Since my “Open Letter to Ted Wilson” regarding the proposed changes to La Sierra University's bylaws, the university has released four press releases that appear to respond to the issue. On March 5 LSU noted that the vote on the bylaw changes, which was to have been held on February 21, had been postponed until May 23, 2013, at 1 p.m. The meeting had been scheduled at the Pacific Union Conference headquarters in Westlake Village, but that violated the bylaws, which required that constituency meetings be held at the La Sierra campus.
According to the story, 72 delegates attending what became an “informational meeting,” examined the proposed changes, “asked probing questions, and shared suggestions about a number of items in the proposed Bylaws document. Members of the Articles and Bylaws Committee attended the February 21 meeting to hear the constituents’ comments. They will meet to consider the feedback, and adjust the proposed changes where advisable.” But if the bylaw changes have been modified at all, no new version has been posted online.
Next, on March 15, LSU posted a press release titled "Is La Sierra University Leaving the Adventist Church? No!"
This raises the question: How many other Seventh-day Adventist colleges have to answer questions about whether they are leaving the church? What is it about La Sierra that leads people wonder whether it is leaving the church? The article states:
Several groups and individuals are using postings on independent websites to allege proposed changes in La Sierra University’s bylaws are an attempt to weaken or break the school’s historic ties with the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
Then LSU tries to argue that this is not true. But according to LSU, these changes to the board structure have been demanded by Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC), and WASC has indeed stated that “an educational institution’s board and administration should preserve their independence from . . . external parties, such as related entities,” the term “related entities” including sponsoring denominations. The stated purpose of the bylaw changes is to satisfy WASC that the university is sufficiently autonomous from the Seventh-day Adventist Church. LSU can hardly argue both that the bylaw changes are necessary to satisfy secular accreditation, and that they do not weaken the church's control over the University. That's trying to have it both ways. If the bylaw changes address WASC's concerns, then obviously they are intended to weaken the university's ties to the church.
The March 15 posting has several numbered statements. The first states:
1. Throughout the university’s accreditation conversations and bylaws revision process, La Sierra University’s Articles and Bylaws Committee maintained the position that the university would remain distinctively Adventist. Governance concerns expressed by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC), our regional accrediting body, prompted the bylaws discussion. But WASC’s concerns were focused on the University’s governance practices, not on its mission. During their two years of careful work to resolve WASC issues, committee members also ensured the bylaws remained in alignment with the University’s mission and values, developed and voted by the faculty, staff, and trustees.
The real question is why does WASC have governance concerns about La Sierra? La Sierra's Board of Trustees is structured exactly like every other union-affiliated Seventh-day Adventist college in North America. Why has no other secular accrediting body in North America expressed concerns about the board structure of an Adventist college?
WASC has taken the remarkable stance that, “Concerns can arise when the board chair is responsible to a related entity, such as a religious institution, . . .” But all SDA tertiary educational institutions have a union president or other church official as their ex officio board chair, who obviously is “responsible to a related . . .religious institution.” All union-affiliated colleges have the union president as their board chair. So WASC has just fired a shot across the bow of the entire tertiary educational apparatus of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. WASC is casting aspersion on all of our colleges’ governing boards. WASC is, in effect, demanding that the church cut loose its entire higher educational structure. If the LSU constituency caves in to this pressure from a secular accrediting authority, it jeopardizes the entire SDA tertiary educational establishment in North America.
The author of LSU's press release makes a distinction between governance and mission, but if the mission of La Sierra is to be governed by the SDA Church, then changes to its governance will impair its mission. This board structure, used throughout North America, has been developed in order to ensure that the SDA Church retains control of its schools. Without structures in place to ensure church control, the church has no way of making certain that its schools continue to support and promote the mission of the church. To change the board structure is to undermine the ability of the church to ensure that La Sierra is faithful to its mission.
2. The proposed bylaws require the Board of Trustees to ensure the mission and major policies of the university are well aligned with the goals and objectives of the Adventist Church. The board oversees the strategic plan and its progress. Adventist mission is central to the function of the board.
The proposed bylaw changes transfer almost all governing power away from the Board of Trustees and vest it in the president of the university, so the board will no longer have the power to ensure anything. For example, all power to hire and fire is removed from the board and given to the president; the board will not even retain oversight in this area. So how can the board ensure that faculty hires are aligned with the goals and objectives of the church? If the mission and major policies of the university are not aligned with the goals and objectives of the Adventist Church, the board will have no power to do anything except fire the president and hope for better luck next time.
