For a couple of years LSU has been suffering near-hysteria over the advancement of creationism in biology driven in part by a web-based self-appointed tribunal sitting in judgment on how evolution enters the intellectual space for teaching biological sciences. The outside-induced controversy came to the attention of church leaders and eventually to AAA and WASC.
The Church’s fundamental belief is that God created life on the earth about six thousand years ago and then—disappointed in His creation two millenniums later—destroyed flora and fauna in a worldwide flood, except for selected life preserved in Noah’s Ark. Many Adventist scientists think this system of beliefs should be protected from scientific criticism and taught as a religious subject.
Upon election in 2010 the president of the church urged all Adventist theologians or science teachers to believe and accept creationism, including a global flood. He said, “These positions are based on a literal reading of the Word of God and demonstrations in nature.” At the same time he was aware that the use of recognizable scientific methodology in the collected evidence has the potential to create political and theological controversy. [i]
Of course the issues are more complicated than can be summarized here.[ii] To bring matters to the surface at LSU, a survey was taken of the biology student’s opinions regarding what the professors were saying in class about creationism. More than half of the students in the survey were just beginning their freshmen year. Based on the results (which had been manipulated) the president of the university and chairman of the board of trustees in March 2011 issued an open apology letter to the church offering to accept and implement the recommendations of the AAA and to faithfully and fully present the SDA Church’s position on creationism. But as the biology department and others on campus knew, the student survey data had been conflated and the letter was not approved for distribution by the board; only by a few conservative members. [iii]
The pledge from the apology letter was not enough anyway. In April 2011 the AAA Board placed LSU’s accreditation on “probation.” The university had “deviated from the philosophy and objectives of Seventh-day Adventist education.” LSU had not “gone far enough to address creationists’ concerns.” [iv] According to Lisa M. Beardsley, executive secretary of the AAA, this was done after “careful and prayerful consideration,” placing LSU on probation was not undertaken lightly. “This was a challenging and complex decision.”[v]
This decision was certainly disappointing to LSU administration and unexpected because several months earlier the LSU science faculty had already made curriculum adjustments on how evolution was introduced in the classroom. Furthermore, a ten-member AAA site-visit team led by the president of Andrews University in February 2011 reviewed these changes and unanimously recommended that the AAA Board grant approval for a full eight years accreditation to match eight years already endorsed by WASC. Instead, the AAA Board reversed and placed LSU on provisional status.
The AAA accreditation downsizing coincided with the arrival of a Special WASC team visiting the campus to review recommended changes that had been scheduled a year earlier. It conducted its own Educational Effectiveness Review of LSU in the midst of this turmoil. Following AAA’s actions LSU administration and faculty began to speculate what it might mean to lose AAA accreditation and possible reactions from WASC.
Losing church-affiliated accreditation could have serious consequences. Adventist parents might be unwilling to send their children to LSU (although a significant portion of the students are non-Adventist). Furthermore, church appropriations (mostly used as a subsidy to cover tuition and fees for Adventist students) could disappear. Despite the Adventist Review's negative reporting of the provisional AAA accreditation, LSU has experienced almost thirty-percent growth of enrollment over the past three years.
—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]Michael W. Campbell. Church President Says He Won’t “Flinch” on Creation Issue. Adventist Review. July 8, 2010.
[ii]T Joe Willey. Faculty Survey Discredits Biology at Faith-Based La Sierra University. Reports of the National Center for Science Education. Jan/Feb. 2012.
[iii]Ibid. Also see Spectrum Blog. Continued Analysis of La Sierra University Student Survey Reveals Faulty Allegations. May 20, 2011.
[iv]David Olson. Creation vs. Evolution Debate at La Sierra University. The Press-Enterprise. April 10, 2011.
[v]Mark A. Kellner. La Sierra University Gains Window to Show Faithfulness to Church’s Creation Belief. Adventist Review. April 28, 2011.
This is the second in a four part series on The Accreditation of La Sierra University. See part one here: "Background Differences Between Church and State Accrediting."