18 April 2019 | As new allegations regarding the president of Washington Adventist University (WAU) surfaced in both secular and Adventist news media, an attorney representing the Adventist institution sent a letter to Adventist Today (AT) complaining that the news report AT published on February 27 was not accurate. “The implication of the article is that there are massive layoffs, which is simply not true,” the letter, dated April 3, states.
Plans to cut six to fourteen faculty positions were reported in the February 27 article, based on what Adventist Today was told by a number of sources. A statement from WAU following the March 6 meeting of the university board stated that three faculty positions would be terminated and another seven reassigned to eliminate the teaching assignments involved, a total of ten. The April 3 letter claimed that “in fact, WAU laid off only two faculty and reassigned another [one, while] another two members of the faculty resigned, and those positions are not being filled.”
Why the confusion is unclear, although sources have told Adventist Today that public statements were made by administrators indicating the plan or desire is to get rid of 14 positions. Public statements by one administrator indicated that the February article published by Adventist Today was “ninety percent true.”
“Your description of the plan to discontinue various degrees is misleading,” the letter from the attorney states. “One would think that a student could no longer major in religion, math, computer science or music.” It points out that WAU “offers multiple majors in these fields.” Some with law enrollment are being “placed on hold.” This applies to a degree in philosophy of religion, but a basic religion degree continues, the letter explains. It provides similar examples in math and music. “WAU continues to have a strong major in music performance, and music continues to be one of WAU’s signature programs.”
“You call into question whether WAU can meet the church’s standard for Adventist higher education,” the letter states. “You did not mention that WAU has AAA [Adventist Accrediting Association] accreditation through 2022.”
“One striking example of your lack of journalistic integrity,” the letter to Adventist Today from an attorney representing WAU said, “is your statement that two of WAU’s vice presidents ‘were unceremoniously terminated without apparent reason.’” Adventist Today has a list of more than 80 faculty who have been fired, laid off, forced to resign or left because of the way they were treated. Again and again, a faculty member or administrator has been called to a meeting, presented with a non-disclosure agreement, escorted to their office and left immediately, not to return to campus. The number and manner of terminations has caused sufficient concern to result in a faculty Senate resolution asking for clarification about disciplinary procedures.
In the last two weeks allegations of plagiarism by Dr. Weymouth Spence, the president of WAU, both in a 2017 performance review and in two papers he wrote in earning a doctoral degree in the 1990s, have surfaced. They were reported April 10 by Inside Higher Education, a secular trade journal, and April 5 by Spectrum, the journal of the Association of Adventist Forums, the largest organization of Adventist academics.
Both news reports indicate that an anonymous whistle-blower shared documentation with the members of the university board prior to its March 6 meeting and then distributed the same documentation to the faculty on April 3. Spence posted a message to the faculty on the university website on April 4. He pointed out that the 2017 performance review document was a non-scholarly submission. And he stated, “my Doctorate in Education was confirmed by Nova Southeastern University (Fort Lauderdale, Florida; March 31, 1994) in accordance with the rigor of its integrity standards.”
“I am sorry for the distraction this allegation has created,” Spence also wrote. “It remains my commitment to fully cooperate with the WAU board in its review of any concerns brought to its attention.” The university board meets again in May.
Washington Adventist University is located in Takoma Park, Maryland, a suburb of the United States capital city of Washington, DC. It began as Washington Missionary College soon after the turn of the 20th century when the denomination’s General Conference moved from Battle Creek, Michigan, to Washington, DC.