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Accrediting Body Reaffirms La Sierra University with Attention to Science Education

According to a La Sierra University press release, “the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) has reaffirmed the accreditation of La Sierra University for eight years. This important milestone is the outcome of a multi-year effort by the university, which included a series of proposals, reports, and self-studies, culminating in a March 2010 campus visit by a team of peer reviewers. WASC accreditation means that the university has been judged to be operating at a high level of quality consistent with its mission.”

In a letter sent to La Sierra University President Randal Wisbey, the WASC team commended La Sierra for “its commitment to marketing, its continued progress on student support and retention, its hard work and progress on assessment, its work on faculty effectiveness, and the faculty’s engagement with active student learning.

Accreditation is one of the most important marks a university can earn. It is a measure of excellence in education,” said Wisbey. “Accreditation is earned following a rigorous assessment of the processes within La Sierra University, and the ways in which all members of the university family help fulfill the mission of Seventh-day Adventist higher education through their participation in the academic, financial, and planning aspects of the university on a daily basis.

WASC evaluators determined that La Sierra is making sustainable and authentic progress on developing a comprehensive assessment system, including program review. During the new accreditation period, WASC will be looking for La Sierra to continue refining its assessments efforts, with particular emphasis on aligning them with the university mission statement, strategic plan, budget, and student learning outcomes.

We are grateful for this strong affirmation from WASC,” said Provost Steve Pawluk. “There are, of course, some matters that will require our prompt and careful attention. Our university will focus attention on strategic planning, assessment efforts, enhancing student success, and instructional technology innovations. We will work diligently to enhance the university’s ability to serve our students and community in the best ways possible.

While finding many positive attributes at La Sierra, the evaluation team also noted the 15-month controversy surrounding allegations of how biology department faculty members present the theory of evolution to students. The controversy touches on several basic principles that form the foundation of WASC standards, including institutional autonomy, the appropriate role of the board and faculty, and academic freedom. WASC clearly understands that this is a denominational issue, but it also sees the efforts of some outside the university as threatening to La Sierra’s institutional autonomy. WASC will continue to closely observe how the controversy is resolved, and plans to send a team back to campus in Spring 2011 to review the situation.

We value WASC’s interest and peer support,” said Wisbey. “We appreciate the commission’s reaffirmation of our accreditation which allows us to fulfill our mission to seek truth, to know God, and to serve others.

This is a significant move by the powerful western accreditation body as it encourages the university board to think carefully about how it balances its commitments to doctrine and science education. If it bends too much to the heated rhetoric of its critics, many of whom are insinuating that professors be fired, the university could harm its accreditation.

The ruling by WASC broadens the meaning of the issues involved – clearly the board and administration holds the academic reputations of students and alumni in their hands. Furthermore, the effect of this continued attention to the university by WASC means that “the world” is watching the Adventist imbroglio over the pedagogy of origins.

La Sierra University is reporting a growth in applications and its 1,900 Adventist students, (not all in the sciences) have to swim upstream in a tough job market and compete to get into graduate schools. The Adventist witness extends beyond an evangelistic series and church signs. The world is watching how Adventism educates, not only for eternity, but for today.

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