Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Marine Corps Officers & UU Ministers

As is probably revealed elsewhere in the blog, I'm a Washintarian (a Unitarian, now UU, from Washington, DC), the son of a WW II vet who spent most of his civilian career in the Pentagon, and a retired Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) employee. Most of my life has played out surrounded current and former members of the armed services and their families. This is not the typical UU story, especially here in Berkeley.

I returned to DC to work in the VA headquarters slightly before the Carter Inauguration. Ed, a Marine Corps Reserve officer, trained me in my duties. Though our job was to support the staffing of senior positions throughout the Department, I also had the opportunity to learn a little about some of his duties in the Marine Corps Reserve.

One thing Ed told me over 30 years ago has become permanently implanted in my brain. He said that all Marine Corps officers were outstanding, but some were more outstanding than others.

Ed also told me that Marine Corps had a 20-year "up or out" system for its officers. This meant that once officers had 20 or more years of service, they were retired if too much time had passed since their last promotion. I couldn't wrap my mind around the following question: If everyone was outstanding, then how did the Marine Corps decide who was promoted and who was retired?

Ed explained that while everybody was outstanding, some officers were more outstanding than others. Promotion panel learned how to read between the lines in fitness reports to assess whether the officer was being recommended for promotion or for retirement.

The Marines Corps officer corps is a very tight-knit, caring bunch. They literally are willing to lay down their lives for one another. They certainly do not wish to badmouth one another in fitness reports. Giving nearly everyone outstanding ratings is one way of recognizing the contributions of these hard working, talented, and dedicated individuals. When officers not yet eligible for retirement do need to work on their growing edges, the outstanding ratings demonstrate the respect in which they are held and the confidence that they have the capacity to make the needed changes.

Although I am new to UU ministry, I have already seen parallels to the Marine Corps ethos among UU ministers and candidates for ministry and among clergy and clerical candidates from other religions. I support this ethos of evaluation. My concerns are that aspirants and candidates not used to such systems may be believe their own press, and as search committee members and other laity who are as naive as I once was may also be misled.

A major caveat to the above concerns: my experience with ministerial evaluation is limited. Maybe like one of the blind men touching the elephant, I have mistakenly inferred that what I've perceived is true for the whole enterprise. Your comments and insights will be appreciated.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Regionalization, Baffling Information, & Independent Review

Thanks to Christine Robinson at iMinister for this continuing dialogue on ministerial credentialing. Her latest post on the subject, to which this one is in reply, is here.

Regionalization - The fact that ministers often move among regions is not a significant objection to the establishment of 4 regional MFCs to match the 4 regional RSCCs. It does speak to the need to assure consistency and equity among regional RSCCs, as there needs to be consistency and equity between MFC panels now.

My experience with process innovation suggests that vertical integration--reviewing the record from application for aspirant status to final fellowship--is likely to be more important than horizontal integration--a single body reviewing all ministers in a step on the path, e.g., preliminary fellowship. One of the most valuable things that the MFC now does is look at multiple evaluations across time. When this is done, items that may have seemed minor in a single evaluation become magnified when they are repeated and unaddressed.

I do wholeheartedly agree that non-MFC individuals and groups can help the RSCCs and the MFC. For example, the drafting of standards and evaluation methods and studies of MFC processes and results can be performed outside of the MFC. In fact, the UUA Board recently charged a non-MFC work group to look at all UU credentialing.

Baffling Information - Christine rightfully points to the "baffling information" (or the baffling lack of information!) that sometimes accompanies a "3" from the MFC or a "yellow light" or "red light" from a RSCC. Christine tells us what happened to her 30 years ago. Today, David Pettee and others are ready to help "decode" these baffling comments. While it would be ideal for the MFC and RSCCs to provide more information in writing, this may not happen until they are given further resources.

Maybe another question might be helpful: "When is it appropriate to require additional preparation by a candidate before the candidate is allowed into preliminary fellowship?" As we strengthen the common and public understanding of the answer to that question, greater clarity and detail in the information provided to aspirants and candidates is likely to result.

