The Revd Richard A. Burnett, of Lenox, Massachusetts (USA), has succeeded the Revd Canon James G. Callaway as General Secretary – the executive director, in other words – of Colleges and Universities of the Anglican Communion. From 1997-2021, Burnett was Rector of Trinity Episcopal Church in Columbus, Ohio. He had earlier served in parishes in St. James and White Plains, New York. In all those posts, he showed a strong interest in carrying the teachings of the Gospel into the larger community, serving as chair for six years of his Diocese of Southern Ohio’s Social Justice and Public Policy Commission and serving for 20 years on its Ecumenical/Interreligious Relations Commission.
He earned an AB in English from Dickinson College in Pennsylvania in 1978 and an M.Div from Berkeley Divinity School at Yale in 1983.
One of his earliest jobs, while at Yale, was as a researcher for the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. With his new CUAC post, he returns to that world of education, this time on a global scale.
An Interview with CUAC’s New General Secretary The Revd Richard Burnett and Compass Point’s Editor
You spent 39 years in parish ministry, 24 of them in the same church in Ohio. What do you bring to CUAC from that experience?
One overall trajectory initially was the notion of “taking one’s part in the councils of the Church” – in other words, doing things like being a Deputy from Southern Ohio to four General Conventions. But my work in Columbus led me to develop a special expertise in social justice ministry. That led me to thinking about the broader role of the Church in the secular sphere.
You speak of Trinity, Columbus as being “a capitol congregation” – in other words, an Episcopal church physically near a state legislature. How did that affect your sense of public ministry?
There are, I think, some 42 Episcopal churches that have a special connection with a state capitol, whether ceremonial or, for example in the case of William Barber’s Moral Mondays in Raleigh, North Carolina, public policy-oriented. Trinity has been right on Capitol Square in Columbus since 1834. You have to ask two essential questions about these congregations: Why are we where we are? And what difference might it make that we are located where we are? I didn’t see us narrowly as a launching pad for activism alone, but trusted that these congregations – through Christian formation, community organizing, engaged preaching and teaching, and plenty of prayer – can lift up hearts and inspire social change.
Looking back on your own collegiate life, was there a book, a professor, a course that pointed your life in a different direction?
The summer I spent as a volunteer for mission in the Philippines when I was at Yale Divinity School was a life-changing summer. It gave me a sense of a Church that is globally linked in a kind of communion that matters. In higher ed, we have this rare opportunity to make lasting connections. It makes my heart sing to know that we are going to Manila for our 2026 Triennial because I was welcomed so generously there in 1982, and now CUAC, with me, will welcome many others connected to global Anglican higher education in a new day.
What persuaded you to come out of retirement in the beautiful Berkshire hills of western Massachusetts to take a job that requires frequent commuting to New York City?
I was born in New York City but moved to my mother’s hometown of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, at age three. I always had this feeling that it would be a great job to work in Manhattan one day. But I never dreamed that it would be for a network of 160 colleges and universities around the world. Life offers many wonderful unplanned turns!
Back in July you attended your first CUAC Triennial. What did you bring home from it?
For Katharine – my wife of 35 years – and me traveling to Australia and New Zealand was a life-marking event. I am reminded of what someone said about the Transfiguration: you have to go somewhere for it; you know that something unexpectedly remarkable happens when you’re there; and yet, you have to come down from the mountain to see what meaning that experience has for the way you live your life afterward. The gift of a CUAC Triennial affects everyone I’m sure in powerful ways. For me it was the individual encounters with scholars and chaplains, deans and university presidents in a welcoming setting like Trinity College and Janet Clarke Hall in the beautiful Australian city of Melbourne.
You recently met CUAC’s patron, Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, when he was in NYC to speak at the United Nations. What does he think of CUAC?
We spoke for half an hour when he was at The Episcopal Church Center at 815 Second Avenue speaking to 70 “Young Peacemakers” in the Church Center’s Chapel. He said he and his predecessor Archbishop Rowan Williams had just been talking about how beneficial to colleges, like the new one in South Sudan, institutions like CUAC are, and how essential to the future of the Anglican Communion. The new Anglican universities in the Global South don’t have time for politics because they are stretched so thin just trying to build a university, and they are really pleased to learn of CUAC and the ways its network can help them.
