A Conversation with
the Academic Dean
Jacqueline Lapsley recently began her appointment as dean and vice president of academic affairs.
By Nicole Pride | Photography by John Emerson
After having taught Old Testament for 20 years at Princeton Seminary, Jacqueline E. Lapsley recently began her appointment as dean and vice president of academic affairs. Her tenure commences at an exciting time; she is leading the process to revamp the curriculum, engaged in the planning and rollout of the campus master plan, and participating in a Seminary-wide initiative to define community for the campus. Lapsley takes a moment to reflect upon her experiences at the Seminary, comment on the changes ahead, share her vision for the curriculum, and more.
You've seen many changes over the last two decades; what do you think is special about PTS?
We have amazing students! They continue to impress me with their passion for being Christ’s hands and feet in the world, for spreading the good news of God’s love for all people and for all of creation. And they bring prodigious gifts and talents to bear on that task. Also, the sometimes-quiet faith of the people who work here touches me—people believe in the mission of the Seminary.
I also love this community because we are really trying to be a community together. We don’t always get this right, but there is so much good will to make this a covenant community. It’s inspiring!
What does covenant community mean to you?
It means we live and work and learn together in a community committed to mutual accountability and shared mission. We will never get it just right—but the journey together is covenant community.
Can you share one of your fondest moments you have experienced at PTS?
Oh my gosh, there are so many! A repeated moment that lives in my heart occurs in chapel every day, after the service is over, when people are passing the peace to one another and then stay to chat. The burbling of the community in that moment, energized by worship, gives me a little boost of joy for the rest of my day.
Describe the view of the Seminary in your new role.
“Drinking from a firehose” seems to be the recurring image, but even if the velocity is sometimes intense, I am really enjoying the administrative work. As a faculty member, I tended to see the Seminary from my corner of the community, from the perspective of the Bible department, but as dean my perspective must be the good of the whole, so the questions that are always before me are: What is in the best interests of students? How can my office support the research and teaching of the faculty? How do our decisions lead to deeper community? How can what we do in academic affairs advance the mission of the Seminary as a whole?
What issues and topics really energize you?
This is an exciting time in the life of our Seminary. So many things are coming together—the implications of the historical audit on slavery, the plan for new and renovated buildings, the emphasis on residential education and covenant community, the new curriculum revision. We have a wonderful opportunity to enhance the ways that PTS prepares leaders to make a difference in a rapidly changing church and world.
“We have a wonderful opportunity to enhance the ways that PTS prepares leaders to make a difference in a rapidly changing church and world.”
What issues and topics do you lament over?
Hmmm… I don’t really lament over particular topics, although sometimes I lament over human behaviors. My Reformed faith helps me to not be surprised when confronted with human sinfulness—there’s plenty of empirical evidence for human depravity! Fortunately, the gospel promises are more than enough to meet the challenge in the long term.
Is there any news in academic affairs that you would like to announce?
We are running four faculty searches this year so hopefully we will have some new faculty to announce next summer!
As PTS examines and revises the curriculum during the next two years, how do you ensure that what’s being developed will equip students for effective leadership?
We have a wonderful Task Force on Pedagogy and Curriculum (made up of faculty/administrators/students) that is engaging diverse external sources on what the church and the world need in terms of theologically trained leaders, both now and, as far as is possible to know, the future. We have also already begun to engage the whole faculty on these questions, and we have before us considerable data from students on what they see as the growing edges of their Seminary education. My hope, and I believe it is widely shared by other task force members, is that while we will look to retain the excellences of the current curriculum, the curriculum revision will not simply be a tweak of what is currently in place, but a substantive and compelling revision.
What is PTS’s role and/or responsibility in acknowledging and addressing pressing issues of our time?
As everyone knows, we have many profound challenges facing us in society today. Some of the most basic in my mind are first, that the ways we communicate with one another (through mass media, etc.) seem to produce more misunderstanding than understanding, and secondly, that we are in danger of losing the virtues of citizenship (e.g., honesty, integrity, concern for the other, and for the common good).
PTS’s role in addressing these ills is significant. We are preparing leaders for the church and the world who will find themselves leading congregations or ministries where there are people of extremely diverse views. So, their ability to foster understanding among diverse peoples is critical. And the gospel message—God’s love in Christ for all of humanity and indeed for all of creation—needs to be heard now more than ever. PTS’s role in equipping people to spread that message effectively is more important now than ever.
Tell us about your family.
My husband, Greg Bezilla, is the pastor of an Episcopal congregation in South River, New Jersey. Living with a pastor keeps the concerns of life in ministry always before me. My daughter, Emma, is a junior in college studying English (yay for the humanities!), and my son, Sam, is a senior in high school. We have two self-satisfied cats, and two dogs who very occasionally try to rebel against their overlords, the cats.
NICOLE PRIDE is the editor of GATHER and director of communication and marketing at Princeton Theological Seminary.