibilities for the development of each of the three constituent colleges, and the Board’s awareness of the “needs and priorities” spelled out by each of the Tikanga Ministry Bodies.

That, however, misses the bigger picture – that the Board is ultimately responsible to provide the education the church needs “as defined by and under the direction of Te Kotahitanga.”

Ultimate responsibility?

Te Kotahitanga doesn’t escape criticism, however.

There’s a perception, the report noted, “that Te Kotahitanga has been distant from the College”.

Its responsibilities are indeed wider than just the governance of St John's. “However,” notes the report, “Te Kotahitanga is the Board of Governors of the College and as such it has ultimate responsibility for its functioning and direction.”

Negotiations about the needs and priorities of the three Tikanga “should properly take place” within Te Kotahitanga – “and there should not be the need for a second such process… to be undertaken at the Board of Oversight level”.

Te Kotahitanga, however, did not supply “the required definition and direction for the College… It appears to have considered that to be part of the role of the Board of Oversight.”

Until recently, however, the Board “did not appear to have had any such vision for what or who is the College of St John the Evangelist and what its mission and purpose is.

“It tended to deal with matters as they arose on a case-by-case basis as opposed to them being part of any particular plan or direction.

“In fact, the perception that there was no shared vision for… (St John’s)... was a significant criticism that emerged from our inquiries. This was exacerbated by the view that there was a lack of synergy and/or co-operation between the College of the Southern Cross, Te Rau Kahikatea, and the College of the Diocese of Polynesia…”

A flawed strategy?

There’s widespread agreement among all the parties, the report notes, “that a shared vision” is desirable and necessary.

To that end, a strategic plan has recently been developed by the management team of the College, three members of the Board of Oversight and a consultant.

But, says the report, “the vision and mission statement of that plan were not derived from Te Kotahitanga”. The process followed, says the report “appears to indicate lack of clarity around the respective roles of the entities. It is for the governing body to set the vision.”

While, on the face of it, that document “acknowledges the challenges and purports to address them” no agreed annual business plan has surfaced to enable the strategy to be put into action.

“Too often the College has ended up in a state of inertia. This is not acceptable. To resist change or attempt to remain the same is simply not an option…”

The report also observes that some matters are debated, and then debated all over again “on numerous occasions in different forums…with no progress being made on the issues.

“The criticism made across the board is that this is in part, due to people engaging on the basis of Tikanga protectionism, as opposed to operating on the basis of the pursuit of a shared vision for The College of St John the Evangelist.”

“Further, there is a lack of clarity around who/which entity, if anyone, has the power to make a decision at either a governance or management level…

A remaining sense of grievance

“If a decision is made, there also seems to be confusion about who is responsible for implementing it. The overall effect of this situation is that unless there is genuine consensus on something decisions don’t get made, or get made but don’t get implemented.

“The decisions that do get made without total agreement are ones where an individual and their tikanga adopt a position of leverage to drive it through.

“In the case of decisions that are made in this way, our observation is that the remaining sense of grievance for all involved is strong and highly destructive.

“We observed an organisation currently functioning at an acceptable level in so far as the students are concerned but organisationally largely in a state of impasse.

“We note that there has been some movement on issues such as work load in the last few weeks but this has taken nearly a year with numerous occasions of various parties simply not doing what was asked of them and there being no consequences for that inaction.

The report notes that while the Heads of College have taken part in the development of the Strategic Plan, and should now have a shared vision for the college… “they are having great difficulty in reaching agreement on matters relevant to the operation of the college.”

That is because of the structure in which the college heads work in.

“The heads… appear to consider that they are answerable and accountable to their respective Tikanga Ministry Boards not just on a consultative basis but also on a functional level.

“In some instances, despite the fact that they are employees of the College, and therefore accountable and responsible to the Board of Oversight, it is apparent that in fact they feel a greater accountability to their Ministry Board for their actions.

“This makes the operation of the entity The College of St John the Evangelist inordinately difficult if not impossible.”

A viable structure? Yes – but not in its current form

The Commission was also asked to report on the “viability and effectiveness of the three college structure” for the provision of theological education now and for the future, and on the accountability of the colleges to “The Board of Oversight, Te kotahitanga, the Trust board and each other.”

The Commission found that the three college structure “is still viable, although not in the current form.”

The perception “of a lack of synergy and/or co-operation” between the colleges “is accurate.”

“None of the entities are currently able to effectively fulfil their roles.’

Furthermore, by meeting only three or four times a year, Te Kotahitanga does not easily lend itself to fulfilling its role of being The Board of Governors – while the Board of Oversight, due to its structure and make up, appears “unable to fulfil its designated role”.

