Forward to Higher Ground: A Reflection on La Sierra University

Title image: Fritz Guy speaks on HMS Richards and La Sierra University at the HMS Richards Divinity School Inauguration Ceremony
Written by: 
Published:
September 11, 2023

“Forward” by Fritz Guy. Reprinted from Higher Ground: A Centennial History of La Sierra University, 1922-2022. Andrew Howe, PhD, managing editor. Used with permission. All rights reserved.


As we contemplate one hundred years of our existence, two questions arise: Who are we? Why do we exist? Our answers to these questions provide insight—as we stand at yet another crossroads in our rich institutional history—to who we want to be in the future and how we can best get there.

Several attributes have been evident throughout La Sierra’s history—from the school’s formation through its eventual accreditation, combination with and separation from Loma Linda University, and, eventually, development as an authentic university. These attributes are tenacity, creativity, and integrity. I have seen these first-hand since I first set foot on the campus over seventy years ago.

Other than the obvious occasion of La Sierra’s centennial, why does this history need to be written? La Sierra nurtured my faith and honed my intellect, allowing me to interact with scholarly and godly people. It did this for many others across different eras—students, faculty, staff, and those beyond the campus whose lives have been impacted and even transformed.

My privileged association with La Sierra encompassed many roles and time periods. In 1948 I chose to come here after my brother told me about the extraordinary quality of the faculty. Years later I returned as a member of that faculty, hopefully adding to the excellence I had come to expect as a student. I served in several administrative posts and became the first president of La Sierra University following its separation from Loma Linda University. From the latter vantage point, I experienced the adversity that the institution has often faced as well as the tenacity displayed by alumni, students, faculty, and staff in advocating for La Sierra’s distinctiveness and self-governance. The theme of tenacity in the face of adversity, however, emerged in the early 1920s, when two conferences banded together to incorporate an institution over the objections of the General Conference. Several years later, A. G. Daniells stood at the corner of Gladwyn Hall and acknowledged the vision of our founders.

There have been many occasions when tenacity was required: land management after the separation from Loma Linda; accreditation bids both for La Sierra as a whole and for specific programs; lackluster enrollment; and opposition to curricular innovation. One key aspect of La Sierra’s development has been that when we encounter resistance, we stick to our beliefs and ideals and follow through regardless of what the consequences might be. La Sierra has always been guided by a conscience that has helped it navigate the occasional storm.     

Creativity has often characterized us. One might wonder about the quick path from academy to junior college following 1922, particularly given resistance from the General Conference. Thinking ahead, James Robison secured permission to offer a few academy courses that would carry college credit, mostly for teachers-to-be. This approach allowed the school to add a two-year “Normal School” teacher-training component and, a few years later, a full spread of two-year courses. Robison, Palmer, and other early leaders added additional pieces to the curriculum, resulting in junior college status by 1927. Other episodes reflecting this same creativity include the long-term bid for secular accreditation and John T. Hamilton’s formation of what would become Adventist Colleges Abroad. Throughout our history, much as adversity has emboldened tenacity, it has also honed creativity.

The final attribute, integrity, encompasses more than fidelity to a core set of principles. Campus mottos and slogans have focused upon different aspects of institutional vision. The twin goals of such a vision have been to provide a quality Seventh-day Adventist education and a quality liberal arts education. When these two goals seemed to conflict either at the institutional or denominational level, positive, creative, and potentially transformative dialogue ensued. Accreditation carried a commitment to the church, the community, and, most importantly, the students. Identifying La Sierra as a “university” meant embracing an obligation to being what that term has traditionally meant. When enrollment dropped and finances worsened in the 1990s, we honored this vision by sending faculty members to acquire doctoral degrees and by setting aside resources to support faculty research, expand library holdings, and achieve the multi-faceted diversity that adds vitality to institutions of higher education.

When I changed my major from physics to theology, Edward Heppenstall—who noted the subversive nature of a school that not only thwarted a General Conference dictum but sought secular accreditation—invoked the power of education as a transformative agent: “Of course, it is dangerous to think, but it’s more dangerous not to think.” Clear thinking has always informed our operations. Over the years numerous thought leaders have emerged at La Sierra, whether from the faculty and administration or among the students, alums, and other constituencies. Good, clear thinking enables problem solving, opens new paths and opportunities, and, on occasion, ruffles feathers. When it comes to moving beyond orthodoxy and safe thinking, necessary ingredients include a creative, innovative spirit; integrity; and tenacity in fully committing to a chosen path. Taken together, these attributes constitute a distinctive La Sierra spirituality, one that—even if not always understood by those around us—has guided the institution for the past century.

So, who exactly are we? La Sierra is not a parochial Bible school, and it is not a purely secular university. It is, rather, a Seventh-day Adventist liberal arts institution of higher education. Through its rich one-hundred-year history, tens of thousands of lives have been impacted and transformed by top-quality faculty, staff, students, and alums, and by the subtle balance between faith and reason, all the while serving local, regional, national, and international constituencies. It is my desire and my expectation that we will continue to be similarly impactful in the years ahead.

I have highlighted here just a few ways in which the qualities typifying La Sierra have been evident in its institutional history. That history is obviously much more complex than my brief remarks can encompass, and of course it embodies themes other than those on which I have chosen to focus. This volume offers an opportunity to discover for yourself the kind of place La Sierra has been and the kind of place it has become. I believe that, as you read, you will see more clearly how the attributes I have highlighted have characterized La Sierra’s development at multiple points.

It has been challenging, stimulating, exciting, and rewarding to participate in much of La Sierra’s continuing journey toward higher ground. I hope that this volume will enable you to join that journey, to understand why it has mattered, and perhaps to contribute to La Sierra’s continuing growth as a Seventh-day Adventist liberal arts university that serves the church and the world.

 


Fritz Guy, PhD, was research professor of philosophical theology at La Sierra University. Besides teaching at three universities, he served as church pastor, college dean, and university president. He was the author of eighty popular articles and the book Thinking Theologically (1999). He passed away on July 25, 2023

A memorial service for Guy will be held at the La Sierra University Church on Saturday, September 16, 2023, at 4 p.m. (Pacific Time). The service will be livestreamed at https://lasierra.church/.

Additional media memorializing Guy:

La Sierra University's Founding President, Beloved Scholar Fritz Guy Passes to His Rest” by the La Sierra University Newsroom.

Thinking about Fritz Guy, the Adventist Christian” by Alexander Carpenter. 

Larry Geraty Reflects on the Lives and Work of Fritz Guy and Ron Numbers for the Adventist Voices podcast. 

Title image: Fritz Guy speaks on H. M. S. Richards and La Sierra University at the H. M. S. Richards Divinity School Inauguration Ceremony on October 11, 2012.

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