If you were president or vice-chancellor of a CUAC institution, what would be your chief concern just now?
Fiscal sustainability might be obvious, right? But that seems too light a thing in itself – the notion that if the balance sheets are in order, though essential for healthy institutions, then all is well. We have to look beyond that. At this time, I wouldn’t want to be in any other higher ed environment more than in an Anglican one. We aren’t perfect, but we seem to bring a positive sense of open inquiry, even skepticism, while still wearing our learning lightly and recognizing what kinds of gifts we’ve been given by God for the life of the world. When we’re on our game, Anglicans ought to be able to do this exceedingly well. We’ve inherited traditions of Christian humanism and catholicity. And today, by not being at the center of worldly power, we are freer to seek truth in service to the Common Good. The Gospel is best “performed” from the margins. Perhaps today the brightest future for Anglicanism is not in councils or committees, but as the conscience of higher education and civic life.
If you were meeting with a head of college who was thinking of leaving CUAC, how would you try to persuade her to stay?
I wouldn’t try “persuasion.” It would be about trying to find out what the most vital concerns of that institution are at this point in its history – and figuring out how CUAC might best serve those interests. I would try to open her eyes to the need for ever-increasing global cooperation – for example, in combating climate change, something where many of our members are leading the way in their nations. I’d send along a copy of CUAC’s recently published Climate Action Reports, from 18 colleges and universities in India, the UK, Liberia, Japan, and the United States.
Each day’s news seems grimmer and grimmer. What would you say to an 18-year-old feeling lost in this world of cruelty and violence and looming ecological disaster?
I would proceed carefully. I wouldn’t dissociate myself from these anxieties. But I would tell my story. As I grew up, I had no idea what a good thing it was simply to be with other people. I’d always assumed I’d go to college but had no idea how wonderful it would be to learnwith other people. As Sam Wells, the Vicar at St. Martin-in-the-Fields (London), has said, the preposition “with” is the most important single word in the Bible. God is with us, we are with other people learning, praying, celebrating, crying together. This is a beautiful thing, and quite often overlooked. One thing I always tried to bring to ministry is a sense of delight. St. Augustine of Hippo asked the best question: “What delights your heart?” It’s a great joy to share this delight with other people and learn from them, especially in the midst of lament and uncertainty, because the heart craves connection and knows the depth of God’s goodness through the shared life of community.
Can CUAC colleges be prophetic as well as instrumental – in other words, do something more than just producing a degree that maybe leads to a job?
If not, then why not? As seminarians, we are told we learn English so that we can read Shakespeare; we learn Hebrew so that we can read Jeremiah. Prophetic witness is not just blowing off steam. It is entering into the pathos of God, seeing with the eyes of God, entering the heart of God to discern what the Source of Creation is calling us to do.
Let me end with the usual New York Times Book Review question: you are giving a small dinner party. Which three people would you invite?
(After a moment’s pause) Erasmus of Rotterdam, James Baldwin, and my Aunt Mildred. She taught Latin and English for 50 years in a junior high school in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. She was a modest and unassuming person, but she had the kind of goodness that touched many lives. She could have held her own in that company and made friends along the way.
The 2023 Melbourne Triennial:
A CUAC Photo Album
Which countries were represented at the Melbourne Triennial?
Raleigh's Freedom Park October 6, 2023
The Episcopal Church Executive Council's Committee on Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) met in North Carolina's state capital to discuss ways the Church can support these underfunded institutions.
Among those present with CUAC connections were: Front row from left: Dr Joel Cunningham (Treasurer), Deacon Sallie Simpson (Asst. Chaplain, Saint Augustine’s Univ.), Dr Scott Evenbeck (AEC Secretary), Revd Michelle Hagans, Revd Marie-Carmel Chery (Chaplain, Voorhees Univ.), Revd Hershey Mallette Stephens (Chaplain, Saint Augustine’s Univ.), Revd Dr Martini Shaw, Andreadese Mallette, Dr Reginald Hildebrand, Revd Richard Burnett (General Secretary). Back row from left: T. J. Houlihan, the Revd Canon Jamie Callaway (former General Secretary), Harold Mallette (Saint Augustine’s Univ. '81), the Revd Rob Stephens, the Revd Canon Ronald Byrd, Corey Smith (Assoc. Dean, Saint Augustine's Chapel).
