Why La Sierra?
by Nate Schilt
I have a question? Why, among all the colleges and universities in North America, does La Sierra University (LSU) seem to be feeling heat from its accrediting bodies (Adventist Accrediting Association [AAA] and Western Association of Schools & Colleges [WASC])? Many of you understand the accrediting process and standards. I do not, so I would love your perspectives. Allow me to TENTATIVELY offer mine. I wonder if WASC really cares that much about the substance of what is taught or what the biology professors actually believe about evolution and geo/bio chronology. Isn’t the primary concern of WASC, at least on this issue, that the faculty should have control over classroom curriculum and content?
If I am correct, then we can readily understand why other Adventist universities might not be feeling the heat from their accrediting bodies. There is no palpable conflict over curriculum between science faculty and their Boards in those universities. I infer from the relative absence of conflict that biology professors at other SDA universities are doing a better job, from the Church’s perspective, of presenting the best of creation theory and science along with traditional, conservative Darwinian theory and science. Is that an unreasonable inference? The faculty at La Sierra apparently is not real enthused about doing it the way other Adventist universities do it, and, according to accreditation standards, that should be a faculty prerogative.
So as I see it, the real problem for the Church and La Sierra isn’t how biology is being taught, but the criteria by which faculty are vetted and selected. La Sierra has, over time, evolved a considerably more liberal/progressive academic culture than other universities in the Adventist system. It would be interesting for a historian to trace that process. Faculty governance, mandated by accrediting bodies, leads to inbreeding. So La Sierra has, in virtually all its departments, including the biology department, cloned liberal/progressive faculty. The Church and the Board cannot simply step in and say “Whoa, you’ve gone too far,” when constituent members rise up in protest. Like federal judges, faculty members are appointed for life, unless they violate clearly defined standards and policies, most of which have nothing to do with classroom curriculum or viewpoint advocacy.
The Humpty Dumpty of traditional Adventist orthodoxy has fallen off the wall at LSU, and at some other SDA universities he is teetering badly. I strongly suspect that putting Humpty together again must come, if it is to come at all, from inside LSU, through faculty governance, not from Board or Church action. External pressures will only serve to make changes induced thereby more suspect. In a very real sense, the faculty holds LSU hostage to faculty values and priorities. From the perspective of WASC, this is as it should be.
If faculty freely decided to teach and advocate all 28 Fundamental beliefs, would WASC have a problem with that? I doubt it. So it is not quite accurate to think that La Sierra is totally at the mercy of WASC. The responsibility, or credit, depending on how you see it, for the WASC concerns lies squarely with the faculty. The future of LSU, for better or for worse, is in the hands of its faculty, and that faculty cannot be changed to accommodate the winds of popular opinion and political power in the Church. Once all sides to the controversy clearly understand and accept this reality, options and resolutions will be much easier to perceive and implement.