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.

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