iMinister is not into politics, so she doesn't really keep up with the world of the UUA, but here's what she thinks is the origin of this conference, the Excellence in Ministry Summit.
There are two UU theological schools, Meadville Lombard in Chicago and Starr King in Berkeley. They are both small by Graduate School standards...they are probably both tiny by graduate school standards. They are too small to serve all UU's who want a theological education, and anyway, the majority of students who want a theological school education can't or don't want to go to those schools. They are also too small to be economically independent and they have been supported by yearly grants from the UUA. A few years back, the two schools got together to talk about joining forces, but decided that there were too many difficulties with that to proceed. iMinister only heard rumors about what those difficulties were but she noted a high degree of partisanship, not to say, polarization, in what she heard. (iMinister went to a Methodist Theological school herself. More on that, later.)
Further rumor goes that when the merger talks stalled, the UUA board got exasperated and cut down its yearly grants to the two schools. They defended their cuts by noting that most UU ministers are not studying at these two schools and it's not fair and may not be an effective use of the funds to give them all to Meadville and Starr King.
(IMinister is sharing these rumors mostly to get people provoked enough to start leaving comments which will help us all discover the fullness of truth.)
The Board used some of the money they saved to put on this Summit, and some to fund some innovative grants. iMinister knows about two grants; one which has created a pretty intense continuing education program for 12 ministers newly serving large or could-be-large churches to help prepare them for the special challenges of large church ministry(more disclosure; iMinister is a part of the program of this grant.) and one adding UU elements to the education of theological students studying at Illif School of Theology, a Methodist school in Denver. No doubt there are other interesting projects going on...once again, please leave comments!
Just to finish with the rumor-mongering, there was alarm and grumbling amongst some ministers about the name of this overall project, "Excellence in Ministry." Some people felt that they, or at least their colleagues as a whole, were being implicitly criticized by this title. "Are we not already excellent?" they asked. Keith left an excellent comment on the dangers of fostering excellence below.
iMinister tends to see excellence in a different light. It's a star we choose to shoot for; no one and no group has already attained it, and nobody will completely attain it. Nor is it any one thing. There are all kinds of excellences and any number of ways that an institution such as the UUA can foster them, directly and indirectly. And all kinds of ways that excellence can be hampered; unintended consequences of otherwise good ideas, programs, procedures, and goals. It's my hope that this will be the focus of our conversations.