MY STRUGGLES AS A CREATIONIST AT LA SIERRA UNIVERSITY
Members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church leadership have encouraged me that laymen in the church, especially those alumni with first-hand experience like me, should be actively involved in bringing about change to the crisis at La Sierra University. It is my hope that the following information will enlighten, awaken, and help church leaders and laymen alike play their part in bringing about this much needed change.
I will first convey my personal experience as a student at La Sierra University. The following information and corresponding exhibits constitute a factual account of my experience as a student of La Sierra University under the administration of current LSU President Randal Wisbey.
While a student at La Sierra University, my academic freedom and civil rights were repeatedly violated because I exposed the truth about what was being taught in LSU classrooms. I was subjected to multiple unjust disciplinary actions for merely speaking up, stating my concerns, and defending the Adventist doctrine of Biblical Creation.
In February of 2009, I passed out a paper at La Sierra University Church on Alumni weekend describing what was being taught in LSU’s Biology Department. This resulted in a confrontation for which I later apologized. I assumed all was well and registered for classes spring quarter without incident. However, at the beginning of the next school year in September of 2009, the Wisbey administration tried to prevent me from registering for classes by placing my student account on a “Disciplinary Hold.” I was told I would not be allowed to register for classes or attend the University because I had “passed out information” at Church without permission. On September 21, 2009, I wrote a letter to the Discipline Committee asking for the reasons why I was not allowed to attend La Sierra University to be provided to me in writing. See Exhibit 1.
When the responsibility of my case was given to the Dean of Students, she told me that she did not know the reasons why I was being held out of school! It took several days for the Dean to provide me with a list of my alleged offenses. When I did receive a list of allegations, the list did not identify who was making these allegations. I was then told I had to write a letter apologizing for my alleged “bad behavior.” A copy of my letter in response is attached as Exhibit 2.
Although the Admissions Committee voted in my favor and removed the Disciplinary Hold on my student account, and I was allowed to register for classes, I missed more than a week of important science classes because of this unjust disciplinary action. Preventing me from registering for school under these circumstances is not supported by any of the University policies. Also, this action was taken against me despite the fact that the Church is not owned by the University and is not even located on the University campus property. In reality, the University had no jurisdiction over what I did while on Church property. I viewed this as merely an attempt to intimidate and silence me. While not wanting to cause any trouble, my motive in sharing letters with LSU Alumni was to reveal what was actually being taught in LSU classrooms.
During the fall quarter of 2009, I became particularly concerned when I attended the General Biology Freshman Seminar. This was the same seminar that the Wisbey administration had promoted as being the course that would help resolve the Creation/Evolution controversy at LSU, by “…introducing students to Seventh-day Adventist understandings of creation, centered in the Genesis account, which reveals the Creator as a personal and loving God.” See Exhibit 3. This sounded good to me and I was looking forward to the seminar!
I was very upset, however, when the Freshman Seminar blatantly undermined the Seventh-day Adventist belief in creation, rather than supporting it, as had been promised by President Wisbey. I was especially concerned by a lecture given by the LSU Dean of the School of Religion, and his invited guest from Loma Linda.
For example, Dr. Webster told the students the literal (Historical-Grammatical) method of Biblical interpretation is “not particularly helpful.” He suggested creation might not have happened in seven literal days. Dr. Webster also suggested that the apparent threats that contemporary science presents to SDA beliefs can be harmonized using various options. He told us the “more helpful” figurative methods of Biblical interpretation suggest “the opening chapters of Genesis might not really be about how the world came into being, but might be about how we understand the world as God’s dwelling place, as the temple of God.”
During the seminar, the SDA belief that the world was created in seven literal days was clearly called into question. Dr. Webster’s guest also told us that Genesis 1 and 2 are not really about how God created the earth. Instead, he said, Genesis is describing how the temple was dedicated in seven days. In other words, Genesis 1 and 2 are talking about the dedication or inauguration of the earth as God’s temple.
To illustrate his point that the earth was not really created in seven literal days, Dr. Webster’s guest gave an analogy. He said after we graduate we will say we got our degrees on a certain day, while in reality it took a much longer period of time to earn our degrees. He concluded his presentation by stating, “It’s the same way with the days of creation. They are inaugurated, set apart as special, but there was a lot of work that went on beforehand.”
