Every year is marked by highs and lows in the realm of Adventist education, and 2015 was no different. Arguably, this year has contained more speculation, analysis, and opinions regarding the future of Adventist education, its usefulness, and its necessity, due in large part to the announced closure of Mount Vernon Academy near the beginning of 2015.
The General Conference called it a wake-up call, while various educators and leadership speculated on possible solutions. Some focused on the high cost of maintaining our schools and proposed withholding a percentage of tithe to fund Adventist education. Others focused on the fact that only 26% of Adventist families have school-age children, and of that group, only 30% of them choose to enroll their children in the Adventist school system. The reminder that all Adventist children require discipleship, whether in our school system or not, and the Adventist church as a whole needs to adopt a better approach toward this issue was also addressed. When asked to reflect on their experience in the Adventist school system, Millennials responded favorably, mentioning the life-lessons and strengthened relationship with God they found while in attendance.
Following on the heels of the Mount Vernon Academy news came the announcement that Valley Grande Academy in Texas planned to close at the end of the academic year as well. Meanwhile, Atlantic Union College and its new president, Dr. Avis Hendrickson, spent the year in quiet and determined preparation for re-opening the college’s doors in fall of 2015 after losing its accreditation and being forced to close down in 2011. An Adventist primary school in Namibia also re-opened its doors after 62 years.
Both Union College and Southwestern Adventist University welcomed new presidents this year, while Southern Adventist University and Andrews University announced the retirement of their long-standing presidents (19 years and 22 years, respectively), and began the intensive presidential search process. Additionally, former president of Oakwood College and General Conference vice president, Dr. Delbert Baker, accepted a call to serve as the Vice Chancellor of the Adventist University of Africa in Kenya.
Many of our colleges and universities took part in noteworthy endeavors during this past year. La Sierra University received national recognition for its community service and engagement work. Walla Walla University debuted its new media ministry master’s program this fall, while the Andrews University School of Architecture unveiled its Tiny House Project. Andrews was also again ranked as the second most ethnically diverse campus in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. Newbold College in England launched a new publishing venture, Newbold Academic Press, while Avondale College in Australia was granted self-accrediting authority by the country’s national regulator.
The tensions and conversations taking place on our college campuses this year reflected the rumblings of the nation and the world. A planned-and-denied bake sale at Andrews University intended to raise funds for homeless LGBT youth caught the interest of national and international media, bringing unwanted scrutiny to Andrews and the Adventist church for its treatment and opinions of LGBT individuals. In the aftermath, the unofficial student group that had planned the fundraiser brought in over $17,000 thanks in large part to the news of the banned bake sale going viral, while Andrews announced the initiation of a task force to address LGBT youth homelessness, who are a disproportionate subset of the homeless population.
Racial tensions also surfaced during a year when the nation mourned repeatedly at the loss of black men and women who died at the hands of outright police brutality, questioning circumstances, and racist acts of violence against black churches.
After a sermon on Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend by Dwight K. Nelson, senior pastor at Pioneer Memorial Church on the campus of Andrews University, a petition went up calling for the eradication of regional conferences. Shortly thereafter, the student leadership at Andrews held a forum questioning the need for state and regional conferences, ending with a request to the North American Division asking for a formal response concerning conference structure. The NAD posted an official response a couple of weeks later affirming the role of regional conferences. However, in June, the Lake Union Conference did acknowledge that racism led to the formation of regional conferences and formally apologized.
This apology followed a few months after Union College issued an apology for the past racism that occurred on its campus. The apology letter was initially drafted by members of the student body the previous year, later gaining the approval of new president, Dr. Vinita Sauder, and later Union’s Board of Trustees, before being officially posted on the college’s website in March.
Also in March, Andrews University president, Niels-Erik Andreasen, issued a formal apology to the Andrews community after a student wrote what many referred to as a racist and tone-deaf article in the university’s official student newspaper, the Student Movement.
Tensions also arose at Andrews University and Pacific Union College this year concerning allowing those who do not share the Adventist faith to teach or speak to Adventist young adults. At Andrews, esteemed physical therapy professor, Dr. Lori Walton, was dismissed after admitting she had converted to Islam. At PUC, Ryan Bell was disinvited by president of PUC, Heather Knight, from speaking to students about his 2014 project, “A Year Without God,” and his new project, “Life After God.” Psychology professor, Aubyn Fulton, who had invited Bell to speak issued a response to President Knight’s decision.
Loma Linda faced issues of its own this year. Executive Director of Marketing at Loma Linda University Health was arrested on charges of embezzlement and grand theft at the beginning of 2015. The year ended in tragedy for the Loma Linda community with the San Bernardino mass shooting occurring just a mere three miles away, and Loma Linda University Medical Center tending to the victims.
Indeed, it was a year where tragedy struck many of our Adventist campuses in turn. Union College gymnast, Heather Boulais, was seriously injured in January after a life-threatening fall during a practice session. More than seven months later, Ms. Boulais was finally released from the Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital. In February, Walla Walla University student, Madison (Maddy) Baird, passed away after being fatally struck by a motor vehicle. Also in February, Akim Zhigankov, a young missionary in the Philippines, whose parents are professors at the Adventist International Institute of Advanced Studies (AIIAS) in the Philippines, died of alleged poisoning. Southern Adventist University mourned the sudden passing of student, Kimberly Andreu in March. That same month, Seventh-day Adventist Labuiywo Primary School in Kenya lost three young students in a dorm fire. Pacific Union College senior, Jayaram Notestine, was tragically killed in a car crash in May. Indianapolis Junior Academy lost Principal Norris Ncube in a fatal car accident in October. In December, both La Sierra University and Andrews University were touched by tragedy as well. LSU student Nicholas Carver, who suffered from a medical condition that causes seizures, was found unresponsive in the dorm and was unable to be revived. Andrews student Whitney Watson, passed away on a skiing trip with her father over winter break.
Overall, it was a turbulent year for our Adventist educational institutions. There was tragedy interlaced with joy, and both successes and scandals marked the year. Most importantly, however, another year of educating Adventist young people has occurred and a newly minted group of graduates have left their respective campuses to pursue what God has called them toward.
Alisa Williams is Spirituality Editor for SpectrumMagazine.org. She has also written for Spectrum's Millennial Voices Section and has covered Adventist Education.
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