The three colleges, therefore, are functioning as autonomous, independent units, and lack a common direction.

Furthermore, the report notes, that because the students are now largely taught offsite – either at Auckland University or remotely through Otago – “the operation of the (full) college is quite different from what it was at the time of the current structure being put in place.”

As a result, the teaching load for the on-site academic faculty, and the need for academic faculty on the site, is “now substantially reduced.”

A larger question?

The Commissioners note that there have been a number of reports into the workings of the College over the last 20 years, “and general agreement that there are issues and problems.”

“The same issues and problems get raised again in the next report and the next and again in the answers to our questionnaire.

“It is apparent that they are not resolved in anyone’s eyes. We see these problems being largely a product of structural issues, and are of the view that there needs to be significant change…”

In their opening remarks, the commissioners hint at a larger question:

“The three-Tikanga constitutional development in our church is an opportunity to rejoice in our diversity, integrity and God-given gifts within a wide partnership.

“It may now be time to assess where we have got to.

“Certainly one of the submissions spoke of mutual neglect rather than mutual interdependence.”

Comments

Patti Lao-Wood

@ Paddy Noble
Publishing your comment took courage. I applaud you for that! I respect your experience and your expression of it. I wonder, regarding the issues you describe within Te Rau Kahekatea, are they not quite typical of our culture? Are we not passionate to the point of explosion in many areas? From the outside it looks destructive and dysfunctional but that dynamic tension is what protects us from complacency. I think we are a wise people though, with the ability to identify personal agendas, what we don't do well is strategise an effective response. God forbid the day when Te Rau are called to Powhiri to Mickey Mouse! My current experience is that I share space with a few very astute students, across the Tikanga, widely experienced in respective fields prior to 'getting off the turnip truck'. Re:the Governance of St Johns - by virtue of the fact that the structure is secular - love and trust are not a requirement of administration. As far as HoDs go - (borrowing from Maori thought) if you aren't at the helm, you aren't leading the waka.

Paddy Noble

I don't want to make sweeping statements without some thought to what Paul Reeves and Kathryn Beck had to come up with. I think in their report there is a degree of honesty and truth and it highlights the problems that being politically correct can sometimes be a bit too much. For example the statement made that there is a sense of 'tikanga protectionism' is true. As a Te Raukahekatea Student I recall that our meetings were quiet explosive on how our relationships with our tikanga partners would play out in our overall college life. It was as if we had to get approval from our tikanga heads at college to determine who should be our friend and how we should interact together. This issue was on both sides of the spectrum. I also didn't like the fact that the Te Raukahikatea Students were used as dial-up-Maori performers for visitors and other occasions. I enjoy and love kapahaka but it became too much to us being used to help others gain their degrees on our time and backs! This irked me a lot! Finally the reason why there is confusion with both the Te Kotahitanga, The Board of Oversight and the Trust Board, is simply they don't like each other and they don't trust each other

Patti Lao-Wood

As a current student of St Johns College I assert that there is indeed unity among the students of the 3 Tikanga. Largely I attribute that to the field trip (Hikoi Marae) that the 3 Tikanga students and staff participated in prior to and as a part of Orientation. The pastoral care shown by faculty in attendance has never waivered nor diminished. The quest for Unity in diversity requires personal committment, it is not something that can be administratively imposed. The current students across the 3 Tikanga are very supportive one to another and have enormous respect for the commitment from faculty, to our ongoing academic and spiritual formation. I see among my peers a strong and cohesive selection of future leaders of the emerging Church in Aotearoa. I take great pride in being a Maori woman in Tikanga Pakeha with a huge admiration for the quiet diligence of our Oceania brothers and sisters. The common aim in tuition and domestic life must be determined by each Tikanga - 'one size fits all' is a term best left in the garment industry.

Ronnie Smith

“The heads… appear to consider that they are answerable and accountable to their respective Tikanga Ministry Boards not just on a consultative basis but also on a functional level.
- Commissioners' Report -

As an 'old-boy' of St. John's College, I find the implications of this report somewhat disturbing - but not totally unexpected. With the old system of administration, combining Methodist, Presbyterian and Anglican students, with a common curriculum, the joint College Family ethos seemed to work well. However, with the emergence of the 3 tikanga model of Church there was a degree of separatism which seems to have led to a culture of fractured identity, both in the Church and in the theological education system. Where, at one time, there was a unity among the students and staff at St. John's - with a common aim in tuition and domestic life, it would appear that this administration no longer works, in terms of a united focus of theological education for the whole Church. This quest for UNITY in diversity needs to be recovered - for all our sakes. Now is surely the right time to address the real needs of theological education for the emerging Church.