I was deeply concerned by what I heard at the seminar, especially because this particular lecture was organized and presented by the Dean of the School of Religion! That evening, on November 17, I decided to send a letter to members of the Board of Trustees expressing my concerns regarding the lectures. See Exhibit 4 to read this letter.
In the days following, I also wrote a short note, which I gave to a few of my classmates, sharing my concerns regarding the promotion of evolution in the Biology classes. In my note I offered to provide peer-reviewed work from a top SDA scientist supporting the Biblical version of creation. This note stated the following in its entirety:
I am writing you in regards to the promotion of the theory of evolution in La Sierra’s Biology classes. We are being told that we are a product of millions of years of gradual change. We are also being told that the theory of evolution and the Bible are entirely compatible. Yet, as we have seen (Biology Seminar on 11/17), in the eyes of many the Bible is significant chiefly because of its cultural richness. As Mr. Webster suggested, the figurative or “realistic” models of Bible interpretation may be helpful, but the literal model of interpretation is not. This is hard for me to accept, especially when I read what Jesus Himself said: “But from the beginning of the creation, God ‘made them male and female.”‘ Mark 10:6. ln context, Jesus is speaking of humans, and He is quoting directly from Genesis! Jesus also said “For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me; for he wrote about Me.” John 5:46. Evolution teaches that humans were “created” at the end of the world timeline. Jesus teaches that humans were made at the beginning of the creation of the world, not at the end. Who will YOU believe? If you are wrestling with doubt or wondering even why things like this are being taught at a Christian university; if you want answers; scientific answers, Biblical answers—then email me and share your concerns. I have permission from a top SDA scientist to share his peer-reviewed work that has been published in leading scientific journals. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Although my actions were the exercise of my academic freedom and civil rights, my case was taken before a disciplinary “judicial” committee. I was not allowed to attend the hearing to defend myself. I was instructed to write a statement which required me to admit that I had done something wrong before my case was even considered. On December 8, 2009 the “Judicial Committee” ruled against me and punished me by issuing an official “Letter of Censure.” This letter charged me with violating University policy for distributing material that had not been previously approved by the Office of Student Activities. See Exhibit 5.
This punishment was in clear violation of the University policies, including its policies on academic freedom. It was also a violation of my student rights which promises the following in the Student Handbook:
“La Sierra University students have the right to expect a Christian university to be a place of spiritual nurture. A Christian learning environment nurtures spiritual growth of all members of its community while teaching the faith and traditions of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.”
“La Sierra University students have the right to freely and without fear of reprisal express their opinions, beliefs, and questions, including expressions about University student life and academic experiences. A Christian learning environment supports respectful expression of diverse ideas through appropriate means.”
A few weeks later my student rights and academic freedom were again violated when I was again punished for publicly disclosing what was being taught in one of the Biology classes. The Wisbey administration again failed to follow their own regulations when initiating disciplinary actions against me. I was again denied my right to appear before the disciplinary committee to defend myself regarding alleged charges against me. I was told to submit a written statement which again required me to admit guilt before my case was even considered.
This time my punishment was very serious. On January 6, 2010, the “Judicial Committee” voted to discipline me by putting me on a form of probation called “Citizenship Probation” which is reserved for only the most serious violations of policy. See Exhibit 6.
This harsh punishment prevented me from ever holding a student office or any leadership role during the duration of my time at La Sierra University. I was also not allowed to participate in extracurricular activities or even attend mission trips sponsored by LSU. Worst of all, the “Citizenship Probation” became a permanent part of my student disciplinary file which would be shared with any transferring or graduate schools which I later applied to, for the rest of my life. In short, this unfair punishment could destroy my hopes to attend Loma Linda University.
Because this disciplinary action taken against me could affect my future after leaving La Sierra University, I appealed all of the disciplinary actions taken against me. See Exhibit 7. I was told I could ask a LSU faculty member to represent me. During this appeal process, however, the Wisbey administration again denied me my right to appear before the committee to defend myself.
The faculty member who agreed to represent me for my appeal was warned if he advocated for me it could cost him his job. We discussed this possibility together. He was unwilling to believe the administration would fire him as retaliation for representing a student. He was also very secure in his employment at the University based on his outstanding performance and records of success. Yet, when I talked with him a short time later, he had been notified that his job would be terminated at the end of the school year.
