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Meadville Lombard finds new Chicago campus

Unitarian Universalist seminary will lease space from Spertus Institute, a Jewish studies center.
By Michelle Bates Deakin
6.27.11

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Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies (Spertus/William Zbaren)

The Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies on Chicago’s Michigan Avenue will be the new home to Meadville Lombard Theological School starting in December. (Spertus/William Zbaren)

Meadville Lombard Theological School has found a new Chicago campus. In December 2011, the school will relocate to the headquarters of the Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies on Michigan Avenue, inside the Chicago Loop. The Spertus Institute offers graduate-level degrees and cultural and continuing education programs in Jewish studies.

The Rev. Dr. Lee Barker, president of Meadville Lombard, announced the relocation to the Spertus Institute on Friday, June 24, at a breakfast meeting for donors and friends at the Unitarian Universalist Association’s General Assembly in Charlotte, N.C.

Barker also announced several major gifts to Meadville Lombard, totaling $4,685,000. A $1.5 million gift from Alice Schulman and the late Rev. Dr. Frank Schulman will endow a chair of UU history. Barker said a search to fill that chair will begin this fall.

A $2 million gift from Martha Atherton, to be given over 10 years, will be used for two purposes. The first is to fund tuition and expenses for international students to come to study at Meadville Lombard. The second is to offset the lease payments that Meadville Lombard will make to the Spertus Institute.

The Spertus Institute is located at 610 S. Michigan Ave. in a 10-story building with a glass façade designed by Krueck & Sexton Architects for Spertus in 2007. Under the lease agreement, Meadville Lombard will occupy an entire floor of the building, and its library collection will be housed within the Spertus library. According to Barker, Meadville Lombard will also be entitled to use gathering spaces and lounges throughout the building.

In January 2011, Meadville Lombard agreed to sell its main academic and administrative building in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood to the University of Chicago for an undisclosed amount. The sale is slated to close in December 2011.

The sale of the main buildings, plus the sale of two smaller residential properties that served as student housing and office space, will be added to Meadville Lombard’s endowment funds. The infusion of money has given the school “renewed strength,” Barker wrote in an email following another major milestone for the school in April 2011. That’s when Meadville Lombard and the Andover Newton School of Theology in Newton, Mass., ended yearlong talks to create a new multifaith theological university.

After the talks were ended, Larry Ladd, chairman of the Meadville Lombard Board of Trustees, told UU World, “We reached a point were we could see that we would be financially sustainable and educationally sound in maintaining our independence,” he said.

Over the last several years, Meadville Lombard has changed its education model from one focused on residential students at its Chicago campus to one in which students can engage in distance-learning from their homes across the country. The 2010–2011 student body, which numbered about 130 students, had only “a handful” of students in the residential program, Barker said.

The economic downturn, along with the already spiraling costs of higher education, has led seminaries across the country to look at ways to partner and share the expenses of running their institutions.

As its educational model shifted away from on-site learning to distance learning, Meadville Lombard did not require as much classroom space. That freed the school to sell its Hyde Park campus to raise capital.


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