Independent Review - Ah, it is terrible to waste a good miscommunication. I was not recommending a preliminary fellowship review outside the MFC; I was lauding the merits of having the annual MFC review because it is in addition to those provided by individuals and committees who work directly with the minister. The danger of direct observation is that the observers sometimes become so close to the minister that they become unwisely biased in their evaluations. However, I'm glad for the happy accident of the fuzziness of my recommendation because there is wisdom in Christine's recommendations that others be involved in the review process and that the mentoring process be strengthened.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Ministerial Credentialing: Four Questions from Wayne Arneson

What a wonderful time to catch up on backlogs.

This post is in reply to the 4 questions from Wayne Arneson, Chair of the Ministerial Fellowshipping Committee (MFC), posted here at iMinister on 12/8/09.

1. The UUMA already plays a major role in accrediting ministers. There are UUMA reps to the MFC. Other Committee members, including the chair and the senior UUA staff advisers, are UUMA members. Having the UUMA take over the process entirely is very unlikely and risks isolating the process from the various constituencies served by UU ministers.

2. There may be merit in regional credentialing. The MFC has a massive workload that could be divided by regionalization. There would be the challenge of consistency across the regions; however, that challenge isn't likely to be insurmountable and is already faced by the Regional Subcommittees on Candidacy (RSCCs). The great challenge would be to locate the resources, both human and financial, to create such regional MFCs and to develop and provide the training and evaluation needed for valid and consistent examining in all of them.

3. The broader question is the following: Should there be a substantive review/examination before a candidate is accepted for preliminary fellowship, or should a candidate automatically be accepted for preliminary fellowship when the candidate has successfully completed all the requirements (M.Div., CPE, internship, etc.)? This question revolves around whether this examination is worth the resources expended. Without going into a long argument here, let's just note that some ministers have reported that getting a "3" (do "X" and come back for a 2nd interview) helped prepare them for ministry.

To return to the narrower question, if you accept that a final substantive review/examination is needed, then it's legit to ask whether an interview should be a part of it. The interview does produce information that can assist the MFC. It's also true that the interview and the process of preparing for it could be further demystified so as to reduce the attendant anxiety and improve its validity and reliability.

4. Even Christine Robinson's proposal seems to be another form of a probationary period, a time of trial during which a determination is made whether a person receives "tenure." As long as you retain a 3-year probationary period, it makes sense to have annual reviews and a continuing mentoring process.

Finally, it's of benefit to have someone or group other than the mentor who is outside the immediate setting evaluate progress during preliminary fellowship. This does not answer the questions of whether there is too much paperwork involved in the current process and whether we can streamline and improve the reviews.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas & Credentialing

Merry Christmas everyone!

I just got caught up on my e-mails yesterday. When that happens in Gmail, a little message appears asking whether you'd like to look at Google reader. I did so and found this most interesting post about ministerial credentialing at iMinister. Here are some responses to the points made there:

1. A cost-benefit analysis of UU credentialing is an excellent idea. I believe it is within the charge to the workgroup now being formed by the UUA Board in response to a recommendation from the Excellence in Ministry Summit.

2. A brief, high-stakes interview is a terrible way of determining who is qualified to be a UU minister. However, it's important not to confuse the culminating event in a process with the entire process. Now having served as a liaison to candidates, I am more aware of the importance of the packet review in the decision-making process of the Committee. From the outside, the interview appeared to have more weight in MFC decisions than it actually has.

This is not to say that the ministerial examining process could not be improved. A subgroup of the MFC Process Working Group is being created to further examine the interviewing process.

3. I couldn't agree more that "it would be best to be clearer and more transparent about who needs ministers to know what." It's even more important to be clearer and more transparent about who needs ministers to do what.

Furthermore, there's a disconnect between how the MFC sees itself, and how it is perceived by others. More transparency in the examining process, including how the MFC determines what questions to ask, can help to close this gap.

Yet an important part of the gap is not informational. It is, to use a phrase made famous during the Johnson Administration, a credibility gap. This credibility gap isn't generated by misdeeds and deceit. Rather it is a consequence of the fears generated by the high stakes involved in the MFC's decisions, the need to protect the privacy of candidates, the weight of tradition, and the paucity of resources. We can reduce it.

In this paragraph of the post, there is a misconception that the MFC interview is primarily fact-based, like a game of Jeopardy. Candidates can't afford to miss all the fact-based questions, but they are not the primary focus/point of the interview.

Finally, while we have congregational polity, we have an increasing number of community ministers. The needs of the communities they serve--hospitals, shelters, prisons, birth control clinics--should also be taken into account in designing and implementing ministerial examining processes.

