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Should an Adventist University System Be Created in North America?


When attendees convene in Chicago for the Adventist Higher Education Summit on August 9-12, 2018, they will be looking critically at several challenges facing Adventist colleges and universities in North America and “planning strategically to ensure strong, faith-based education in a financially challenging, increasingly secular environment”1 endures.

Recognizing the deep roots the Adventist educational system has throughout the Church, Summit organizers are encouraging “decision makers and influencers” to attend — not only from the colleges and universities but also from the General Conference, North American Division, unions, conferences, and from Adventist healthcare organizations.

Several Adventist entities were involved in organizing and sponsoring the Summit, including the Association of Adventist Colleges and Universities (AACU), the North American Division Department of Education, Kettering Health, and Adventist Health System.

Richard Hart, president and CEO of Loma Linda University Health, will offer the keynote address on Thursday evening. Both Friday and Sabbath feature full days with presentations from some of the biggest names in Adventist higher education, including Richard Osborn (20th formerly president of Pacific Union College and currently vice president of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges), Andrea Luxton (president of Andrews University), Vinita Sauder (president of Union College), Dan Jackson (NAD president), Gordon Bietz (retired president of Southern Adventist University and currently associate director of higher education for the NAD), George Knight (emeritus professor at Andrews and a leading Seventh-day Adventist historian and author), and more. Several higher education experts and consultants will also speak on topics including current higher education trends, research, and demographics.

The goal and perhaps the most highly anticipated aspect of the Summit is a “Chicago Declaration” which the planning committee members who crafted the document hope “points the way for a robust future for Seventh-day Adventist higher education.”2 The committee is comprised of Gordon Bietz, John McVay (Walla Walla University president), Jon Paulien (Dean of the School of Religion at Loma Linda University), Larry Blackmer (NAD vice president of Education), Niels-Erik Andreasen (retired president of Andrews University), Ron Carter (LLU provost), and Vinita Sauder.

Bietz explained that in its current draft form, the Chicago Declaration is a talking paper, developed by the conference planning committee “to assure that there will be an outcome from this summit.”3 Bietz notes that there has been interest in increased collaboration among the Adventist colleges and universities for years, especially as small private colleges across the nation face mounting financial and enrollment challenges. The Summit and Declaration are the culmination of years of interest and effort on the part of college, university, and union presidents to sustain Adventist higher education into the future.

The crux of the Chicago Declaration is a proposal to “structure a formal process to develop the potential of ‘The Adventist University System of North America’ that would better serve both students and institutions through a “higher level of integration” and will help “to mitigate the increasing costs of providing high quality education and to strengthen the academic offerings provided at each school.”

The Declaration stresses that under this plan, each institution will “retain its identity, board, operating structure, and constituency” and proposes that:

The Adventist University System of North America (AUSNA) would be a non-profit corporation with multiple campuses, to further the higher education objectives of the North American Division of Seventh-day Adventists. The System would be operated by its members and board of directors, which would have limited authority. Each campus in the System would be independently operated, yet aligned and participating with the System.

The suggested timeline for “one overarching institution with multiple campuses” will begin with a vote at the Summit as to whether AUSNA is an idea worth pursuing further. If the vote passes, college and university presidents, along with the NAD Administrative Committee, will review a process and finalize a proposal to be brought before representatives at the NAD year-end meeting in November 2018. The goal is to achieve full institutional integration by 2025.

As the conference unfolds and as attendees have the opportunity to interact with each other and listen to the presentations, organizers hope they will also think about the final form the Chicago Declaration should take. If approved at the Summit, it will go through many iterations before being finalized.

Attendees are encouraged to read the document carefully and come to the Summit with questions:

1. Who will pay for this?
2. What will the return on investment be for our institution?
3. Will we lose control of our institution?
4. What about our board and the allegiance of our alumni?
5. What do we give up and what do we gain?

The proposed Chicago Declaration is provided in full below:

Registration for the Summit is open online through August 1 on the Summit website.


Notes & References:

1. The Future of Adventist Higher Education Chicago Summit website:

2. Summit newsletter, June 18, 2018.

3. Summit newsletter, June 24, 2018.


Alisa Williams is managing editor of

Photo by Andre Hunter on Unsplash.


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