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The ‘Press’ on La Sierra University

Recently The Press-Enterprise, which covers Riverside county, continued its coverage of La Sierra University’s travails. Also this week, The Chronicle of Higher Education included a brief paragraph on the recent developments at the Seventh-day Adventist school. Although no news is broken in either article, The Press-Enterprise‘s take, “Accrediting commission warns La Sierra University,” does contain several interesting quotes from representatives for the university board of trustees and the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.

The vice chairwoman of the board of trustees, Judith St. John, said the board has not yet decided whether to implement the changes that the association’s Accrediting Commission for Senior Colleges and Universities requests.


“The board is taking this letter very seriously,” St. John said. “We are still studying how we will respond to WASC….After we meet with them face to face, we will have a better understanding of what WASC is saying in their letter.”

One area that will get some attention, according to university spokesmen Larry Becker, is that WASC feels the university bylaws “give the board too much power over hiring and firing of administrators and faculty.” Reform of the bylaws could make a difference in the future of educational autonomy as board pressure is the lever of power that Educate Truth and their allies in denominational leadership have been trying to pull. Potentially, this could reduce constituent influence on the performance of educational duties.

There are several more acts before this Adventist drama plays out. But as the filing of the lawsuit reveals, the overreach of the opponents of La Sierra University could actually result in strengthened protection for academic freedom among accredited denominational schools.

The Western Association’s accrediting commission last year said the controversy could threaten La Sierra’s academic autonomy. Religiously affiliated institutions such as La Sierra can teach six-day creationism, as long as they accurately instruct students that the scientific consensus is in favor of evolution, and as long they do not allow outside, non-academic forces to determine curriculum, said Ralph Wolff, president of the commission. . . .


But the commission was worried by the way in which top church official Ricardo Graham pressured two top La Sierra administrators, a professor and a board member to resign. The four were caught on tape criticizing Graham, who chairs La Sierra’s board, and two top national Adventist education officials after an April meeting that discussed Adventist church concerns about La Sierra. Three of the four men last week sued Graham, the university, the two officials and the Pacific Union Conference of Seventh-day Adventists — of which Graham is president — alleging they were illegally coerced into resigning. . . .


Graham is one of eight high-ranking church officials on the 22-member La Sierra board. Wolff said that if in requesting the resignations Graham was wearing the hat of a church leader rather than La Sierra’s board chairman, that would violate the commission’s autonomy standards.


“It’s precisely at that moment when that person cannot act primarily in the interests of the church but in the primary interest of the university…,” Wolff said. “The board’s responsibility is to operate in alignment with the church. But it is not an arm of the church.”

Read the whole article here: “Accrediting commission warns La Sierra University.”

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