Checking the Planet’s Health
Curious how CUAC institutions are responding to the possibility of climate catastrophe? Our global Climate Action Report offers updated information on what’s being done at 18 member colleges and universities, with new entries being added as they come in.
At the Melbourne Triennial, CUAC's Board named Prof Lilian Jasper its new Chair, succeeding the Revd Canon Prof Peter Neil, who had served since 2021. Dr Jasper, an English professor with a keen interest in eco-literature, is the Principal of Women's Christian College in Chennai, Tamil Nadu (INDIA). She is the fourth woman to serve as CUAC's Chair in its 30 years of existence. A closer look of her accomplishments and her goals for CUAC and her College will appear in the January issue of Compass Points.
At Trinity University of Asia in Quezon City, Metro Manila, Philippines, the Revd Dexter B. Tad-awan has become University Chaplain. He is also serving as a missionary priest at the ECP National Cathedral of St Mary and St John, Quezon City. He is a graduate of St Andrew’s Theological Seminary, Quezon City, with a Bachelor in Theology degree. He finished his Bachelor of Science in secondary education degree at Mountain Province State Polytechnic College, Bontoc, and is working on his Master of Arts in Educational Management.
The epidemiologist and Columbia University Vice Provost Julie Kornfield in October became the 20thpresident of Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio (USA), the second woman to hold the post. In her seven years at Columbia she played a central role in that university’s academic affairs, notably in building collaboration across its schools and departments and strengthening its global programs.
Prior to that, she had served as vice dean of Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health, where she was an associate professor. She has a journalism degree from Boston University and a Master’s in public health and PhD in epidemiology, both from the University of Miami. She is married to television producer Fred Silverman, chair of broadcast journalism at the New York Film Academy. Their three children were all educated at liberal arts colleges.
Founded in 1824, Kenyon is the oldest private college in Ohio and home of The Kenyon Review, one of the most esteemed literary magazines in the US. Its previous president, Dr Sean Decatur, traded an Ohio home for one in New York when he became president of the American Museum of Natural History. Dr Kornfield has made the move in reverse.
Voorhees University in Denmark, South Carolina (US), has named the Revd Marie-Carmel Chery as Dean of the Chapel and Spiritual Engagement as well as Vicar of St Phillip’s Chapel and assistant professor of theological studies. She is a graduate of the Episcopal University of Haiti and the Episcopal Theological Seminary in Port-au-Prince and has served as a parish priest, chaplain, and nursing school professor.
At the University of Gloucestershire, Prof Clare Marchant succeeded Dr Stephen Marston as Vice-Chancellor in July. She had served as chief executive of the Universities and Colleges Admission Service for the past six years, focusing on increasing higher education opportunities for students from disadvantaged backgrounds. A graduate of Hull University and the Open University, she served as chief executive of the Worcestershire County Council in 2014-17 and has taught in Ghana as well as working as a digital delivery specialist for the Department of Health (UK).
Prof Jolyon Mitchell became the new Principal of St John’s College, Durham University, in September, succeeding the Revd Prof David Wilkinson, who had held the post for 17 years.
Prof Mitchell began his academic career at St. John’s, followed by study at Selwyn College Cambridge and the University of Edinburgh. His field of study is religion, violence, and peacekeeping, especially in the Mideast, and he is Director of the Centre for Theology and Public Issues. A former journalist for the BBC World Service, he is the author or editor of more than a dozen books. He is ordained in the Scottish Episcopal Church.
At Bishop Grosseteste University (Lincoln UK), Prof Karen Stanton began a one-year term in August as Interim Vice-Chancellor, succeeding the Revd Dr Prof Peter Neil. She was previously Vice-Chancellor of Solent University and of York St John University and chair of the Cathedrals Group of Universities. She is well known for her role in championing the work of universities in local and regional economies.
From the General Secretary's Desk
At a celebratory dinner last July at Trinity College at the University of Melbourne, in that electric Australian city, I became the fifth General Secretary of CUAC. This was a position I had known of from afar due to my interest in trends in higher education, both in the US and globally. A fuller sense of a new(er) vocation to an intriguing ministry had emerged for me in the months leading to the Triennial, and with my respect for Canon Jamie Callaway, which goes back 40 years, I entered the selection process. The ways of the Holy Spirit are not easily traced, but they can be seen if we look with some imagination!
