In an October article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Susan Henking, HWS professor emerita of religious studies and former president of Shimer College, discusses the balancing act between a college fulfilling its mission and addressing its financial challenges.
In “Lessons from a Merger: A Brighter Future by Expanding Our Vision,” Henking uses the recent merger between Shimer and North Central College as an object lesson in navigating seemingly “separate or conflicting agendas — business acumen vs. educational success or academic freedom, trustees or administrators vs. faculty and students, market realism vs. ivory-tower Utopia.”
But these agendas aren’t mutually exclusive, Henking writes. “As college mergers and acquisitions become more common, leaders must not inadvertently allow regulatory, legal, financial, and interpersonal demands to narrow our options, restrict our missions, eliminate the characteristic diversity of American educational institutions, or limit the range of futures we can imagine,” she explains. “Instead, we must recognize these moments of change as something new in the air — something we are making together.”
Henking taught in the HWS Religious Studies Department for more than 25 years. During her tenure, she twice chaired that department and co-chaired the interdisciplinary Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Studies program. Her courses were regularly cross-listed in the Women’s Studies program. From 1998 to 2001, she served as acting provost and interim dean of faculty, leading planning efforts focused on technology and compensation for faculty and staff, and facilitating collaboration between academic and student affairs.
She credits the leaders of HWS early in her career as reminding her that “faculty are responsible not only for their courses and departments or programs but for the institution and learning about higher education more broadly.” A firm advocate of the importance of many kinds of institutions in the landscape of American higher education and mentoring across generations, she credits the “spectacular mentoring” she experienced early in her career at the Colleges for her ongoing commitment to innovation in the interest of mission.
Her scholarly work has long focused on the historical relationship between religion and the social sciences. She has published a large number of scholarly works on religion, psychology, the history of sociology, gender, sexuality, AIDS/HIV, diversity and leadership. She is the co-editor of two books: Que(e)rying Religion: A Critical Anthology (New York: Continuum, 1997) and Mourning Religion (University of Virginia Press, 2008). As founding series editor of the Oxford University Press AAR Teaching Religious Studies Series, she helped to ensure that the teacher/scholar model was and is recognized by the American Academy of Religion.
Henking received her M.A. and Ph.D. in religion and psychological studies from the University of Chicago Divinity School, and also holds a B.A., magna cum laude with distinction from the Departments of Religion and Sociology of Duke University. Prior to HWS, Henking taught at Colgate University, Western Illinois University and the University of Chicago. At HWS, she served as an adviser to the Board of Trustees Futures Thinking and Strategic Planning Initiative within the Office of the President, and was a recipient of the Faculty Distinguished Teaching Award.