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The Accreditation of La Sierra University: A Formal Notice of Concern

As a consequence of failing to systematically resolve the creation vs. evolution controversy, failure to rely on the appropriate authority of the faculty and administration plus the forced resignations of three faculty members (resulting in a lawsuit), the Western Association of Schools and Colleges team forwarded a recommendation to the WASC Commission that a “formal Notice of Concern” be issued to La Sierra University.

 The WASC letter to LSU administration stated that unless the institution made changes it was in danger of being found in noncompliance and if not addressed sanctions could be imposed.[i] Now LSU received a hit from both sides—Adventist and regional—accreditation almost simultaneously.

The WASC letter went on to explain, “WASC Standards of Accreditation call for institutions affiliated with or supported by religious organizations to have ‘education as their primary purpose and [operate] as an academic institution with appropriate autonomy.’ Institutions are expected to have a history free of ‘interference in substantive decisions or educational functions by … bodies outside the institution’s own governance arrangements.’” [ii]

Searching for a solution in October 2011, a group of biology professors and LSU trustees, led by a young untenured professor, created a proposal to separate the biological science from the faith concepts in creationism. In effect a bifurcation of how science and creationism would be taught. They proposed that creationism be taught as faith in the religion department, rather than science. The North American Division leadership responded quickly with a statement that the proposal was a major step forward. “It has always been the position of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in North America that we want all of our institutions of higher learning to uphold the highest levels of academics including rigorous science.”[iii]

Pastor Ricardo Graham, LSU Chairman told the Adventist Review covering the story, “It is critical to note the scientists at LSU have always been willing to dialogue relative to the resolution of the teaching of evolution and creation in the biological sciences. When people of good will and good faith openly approach a challenging situation such as this, God positions them for a hopeful resolution. While many members around the world had been praying, God has been hearing.  And while this is not a conclusive position, we praise God for the direction in which He is leading.” [iv]

Then abruptly without due process the young biology professor who fostered the proposal was told he would not be rehired when his contract ended in June 2012. Three of the university trustees were embarrassed and dismissed from the LSU Board.

The LSU board went to work. WASC was expecting the university to review and rewrite its bylaws to create a governing structure that is consistent with an independent board. The board hired a consultant from WASC to help them write these proposed changes in the bylaws. As of now, these changes have been approved by LSU’s board and will be presented to a special meeting of the university constituencies on February 21, 2013, for discussion and vote. Ricardo Graham, Pacific Union Conference president and hence ex-offico chairman of LSU Board will step down and another ex-officio officer is expected to be appointed as chairman, with a lay person as vice-chairman. On March 11-13, 2013, WASC is sending a special team to evaluate LSU’s progress. It appears that the standards promoted by WASC will prevail because regional accreditation is not optional for LSU if it is to continue to receive federal funds and fulfill its academic mission. Then on April 17-18, 2013, the Adventist Accrediting Association is sending a focus group to review its recommendations made to the university.

—T. Joe Willey, received his Ph.D. in neuroscience from the University of California, Berkeley and taught at Loma Linda Medical School, Walla Walla University and La Sierra University. He was a fellow with Nobel Laureate Sir John Eccles at the University of New York, Buffalo, and research fellow at the Brain Research Institute at UCLA, Los Angeles.

[i]David Olson. Riverside: Accrediting Commission Warns La Sierra University. The Press-Enterprise.  August 4, 2011. Letter from Ralph A Wolff president of WASC to Randal Wisbey president of LSU July 5, 2011. Page 2 of 4.

[ii]WASC letter to Randal Wisbey. July 5, 2011. Page 2 of 4.

[iii]Response to Joint Proposal by the North American Division. See Adventist Review. October 6, 2011.

[iv]Mark A. Kellner. "At La Sierra, Biology Faculty Affirms Importance of Teaching About Creation to Curriculum."  Adventist Review.  October 6, 2011.

This is the third in a four part series on The Accreditation of La Sierra University. See part one here: "Background Differences Between Church and State Accrediting" and part two here: "Creationism Goes Extreme."

 

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