Dismissal of Board Members at La Sierra University Reported by Riverside Newspaper
by AT News Team
More than six months after the fact, The Press-Enterprise, the daily newspaper in Riverside, California, published a story Thursday (May 10) announcing the dismissal of three members of the board of trustees at La Sierra University (LSU). Why a respected newspaper is publishing the story now is unclear because these facts were publicly announced in October last year. The story makes no reference to the significant interval of time. The action may endanger the university’s accreditation and was taken because the board members tried to bring an end to “controversy over creationism and evolution,” the newspaper said in the copyrighted story.
The timing of this report may be related to a news release published the day prior by Spectrum, the journal of the Association of Adventist Forums, an organization of Seventh-day Adventist academics chartered by the General Conference of the denomination in the 1960s. The news release announces that Dr. Lee Greer, a biology professor at LSU, had been told his contract is not being renewed for the 2012-13 school year. It states that he was told of this decision in December. The newspaper story links the contract termination with Greer and the dismissal of the three board members.
The news release published by Spectrum suggests that Greer may file a lawsuit against the university for breach of contract because it “guaranteed him complete academic freedom.” It quotes his attorney as “hopeful that such a move will be unnecessary.”
The three board members, Greer and several other faculty and board members presented a proposal last year to end a controversy that has been agitated by independent Adventist groups since 2009. The groups accused the university of teaching evolution in violation of Adventist doctrine, an accusation that it has repeatedly denied. In response, the North American Division of the denomination initiated an examination of LSU’s accreditation as an Adventist institution.
The proposal that Greer and the others developed was actually approved by vote of the board last fall and seems to have contributed to an understanding of how science and religion can be taught with full integrity by LSU and other Adventist universities and colleges. Why the university also decided to take the severe step of dismissing members of the board is unclear. It is also unclear why some board members who supported the proposal were dismissed and others who did the same thing were not. The only statement that the university has made is that “the three members failed to operate within board processes.”
The university has also refused to make any statement about Greer’s firing. He was not the only faculty member who signed the proposal and there is no hint that any of the others were also fired. Greer’s news release states that he had not yet achieved tenure and is at the end of his contract. He has known since December that his teaching contract will end this coming summer and not be renewed.
It appears that the major concern of the university is related to public airing of the proposal. An official announcement placed on the university web site last October states that “the Board of Trustees expressed its concern to the officers of the North American Division over the precipitous action taken to publicize the ‘Joint Proposal’ without adequate prior consultation with the … university administration and board.”
Why negotiations between individual board and faculty members and the NAD occurred without the participation of the university president and board chair has not been explained by anyone involved with the situation. One California pastor told Adventist Today that it might be due to internal politics, “manipulation and pressure” brought by the independent organizations who have accused LSU of teaching contrary to the Adventist faith.
The other issue that is in the background of these events is the assessment of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, the major regional accrediting body for the region. It requires that institutions be governed by autonomous governing boards and has expressed concern about outside interference in LSU.
The three board members who were dismissed are all Adventist Church members and women. Kathryn Proffitt is a former United States ambassador who lives in Arizona. Carla Baum and Marta Tooma are both dentists who practice in California. It does not appear from the current listing of board members on the university’s official web site that any of the three have been replaced.