by Monte Sahlin

By AT News Team, October 16, 2014

In a final agenda item at the 2014 annual meeting of the governing body for the Adventist denomination, the group convened as the constituency of Oakwood University and voted to transfer its sponsorship from the denomination's General Conference (GC) to its North American Division (NAD). The group voted the change 129 to 1 before adjourning yesterday (October 15). A subsequent vote to amend the university’s bylaws passed 114 to 0. Neither vote had any abstentions.

Oakwood University is one of the historically African American institutions of higher education in the United States; the only one affiliated with the Adventist faith. It is located in Huntsville, Alabama.

The transfer was requested by an earlier vote of the university's board. Wednesday’s decision clears the way for a confirming vote by the NAD governing committee in a few weeks. “Welcome home to your home division,” Pastor Daniel R. Jackson, president of the NAD, told the meeting on Wednesday. The university had been linked directly to the world body of the Adventist movement since it was founded in 1896.

Dr. Leslie N. Pollard, president of the university, spoke of the influence of Ellen G. White, one of the denomination's co-founders in the 19th century, on Oakwood. “If there is anyone close to being a saint in the African-American community, it is Ellen White,” he said at the constituency meeting.

Dr. Ella Simmons, an educator and the GC vice president who has actively worked with the university on the transfer, stated prior to the vote that she believed White would have approved of the plan. She said she had a passage from one of the books that White authored entitled The Ministry of Healing that applied to the situation.

Reading a list of questions on what an engaged couple should ask before marriage, she said: “Let the questions be raised, ‘Will this union help me heavenward? Will it increase my love for God? And will it enlarge my sphere of usefulness in this life?’ If these reflections present no drawback, then in the fear of God move forward” Healing (p. 356).

The transfer will downgrade the status of the university’s Ellen G. White Estate branch office, a depository of White documents and other historical materials. Denominational policy dictates that only GC institutions are allowed to have the higher status. This means that the Oakwood unit will be renamed a White Estate research center. Jackson said the only impact of the change would be the sign outside the center’s door. “Nothing is going to change—just the name,” he said in an interview with the Adventist News Network (ANN).

Jackson also said that the amount of the university’s subsidy would stay the same but would now come from the NAD instead of the GC. A total of $1.28 million has been budgeted by the GC for the university in 2015, a 2 percent increase from 2014, according to financial statements released at the meeting. The NAD will deduct that amount from the money that it sends to the GC and give it to the university, Jackson said.

Oakwood is in good financial health, said Pollard, who last month opened a university-owned franchise of Edible Arrangements in a bid to cut student tuition. Oakwood is the first Adventist school to own a retail franchise. Pollard said 10 percent of the university’s $50 million annual budget comes from NAD organizations.

Robert E. Lemon, treasurer of the GC, concurred with Pollard’s financial assessment. “Oakwood University is in a very, very good financial position,” he said.