4. Yes, written comprehensive exams--and alternatives to accommodate candidates with learning disabilities--would be fairer that a short oral interview covering 16 competencies if it is decided that the candidates' ability to recall such factual information is critical. In today's wired world, this is an anachronism. UU ministers should be able to locate facts, not be walking encyclopedias. Our exams should speak to whether they are mentally, emotionally, and spiritually ready for UU ministry.

5. The point of the Gladwell article is that in many occupations, the examining (and possibly the educational) process is flawed and does a terrible job of predicting success in the occupation. We can't conclude from it or from our current experience that all examining processes would not be predictive of ministerial success.

It is possible to put more weight on internships and residencies. It may even be possible to hold internship and residency supervisors accountable for their recommendations. Then the MFC examination would be likely to be more predictive of success because it would be based on more reliable and valid evaluations of candidates doing ministry.

6. The MFC's workload is massive. And it ties into orge's remark about competencies propagating like tribbles (for non-Star Trek fans, think "rabbits"). I am making recommendations to the subgroup of the Process Working Group on both of these topics.

As mentioned above, in addition to the MFC subgroup, a UUA Board inititated workgroup is being formed to look at all UU credentialing processes.

I am so pleased that this topic is generating such interest. It's a wonderful Christmas present.

Friday, December 18, 2009

More Difficult Than I Thought

One of the drivers of the quest for improved examining and interviewing was equal employment opportunity. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the Department of Labor, the Department of Justice, and the Office of Personnel Management ( the Federal government's central human resources office, then called the Civil Service Commission) issued The Uniform Guidelines on Employee Selection Procedures in 1978 to address the need for "a uniform set of principles on the question of the use of tests and other selection procedures." The two major issues in examining are validity (does the exam measure what it's supposed to measure) and reliability (is it consistent in its results).

Though I can't find the citation now, I remember a discussion about examining for the professions that was the material issued by the agencies to assist in implementation of the Guidelines. It made mention of peer examining because of the difficulty of quantifying competence in the professions.

At the time, I wondered whether this latitude given to the professions might have been due to pressure (or expected pressure) from the American Bar Association, the American Medical Association, etc. Now my experience as a Ministerial Fellowshipping Committee (MFC) liaison to candidates has given me a new appreciation of the difficulties of examining in the professions while affirming my conviction of the importance of doing so.

I will be making suggestions for changes in MFC processes in the days to come. In the meantime, I'd love to hear what you'd suggest.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

See a Minister?

One of the critical questions, if not the critical question, Ministerial Fellowshipping Committee (MFC) members ask themselves in the examining process is whether they "see a minister" in a candidate for ministry. Serving as a liaison to candidates has changed my understanding of this inquiry. I'll blog about in the future.

In the meantime, I'm curious what this phrase means to you.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Do the Right Thing

For the December meeting of the Ministerial Fellowshipping Committee (MFC), I was one of the two liaisons to candidates. After all this time thinking and writing about the MFC and ministerial examining, it's been fascinating to observe the process from the inside. I'm going to do some posting based on what I've learned and inferred.

This first post is on observations and recommendations made by a Centers for Ministry (CFMs), Regional Subcommittees on Candidacy (RSCCs), Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) supervisors, and intern supervisors and committees. I have been critical of some of these recommendations and of actions based upon them for the following reasons:
  • "Requirements" are sometimes masked as "recommendations," especially by CFMs;
  • Some recommendations are vaguely written and difficult to interpret; and
  • The risks that aspirants and candidates will be penalized because of differing interpretations of these recommendations.
While I will say more about this issue in the future, I want to remind aspirants and candidates:
  • Do not ignore recommendations--no matter how tentative or vague--that appear in the material that you'll be submitting to the RSCC and/or MFC;
  • Either follow the recommendation, implement a solid substitute, or provide strong evidence that it's groundless; and
  • Unless the recommendation is clear and it's clear how to address it, seek guidance from several trusted mentors on interpretation and implementation.
I'm reminded of a colleague who received a 3 (come back and see us again) from the MFC and was unsure how to interpret and implement the recommendations. She sought help from a senior minister and developed and implemented a plan. When she returned to the MFC for her 2nd interview, she received a 1.