3. The revised bylaws make no change in the number or offices of the church leaders who serve the board on an ex officio basis. The board will continue to have among its members the Pacific Union Conference president, secretary, treasurer, vice president, director of education, and the presidents of the Southern and Southeastern California conferences and the Arizona Conference.
But the quorum rule is changed so that there is no quorum unless lay members outnumber ex officio members. And the Pacific Union Conference president can no longer serve as the president of La Sierra's board of trustees as long as he continues to chair PUC's board of trustees. Moreover, the chair changes from an ex officio to an elected position, which obviously weakens the power of the board chair relative to all other board members and the university president. Again, remember that these changes are designed to satisfy WASC that La Sierra has sufficient independence from the Seventh-day Adventist Church. That is the stated purpose of the changes to the structure of the Board of Trustees, so it is disingenuous, to say the least, to argue that they do not loosen the SDA Church's control over the university.
4. La Sierra University’s comprehensive Spiritual Master Plan (entire document available at: http://www.lasierra.edu/index.php?id=8122) makes the following clear statements about the university’s commitment to the church:
- La Sierra University is committed to the Seventh-day Adventist faith and life.
- La Sierra University embraces the biblical Sabbath as a gift of sacred time.
- La Sierra looks to the future with eagerness, anticipating the fulfillment of the Advent hope.
La Sierra University remains deeply committed to the Adventist philosophy of education. Our mission of seeking truth, knowing God, and serving others is daily experienced by our students and those privileged to accompany them on their educational journey. The university’s Spiritual Master Plan guides our work in providing invigorating classroom conversations, meaningful worship experiences, and transformative service opportunities,” says Randal Wisbey, president.
La Sierra claims to embrace the biblical Sabbath “as a gift of sacred time,” but the Sabbath is sacred because God hallowed it at the creation; it is more than just a gift of time, it is a memorial to God's work of creation in a literal week. Adventism came into existence largely to call people back to worship on the day that God set aside at the creation. (Gen. 2:2-3; Ex. 20:11; Rev. 14:7) If mainstream science is correct in its theories about origins—life spontaneously self-assembled and self-vivified, and evolved from single-celled forms over the course of some six hundred million years, and humans evolved from an apelike ancestor some two million years ago—then the Adventist faith is utter nonsense. Yet La Sierra has been teaching this view of origins as truth for many years, and has resisted all efforts to reform this aspect of its curriculum. This casts grave doubt on the university's commitment to the Adventist faith.
La Sierra points us to a “Spiritual Master Plan,” but having a plan for the future is no substitute for upholding plain Bible truth right now. Moreover, the plan raises more questions than it answers. It discusses a science-faith seminar, but previous efforts in this area were probably more corrosive to Adventist faith than the biology classes.
According to the “Spiritual Master Plan,” subjects that will be featured at campus-wide assemblies include “earth care, women’s issues, service, mission, social justice, Christian responsibility,” a litany of liberal enthusiasms.
The problem with any “Spiritual Master Plan” that La Sierra might devise is that it will be implemented by the extremely liberal religion faculty. That faculty was formed by Fritz Guy, who recently co-wrote a book arguing that the writer of Genesis intended to convey that the raqia [Heb. = expanse, firmament, sky] is actually an inverted metal dome:
Then there's John Webster, who told the students in the seminar class that the literal (Historical-Grammatical) method, which is the approved method of Biblical interpretation is “not particularly helpful,” and it might be more helpful to view the opening chapters of Genesis not as how the world came into being, but how it was inaugurated to be God’s dwelling place. Then there's Tricia Famisaran, who urges us to repent of our sins of heterosexism and patriarchy, and suggests that since Lady Gaga has determined that homosexuals were “born that way,” the rest of us should act accordingly:
In sum, a “spiritual plan” is only as good as the people who implement it. A fine-sounding plan cannot take the place of a dedicated and committed Board of Trustees having real governing power, who will put in place a dedicated and committed president and faculty.
Much of LSU's official response to the bylaw change issue is aimed at trying to get the LSU constituency—which has an ethical obligation to inform itself, from any and all sources, regarding the nature, details, and effects of the bylaw changes it is being asked to vote for—to pay no attention to anyone other than the current LSU administration:
While the theories these critics present appear to be objective, they omit important information about the bylaws, the revision process, and recent actions by the university’s board, administration, and faculty. . . . Critical voices are often loud, and their accusatory tone attracts attention. Their self-assured manner suggests that they are speaking with authority. But be assured, there are other more credible voices to be heard.”