In the past two months that same Spirit has brought me into the good company of CUAC’s Board of Trustees and engaged me more fully with our standing committees on Relation Building and Transformational Leadership. It led me to visit St. Augustine’s University, North Carolina’s historic Black Episcopal university, and the University of the South in Sewanee,Tennesee, for the installation of its 18th vice-chancellor, Dr Robert W. Pearigen. My spouse Katharine and I are about to spend a three-day “residence” with Chaplain Nita Byrd and the chapel community at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in upstate New York. And I can report with great delight on our first post-Triennial site visit, when Katharine and I were welcomed warmly by the chaplain and several trustees at Selwyn College at the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand!
In Melboune I saw how some 80 educators from five continents grew in substantial ways in an environment of mutual respect, deep learning, and celebration of cultures and traditions. My experience was enriched by getting to know and work with CUAC ‘s Chair Dr Lilian Jasper of Women’s Christian College in India, Vice-chair Bishop Martin Wharton of the United Kingdom, Secretary Dr Gisela Luna of the Philippines, and Treasurer Dr Joel Cunningham of Sewanee (USA). As we begin new efforts in Service-Learning, faculty exchanges, virtual seminars, and finding opportunities for mutual support, I hope to reach out to all CUAC Chapters, either in person or by Zoom, seeking fresh opportunities to grow together in service to the world God so loved and continues to love through us.
This is my 40th anniversary year of ordination in The Episcopal Church, and I am deeply thankful for the joys, challenges, surprises, and countless blessings given to me and Katharine and our three grown children in the rhythms of parish ministry. Now I have entered a new set of duties on a wider and more international stage. I ask you to support our common work in our many institutions through clarity of purpose and openness with one another, abiding love for neighbors near and far away, an urgent desire to promote justice and peacemaking, a passion for the Common Good of all people and this Earth - our common home.
A prayer I often used as a parish priest asks of God: “Enrich our lives by ever-widening circles of fellowship and show us Your presence in those who differ most from us, until our knowledge of Your love is made perfect in our love of all Your children.”
Through our Network and by our shared imaginations, may it be so.
~ The Revd Richard A. Burnett
FROM THE EDITOR’S DESK
Would you like some good news for a change?
Pell Grants are a federal program in the US which makes it possible for students from families in the bottom half of income distribution to attend college for four years. The New York Times Magazine (Sept. 10, 2023) published a College-Access Index, a list of the country’s 286 most-selective universities ranked in order of economic diversity. CUAC can take pride in the fact that two of our members – Hobart and William Smith Colleges and Bard College, both in New York State – were No. 56 and No. 63 on that list, respectively, making it into the top quarter nationally.
(I realize that that might look like three colleges, not two…but the Hobart-William Smith identity question is one of theological complexity!)
At Hobart and William Smith, Pell Grant students make up 28 percent of the student body – an increase of 11 points since 2020. At Bard, they represent 26 percent – a 6-point increase.
This is significant in that most U.S. schools have seen such students decline in recent years – a trend that may increase as a result of the Supreme Court’s recent decision to bar race-based affirmative action programs. But, as the magazine noted, current efforts to end or reduce legacy admissions may at least force institutions to consider wealth (or rather lack of it) as a factor. (“Legacy admissions” means that if your parents or grandparents went to a prestigious college, you have a much better chance of getting in than an equally qualified peer without that family connection.)
And here’s some icing on that particular cake: Bard College of Simon’s Rock in western Massachusetts was No. 81 in the Index – and was recently singled out by U.S. News & World Report in its 2023 Best Colleges Ratings (Regional Colleges North) as tied for #1 for Best Undergraduate Teaching and tied for #2 among Most Innovative Schools. Simon’s Rock is Bard’s “accelerated admissions” college for very bright high school students who want to jump ahead into college from 11th or 12th grade.
So well done – Hobart and William Smith, Bard, and Simon’s Rock! It’s further evidence that CUAC’s members are taking income inequality seriously.
~ Charles Calhoun
Compass Points is published by GENERAL SECRETARY: The Revd Richard A. Burnett PUBLISHER: Julia DeLashmutt EDITOR: Charles C. Calhoun PRODUCER: Francis Rivera