During this extremely stressful disciplinary process I struggled to understand exactly what the charges against me were, who my accusers were, and what evidence the University had against me, so I could try to defend myself. When I was not given this information, I asked for copies of my entire student records according to my rights under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) of 1974. See Exhibit 8.
Randal Wisbey’s administration withheld and later admitted to destroying documents concerning me that I had a legal right to see and review. This action violated my rights as a student under FERPA, and is just plain wrong.
I began requesting documents I was entitled to review in January 2010. Although I was initially promised I would receive the information I requested, it was not provided. Nevertheless, the LSU administration and its legal counsel repeatedly represented that they had delivered my entire student file, including all documentation regarding me and the disciplinary process I had undergone. In a letter dated March 4, 2010, LSU’s lawyer Kent Hansen stated, “The education records that you have been provided constitute your entire student file.” This was untrue. In reality I was only given a small number of documents, most of which were my own correspondence with LSU. See Exhibit 9.
Because of Randal Wisbey’s administration’s unjust and persistent retaliation against me, I was forced to obtain legal help, just to try to find what the University was withholding from me! Once my attorney began insisting that LSU deliver to me all documentation I was entitled to review, LSU finally admitted that they had begun destroying documents that they had been withholding from me. Eventually, I was given a list that allegedly included all of the destroyed documents. In the list were many documents relating to the disciplinary actions taken against me, which I had never seen and was never provided. Additionally, internal emails and other documents exchanged between the LSU officials, faculty and administration, which I had a right to review under FERPA, were never produced.
Why would LSU admit to destroying documents in June 2010 when LSU’s legal counsel Kent Hansen told me I had been given my entire student file in March 2010? The inference is they knew what they had done to me was wrong and decided to destroy the evidence, regardless of the cost. Sadly, the University has never offered me an apology for their actions toward me.
I was told La Sierra University was anticipating litigation as a result of their actions against me. Although I certainly had the right (and the evidence) to initiate litigation against La Sierra University, I instead decided to follow the counsel in 1 Corinthians 6:1-8 and bring my case before the brethren.
1 Corinthians 6:1 says “Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to law before the unrighteous, and not before the saints?” Following this scripture, my efforts have been toward making those in the Church aware, who are able to actually accomplish something towards resolving the problems at La Sierra.
On November 12, 2010, I had my attorney send a long letter addressed to Elder Dan Jackson, President of the North American Division, which was also copied to officials at the General Conference and North American Division who are responsible for SDA education. This 22-page legal letter describes in detail the abuse I suffered as a La Sierra University student. As evidence supporting its truthfulness, the letter is supported by over 200 pages of exhibits. I would urge the reader to review this letter and its supporting documentation. See Exhibit 10.
While representing openness to diversity of opinion and views, under the leadership of Randal Wisbey, LSU has done quite the opposite. Strangely, yet truthfully, it is the views of the Seventh-day Adventist Church which are especially opposed by the Wisbey administration.
The handling of the situations and events described in this letter took placed under the leadership, direction, and oversight of Randal Wisbey, current president of La Sierra University. These details paint a sad picture of what Randal Wisbey is willing to put students through in order to attempt to intimidate them into silence.
Unfortunately, my case is not an isolated example of the abuses at LSU. Others have been mistreated by Randal Wisbey and his administration in recent years, as described below.
Because years had gone by without the Creation/Evolution crisis at La Sierra University being resolved, members of the Biology faculty decided to try on their own to suggest a possible resolution, for the consideration of the Board and the administration. Professor Lee Greer drafted a proposal suggesting an “approach in principle” to incorporate the teaching of the SDA belief in Biblical creation into the Biology curriculum on origins.
On October 5, 2010, the Chair of the Biology Department, along with all but one of the Biology faculty, individually signed this faculty-initiated proposal (known as the Joint Proposal) as an exercise of their academic freedom. Four trustees also signed as individuals in order to show their support for this faculty-initiated proposal. The document specifically said they were signing as individuals who were not speaking on behalf of the University or the Board. See Exhibit 11.
The leadership of the Seventh-day Adventist Church was very pleased by this development. The officers of the North American Division issued a statement praising the Joint Proposal as a positive step forward and expressing appreciation for those who signed the document. See Exhibit 12.
The Adventist Review also published a very positive article, which quoted several Church leaders who supported the efforts of these Biology professors, including Elder Dan Jackson, President of the North American Division, Elder Larry Blackmer, North American Division Vice President for Education, and Elder Ricardo Graham, President of the Pacific Union Conference and also Chairman of the Board of Trustees for La Sierra University. See Exhibit 13.