But the constituents can judge for themselves what is truth while considering several points of view. “In a multitude of counselors there is safety.” Prov. 11:14. It is always better to consider both sides of the story. “He that speaks first in his own cause seems just; until his neighbor comes and examines him.” Prov. 18:17. It should be clear that when Wisbey advocates these bylaw changes, he speaks in his own cause.
Moreover, LSU Constituent Members do not represent the current administration, nor do they exist to rubber-stamp the existing administration's agenda. The constituency represents the entire Adventist community in Southern California and the Pacific Union, and its commission is to ensure that the University remains faithful to its mission and founding purpose. For LSU to discourage its constituent members from hearing all points of view is like the president discouraging your congressman from listening to your point of view on pending legislation.
Next, on April 5, LSU treated us to a brief history of its accreditation.
The point of this press release seems to be to claim that WASC first raised board structure/governance concerns in 1996, long before Wisbey became president (and, in fact, early in Larry Geraty's tenure as president). We are told that the two main items WASC wanted addressed way back in 1996 were:
1. The number of trustees not employed by any entity of the SDA Church (deemed insufficient at the time), and
2. That the president of the Pacific Union Conference also served as chair of the Pacific Union College board. WASC recommended four steps to take in beginning to address this issue.
We are expected to infer from this information that WASC's intrusion cannot have been solicited by Randal Wisbey, because WASC had these same concerns 11 years before Wisbey became president of La Sierra.
Now, let me see if I have this straight: WASC raises concerns about La Sierra's board structure back in 1996, does nothing for fourteen (14) years, grants LSU accreditation for a full 8-year term in 2010, then says, “oh, by the way, fix your board structure like we said back in 1996.”
To whatever extent WASC raised a concern about board structure in 1996, it was obviously answered back then. The notion that WASC allowed a concern to fester, unaddressed, for 14 years is a non-starter. The concerns were addressed, and WASC was satisfied, back in 1996. Moreover, if the board structure were such a grave concern to WASC, would WASC have extended full accreditation to La Sierra in 2010—fourteen years after the concerns were first raised without them ever having been addressed? Bear in mind that LSU's accreditation is valid until 2018, a full 22 years after the concerns were first raised.
The idea that there is continuity of concern between 1996 and 2010 is surreal. Obviously, the governance issue somehow got put back on the front burner after 14 years of being a non-issue. Why? Because (one strongly suspects) Randal Wisbey wants bylaw changes that he knows he cannot push through without a threat from the accreditors.
But is WASC being consistent in making these demands? There are three separate Brigham Young Universities, the main one in Provo, Utah, another in Idaho, and a third in Hawaii. All three are separate institutions; the Idaho and Hawaii schools are not branch campuses of the BYU in Utah. These three schools share one (1) board of trustees headed up by one (1) man, Thomas S. Monson, the current president and prophet of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. All of the board members are high officers in the Mormon Church, and most if not all are paid by the Mormon Church. There are no elected lay members on the board; all board members are there by virtue of their offices in the Mormon Church. In other words, they are all ex officios.
The Brigham Young University in Hawaii is within WASC's territorial jurisdiction. Is WASC demanding that BYUH have a separate board? Is WASC demanding that Thomas Monson step down as board chair of BYUH because he also chairs the board for the Utah and Idaho schools? Is WASC demanding that the Mormon Church pack its unitary board with lay members who hold no high offices in the church? The answer to all these questions is, of course, no. Why? Because WASC understands that it exists to ensure basic academic standards, not to dictate to religious denominations how they shall govern their educational establishments. In fact, in 2008, WASC reaffirmed BYUH's accreditation for 10 years.
Finally, on April 12, LSU posted an article explaining the importance of accreditation.
But no one disputes the value of accreditation, and accreditation is not the issue here. La Sierra could retain its current board structure throughout the ceaseless ages of eternity without ever jeopardizing its secular accreditation. The problem is that Randal Wisbey wants to be his own boss, with no real possibility of any meaningful interference from the larger Seventh-day Adventist community. These bylaw changes are a huge step in that direction. WASC doesn't really care about these changes; in the case of BYUH, WASC has not challenged a single, unitary board and board chair governing three separate Mormon institutions, consisting only of church ex officios, with no elected lay members.
The constituency of LSU must not allow itself to be stampeded by an empty, solicited accreditation threat into approving bylaw changes that should never be approved, and that place at risk the entire tertiary educational structure of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.