Accrediting Body Threatens Spiritual Mission of La Sierra University (*UPDATED*)
The other major change will be to remove the President of the Pacific Union from his post as chairman of the board of trustees at La Sierra University because he also serves as chair of the board at Pacific Union College in Angwin, California.
The changes are said to be pushed forward in response to concerns that the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) raised over a personnel action that resulted in the resignation, or constructive termination and/or demotion of three faculty members in 2011 for violating church-based rules.
WASC takes on a quasi-governmental role because in many cases, WASC accreditation is necessary for students who want to apply to other schools, and for schools to obtain funding through loans or bonds. In other words, having WASC accreditation is like having a good credit score — it is essential to run an credible institution.
But a more fundamental problem arises in voluntarily opening the door for WASC to begin dictating administrative policy. WASC provides accreditation to every Adventist school, ranging from elementary to higher education in California and Hawaii and it is one of several regional authorities which provide accreditation to many Adventist schools nationwide. If WASC can tell La Sierra how to set up its board of trustees in order to change the way that La Sierra makes personnel decisions, how long until local accrediting agencies will knock on the doors of local church school boards and try to tell them who the members must be, what their powers are, and what personnel decisions they must make?
By pushing La Sierra to make changes that fundamentally alter its mission, WASC is overreaching its mission. This question goes beyond the Adventist world and into all parochial education in the United States where there is no official governmental accrediting agency but where the power is vested in this private organization. In other nations, the government has, through a combination of funding and regulation, watered down parochial schools to the point where they barely reflect the spiritual vision of their founders. In the United States, the same is being accomplished by private accrediting agencies.
Much has been written about the proposed bylaw changes at La Sierra, but here are some of the major issues.
1. WASC has failed to demonstrate why having the same board chair serve both La Sierra University and Pacific Union College presents a conflict of interest.
WASC has failed to demonstrate how having a common chair presents a conflict of interest. Pacific Union College and La Sierra University are not separate and distinct institutions. They are part of the same church, share constituents, and are funded together. They are part of the larger institution of the Pacific Union / NAD / and GC. It makes sense that as a common body, they are governed in the same manner by the same people to ensure a consistent quality education. (They share a common “board of regents” as it were.)
To bifurcate these administratively drives an unnatural wedge between the two that is unnecessary and harmful to the joint mission which is consistent with the mission of the church. Both institutions have produced high-quality, award-winning educational experiences for decades under this arrangement, and splitting these institutions apart in this regard will weaken them both tremendously.
Barring a specific, coherent rationale as to why WASC is recommending this change, WASC has no legitimate interest in how both schools are set up administratively.
2. The proposed bylaw changes will weaken the influence of the Seventh-day Adventist Church over all of its institutions of higher education.
There is no greater ideal place for faith to grow in young adults than at an institution of higher education. While most Christians are taught over and over not to compartmentalize their faith into separate secular and sacred callings, many in academia are actively calling for and demand that these aspects of life be artificially segregated. The result is a dramatic shift away from the holistic education of Mind, Body, and Spirit that has been a trademark of parochial education throughout history.
It is an abuse of its accreditation power for WASC to use its influence to secularize Adventist education.
3. The entire church in North America needs to be concerned.
Leaving the decision to the La Sierra board of trustees or its constituents is not enough. Public Affairs and Religious Liberty, Adventist Education, and the GC General Counsel desperately need to be brought into this discussion because the results may lay the framework for the next generation of religious liberty litigation across the nation.
Hosanna-Tabor case where the Supreme Court ruled that churches and their schools could make their own personnel decisions based on their religious convictions apart from state interference. Bylaws put in place at the behest of WASC could voluntarily contract these hard-won rights away and open the door to overt attempts to regulate personnel actions at every accredited school. If WASC can control the teachers, they can control the education.
This litigation over a relatively small amount of money could have significantly weakened the Establishment Clause protections that churches enjoy and two Adventist unions, the Pacific Union Conference and the North Pacific Union Conference were concerned enough that both signed onto an amicus brief in opposition to CUC.
This is a complex issue and some excellent point-by-point analyses of the proposed bylaw changes that point out their tangible dangers have been prepared. At this point, if this is an issue that you care about as much as I do, you may want to contact La Sierra University and the Pacific Union executive committee (whose members are the same as that of the LSU constituency committee) and advise them to rethink their intention to sign onto the proposed bylaw changes.
As an alumnus, I have nothing but the fondest regard for La Sierra. I want to see the University continue to provide the quality Seventh-day Adventist education it provided me without compromising its beliefs or separating from the backbone of the Seventh-day Adventist church.
Lord, keep us steadfast in Thy Word;
Curb those who fain by craft and sword
Would wrest the Kingdom from Thy Son
And set at naught all He hath done.
Lord Jesus Christ, Thy power make known,
For Thou art Lord of lords alone;
Defend Thy Christendom that we
May evermore sing praise to Thee.
O Comforter of priceless worth.
Send peace and unity on earth.
Support us in our final strife
And lead us out of death to life.
The Lutheran Hymnal
Text: John 8: 31
Author: Martin Luther, 1541