Annual Report of the Wilmette Institute, 2012–13

Wilmette Institute Board Members:
Nicola Daniels                                    Cathy Higgins
Missy Martin                                      Mark Rossman
Robert Stockman

Mission and Values. The Wilmette Institute, an agency of the National Spiritual Assembly of the United States, operates as a center of learning offering academic, professional, and service-oriented programs related to the Bahá’í Faith. It delivers flexible, well-organized, formally conducted programs, both online and onsite, that are designed according to standards of excellence and the Bahá’í standard of independent investigation of truth, exemplifying a spirit of humility, service, and unity. It contributes to the development of human resources within the Bahá’í community and among its friends and supporters. The Wilmette Institute’s programs and services aim to enhance unity and fellowship among people of all ethnic, national, and religious backgrounds.

The Mission Statement is based on the following values:

· Pursuit of knowledge of the Bahá’í Faith
· Application of the teachings of the Bahá’í Faith to current thought and problems
· Appreciation of all aspects of diversity
· Participation in the process of community building

Online Courses. Since January 1998, the Wilmette Institute has conducted 223 online courses, serving 6,149 learners. From February 10, 2012, to February 10, 2013, the Wilmette Institute offered 26 online courses, compared to 24 in 2011–12, 22 in 2010–11, 17 in 2009–10, and 19 in 2008-09. The 26 courses attracted 944 participants.

The courses benefitted from three developments: the upgrade of our Moodle course management software; the movement of our software to an off-site Moodle hosting service, which can maintain our system effectively and inexpensively; and use of the WizIQ web video conferencing system. The latter also allowed the Institute to begin video training of faculty. The Institute also inaugurated several new courses, notably on the arts and on climate change.

·   Climate Change was offered for the first time. Demand was so strong that a second course had to be scheduled right away. It supported a priority of the Office of Public Affairs. Another course also supported public discourse, though more indirectly: Science and Religion.

·   Supporting the community’s ongoing effort to expand the use of the arts was a new course, The Bahá’í Faith and the Arts. It was enthusiastically received and has been scheduled to be offered again. Courses to support the development of specific art genres (such as painting) are under consideration, as are efforts to support the arts in all the Wilmette Institute’s courses.

·   Social Action and Public Discourse was offered twice to a total of 68 learners. Interest remains strong, and it will be offered in the next year as well.

·   Eight courses focused on the writings of Bahá’u’lláh, the Báb, `Abdu’l-Bahá, or Shoghi Effendi, strengthening the ability of learners to understand and explain the authoritative texts to others. How to Study the Bahá’í Writings aimed at giving learners specific skills in reading the Bahá’í authoritative texts with clarity and thoroughness. Bahá’í Theology provided learners with an overview of concepts of God, revelation, Manifestation, creation, humanity, Covenant, and afterlife.

·   Eight courses helped learners to study other religions, scriptures, and philosophy as they relate to the Bahá’í Faith.

·   One course, offered twice because of strong interest, reviewed `Abdu’l-Bahá’s journey across the North American continent. Charters of the Faith provided focused study of the Tablet of Carmel, the Will and Testament of `Abdu’l-Bahá, and the Tablets of the Divine Plan, crucial documents for an understanding of the ministry of Shoghi Effendi and the current priorities of the Five Year Plan.

·   Wilmette Institute courses attracted an average of 36 participants each, a 10 percent decrease from last year, and brought in $66,500 in tuition income, exclusive of scholarships, a 10 percent increase over last year.

·   Learners came from 42 countries other than the United States and constituted 143 of the 944 learners, about 15% of the total. This is a significant increase in non-US participation (106, 118, and 125 in the previous three years) and may serve to measure the success of our Facebook advertising last year and our active presence on the social media.

Western Europe was the source of 38 learners, Canada 34, Australasia and the Pacific 23, Latin America 22, eastern and southern Asia 13, Middle East 6, and Africa 3. Since we began keeping statistics in 2003, we have had learners from 97 nations and territories.

·   All the courses were designed to foster a culture of learning in the Bahá’í community. About half of the learners were members of local study groups.

·   A significant fraction of Institute students are Ruhi tutors or have taken Ruhi courses. Many are using Wilmette Institute information in their Ruhi classes, in local deepenings, or in brief deepening sessions at Feasts.

Five Year Plan. The Wilmette Institute Board met every two or three months to review the Institute’s progress on its Five Year Plan goals. With the upgrade of our course management software and the steady improvement in course quality, the Board feels the Institute is ready to expand its services to college students, eight of whom, in previous years, have already taken our courses and obtained either undergraduate or graduate credit through their own universities.

The Institute is also considering ways to upgrade its support of local study groups and ways to expand its use of web video conferencing. To increase its human resources, it has begun a systematic use of volunteers, who can provide much of the day to day support for online courses.

The Wilmette Institute continues to provide valuable support for the Five Year Plan and its core activities. Its students have used course information to proclaim the Faith to Christians and Muslims; explain the writings of Bahá’u’lláh to friends and seekers alike; clarify points of Bahá’í history in Ruhi Book 4 classes; enrich their children’s and youth classes; read the Bahá’í writings with greater clarity and depth; participate in public discourse and social action more effectively; transform themselves as a result of a greater understanding of the human condition; and pursue new avenues of Bahá’í scholarship and writing.

The Institute continues to explore ways it can create a dynamic coherence of learning, teaching, social action, and dialogue about pressing social problems in order to enhance the Faith’s standing and to prepare its students to contribute to the transformation of humankind.