Calvin University and Calvin Theological Seminary – now separate entities – began as a single institution, the Theological School, founded in 1876 to train pastors. In 1884, the Theological School also began to admit future professors. The institution broke up around 1906, when John Calvin Junior College was recognized as distinct from theological seminary.
Over the next 25 years, John Calvin Junior College morphed into Calvin College – a four-year college focused on students entering the professional world – while Calvin Theological Seminary morphed into a graduate school focused on pastoral training. The two institutions shared a board of trustees until 1991, when the Synod of the Christian Reformed Church approved a plan to give each institution its own board.
According to then-president Anthony Diekema, the need for a separate board to consider each school’s unique challenges was a driving factor in the split.
“[B]Other schools need close attention to their specific needs and purposes,” Diekema said in an interview published in the September 1991 issue of “Spark” magazine. “It has become increasingly complicated to have a board of trustees addressing the issues and concerns of two different institutions.” Even today, however, the institutions share “the same history, the same mission and vision of serving the world, and the Reformed perspective,” said Annie Mas-Smith, director of communications and enrollment management at Calvin Theological Seminary.
After their separation, Calvin College (now the University) and Calvin Theological Seminary remained in a relationship. Today, they share a campus security team, as well as facilities such as the Hekman Library, the H. Henry Meeter Center for Calvin Studies, and the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship.
“It made more sense to split them. But it is not a division of hostility. It’s a division of ‘this is just more practical,’” said Karin Maag, director of the Meeter Center since 1997.
Some practical concerns may relate to the differences between the student bodies at the two institutions. The university was – and is – much bigger; currently, the university has about 3,230 students, while the seminary has 239.
Seminary students also tend to be older and at a different stage in life than Calvin’s undergraduates, which affects how student life plays out, according to Anne Harrison, theological librarian at Hekman Library.
“A lot of people at that time may have families, and a lot of times seminary tries to involve families as well,” said Harrison, who mentioned picnics and dinner parties as common social events at seminary.
Seminary work is also more specialized and takes place all year round. Even as undergraduates went home during COVID-19, some seminary students stayed in their homes and continued to work on research, according to Maag.
Shared resources — such as the Hekman Library and Meeter Center — are managed by a board of university and seminary representatives, and budget and hiring decisions are made jointly. Harrison, who started as a theological librarian in early 2020, said she had to be interviewed and approved by both institutions.
According to Harrison, balancing the needs of two different student bodies can create challenges, but the library still strives to be a space for college and seminary students.
“I think there’s always been that goal and that desire to make sure we’re serving both equally,” Harrison said.
In addition to sharing spaces, professors from departments such as religion, history, and education sometimes teach at Calvin University and Calvin Theological Seminary, depending on the institutions’ needs. Maag began her career at Calvin as a university history professor, but currently teaches as an adjunct seminary professor. The change came around 2017, when the seminary asked Maag to teach in their specialty of Reformation studies.
Maag continues to teach at the Calvin Academy for Lifelong Learning — a university program for adult learners — and can see herself returning to university as the needs and opportunities at each institution change.
This fall, the seminary is introducing a Master of Clinical Counseling in Mental Health. According to Mas-Smith, this could lead to increased faculty overlap, as well as students from fields related to psychology choosing the university for their undergraduate degree and then attending seminary for graduate school.
Representatives of both institutions are interested in maintaining and strengthening their historic ties in academia, although there are no concrete plans on how this would be done.
“I think we could both benefit from our combined efforts in terms of graduate school.[uate] programs, but we haven’t delved into that yet,” said Renee De Vries, coordinator of graduate studies at Calvin University.