April 1, 2011
This morning’s New York Times brings news of a controversy in New York City between Friends Seminary, the excellent, Quaker independent school, and New York Quarterly Meeting, the grouping of Quakers with which the school is affiliated both through governance and through ownership of property. The controversy is an all-too-familiar one surrounding Quaker educational institutions and the Quaker worship bodies with which they are affiliated.
Full disclosure: I’m a former member of the School Committee (board of trustees) of Friends Seminary, and still a current member of 15th Street Meeting, one of the component congregations of New York Quarterly Meeting. While at a distance and not at all a participant, I do have a foot in both camps. And I’ve been through these controversies before at Germantown Friends School/Germantown Friends Meeting; Wilmington Friends School/Wilmington Friends Meeting; Haverford College/the Haverford Corporation; and Earlham College/Indiana and Western Yearly Meetings.
The Times article isn’t especially thoughtful about the controversy. It names some issues that have been in contention, but doesn’t explore that the relationship should be between a church and a school: it doesn’t illuminate how we ought to think about such a relationship. (Perhaps that’s in the nature of news reporting.)
What makes a school a Quaker school? Is it having a large number of Quaker students? Is it having a curricular program that draws from Quaker beliefs and practices? Is it in having Quaker members of the Faculty? Is it in having governance arrangements that largely give direction of the school over to Quakers? Is it in providing a place for Quaker worship? Etc.
Last year, Earlham changed its relationship to Indiana Yearly Meeting in important ways. Indiana Yearly Meeting ceased appointing a quarter of our trustees. Instead, Indiana Yearly Meeting and Earlham (a church and a college) entered into a covenant by which each made promises to the other about what each would do for the other in a continuing relationship. For us, I think it is a good statement of what it means to be a Quaker College. And it re-established the relationship between us on a better ground.