July Wilmette Institute Board Meeting Charts Future Directions

by Robert H. Stockman

The nine-member Board of the Wilmette Institute gathered in Wilmette on July 29 and 30 to review progress, define goals for the new Five Year Plan, and create structures that will allow the Institute to accomplish its ambitious tasks.

Meeting with the Secretary of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States. The Board meeting began with a review of its accomplishments over the last year and sharing them with Kenneth E. Bowers, Secretary of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States, who dedicated Friday afternoon to consulting with the Institute Board. The review with Mr. Bowers reinforced the Board’s confidence that the Wilmette Institute is pursuing worthy goals and pursuing them effectively.

Past Accomplishments. Among its many accomplishments in 2015–16, the Wilmette Institute has joined Quality Matters (QM), a non-profit educational organization that has created, improves, and provides training in online course quality standards. QM’s criteria have been immensely helpful to the Wilmette Institute in improving the quality of its courses and should help it approach universities as it seeks academic partnerships for some of its online courses. The Wilmette Institute has also developed a prospectus that summarizes what it has accomplished and outlines the sorts of partnerships it seeks. Both the National Spiritual Assembly and the Universal House of Justice are following the Wilmette Institute’s efforts to find university partners with great interest.

Aligning Courses with the Five Year Plan. The Wilmette Institute has also made considerable progress in aligning its online courses with the Five Year Plan, especially with core activities at the local level. A new set of guidelines about making Personal Learning Plans is encouraging learners to set goals for personal spiritual transformation, community building, and social action and to create special projects to accomplish one of the goals directly or indirectly. The Institute has launched its first course (on the Hands of the Cause of God) for youth and Bahá’ís performing a year of service.

Goals for the New Five Year Plan. Plans on the drawing board for the new Five Year Plan include:

  • Developing courses for the community of interest in collaboration with milestone two clusters.
  • Reaching new audiences. For example, the Institute is collaborating with a Regional Council in Brazil to develop a course in Portuguese for married couples.
  • Developing courses in Spanish and Persian during the Five Year Plan.
  • Developing “blended courses” that have a classroom component and an online component.
  • Finding ways to collaborate further with the Office of Public Affairs and the Association for Bahá’í Studies.

Expanding the Institute’s Capacity. To pursue its many directions, the Institute is exploring ways to expand its capacity. It is appointing committees of Board members to oversee curriculum, technology, marketing, fund raising, assessment, and university outreach. It is also developing its editorial capacities to strengthen its ability to publish student projects and faculty research. It is beginning to create “faculty teams” to focus on clusters of subjects covered by Wilmette Institute courses (such as relationships and marriage, climate change and sustainability, and the works of Shoghi Effendi) and to create guidelines for their work.

A Vision of Baha’i Education. On Saturday morning, July 30, the Board deepened on the Universal House of Justice’s March 2, 2013, message to the Bahá’ís of Iran about avoiding politics because the letter includes an overview of the Bahá’í teachings and, by implication, provides a vision of Bahá’í education. The Board agreed that the letter defined the educational vision of the Wilmette Institute quite well.

Structure, Capacity, and Learning Goals. Much of the Saturday afternoon session was devoted to fleshing out the Wilmette Institute’s institutional structure and capacities, including areas where additional human resources are needed. The Board decided it needs to define learning outcomes—that is, what the Board wants Wilmette Institute learners, in general, to learn from its courses. The Board assigned numerous tasks to committees and individuals to be completed before its next quarterly reflection meeting, which will be held via web video on Saturday, October 29. 

Board Members. The nine members of the Board of the Wilmette Institute include Nesreen Akhtar-Khavari, Jeff Albert, Niki Daniels, John Hicks, Cathy Higgins, Shabnam Koirala-Azad, Mark Rossman, Boyd Staszewski, and Robert H. Stockman, Director of the Wilmette Institute.

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