Despite this unprecedented support from the Church, the Wisbey administration was angry. Incredibly, LSU issued an official press release which condemned the actions of the North American Division for supporting and publishing the Joint Proposal, saying it was “precipitous.” See Exhibit 14. Additionally, three members of the Board Trustees were removed from the Board of Trustees for signing the Joint Proposal as individuals, “who support this faculty-initiated proposal.”
Likewise, a couple of months later, LSU Professor Lee Greer, who initiated the Joint Proposal, was told his employment at La Sierra University was being terminated. Dr. Greer had done nothing wrong. He had only attempted to communicate with his fellow professors, LSU board members, and Church leaders to find a way to incorporate SDA teachings on creation into LSU’s classrooms that was acceptable to all. Please refer to several published articles on this matter, attached as Exhibit 15.
Sadly, there is a pattern of President Wisbey doing all in his power to prevent the teaching of the Seventh-day Adventist view of Creation alongside secular evolution in LSU classrooms. If history is to be repeated, Randal Wisbey will also punish, fire, and remove anyone who tries to resolve this long-standing crisis in the future.
Greater transparency must be demanded on behalf of President Wisbey. A strong message must be sent that dishonesty and misrepresentation will not be tolerated in any form. President Wisbey, the officers, the Board, and the faculty all must be held fully accountable for their actions and representations towards students, parents, faculty, and church members alike.
While Randal Wisbey publicly represents “openness” to diversity and opinion, in reality he is intolerant of the views of others. He has both openly and covertly removed professors and Board members for trying to resolve the creation-evolution controversy, and persecuted and harassed students who set forth opinions and ideals differing from his ideology.
I realize it can be difficult for church leaders, accrediting bodies, constituents, and the parents of LSU students to accept the sobering reality of what the University’s administration is doing, and what is being taught in LSU classrooms. After all, La Sierra University is supposed to be a truly Seventh-day Adventist institution, and President Wisbey is an ordained minister. In view of these startling realities, it is my sincere hope that this documented information will help the reader to realize the gravity of the current condition of LSU.
On May 23rd, the La Sierra University Constituents will meet in a specially called meeting to vote to approve or disapprove changes to the LSU Bylaws. An approval of the proposed LSU Bylaw changes would bring about extreme change at LSU, as they will remove most of the oversight authority from the Board of Trustees and transfer much of its power to the President of the University, who under the proposed changes will be deemed “Chief Executive Officer.”
During this crisis at LSU, the efforts of various church members and leaders have been directed toward creating greater transparency between LSU’s Biology and Religion departments, the LSU administration, and the members and leaders of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church. In contrast, you will note on lines 234 and 235 of the proposed LSU bylaw changes that the Board of Trustees’ designated authority “To order and control all affairs and business, and to be informed of the work of the various schools, departments, committees and programs” will be terminated if the proposed bylaw changes are approved.
Other proposed changes will give the President the power to have control over the operations of the University, including the hiring, reviewing, and firing of officers and faculty members, and will allow him to unilaterally administer all of the programs of the university, without the oversight of the Board. The Bylaws changes, proposed by President Wisbey, are attached in their entirety as Exhibit 16.
These proposed Bylaw changes are very dangerous! World history has already illustrated what happens when more and more power is invested in one man. Even under the best of circumstances, this type of power should be given only as a last resort, and only to individuals who have demonstrated they are completely trustworthy and above reproach.
President Wisbey has already proven he cannot be trusted with the power he hopes to transfer from the Board to himself. As demonstrated above, Randal Wisbey and his administration have abused their power by the unjust treatment of students, faculty, and even members of the Board of Trustees. Most importantly, President Wisbey has proven himself to be disloyal to the religious mission of the University and the teachings of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. It is not a surprise, then, that he now seeks to concentrate in himself as much power over LSU as is possible.
Members and leaders of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church must decide whether or not to allow this Seventh-day Adventist University to remain under the control of an individual who has an ideology so different than the fundamental Biblical beliefs and values of the Church.
I urge you to individually do all you can to persuade the members of the La Sierra University Constituency to vote “NO” on May 23. We must do everything in our power to not allow President Wisbey to have even greater power and authority over this Adventist institution. Most of all, we must pray!
The good news is that this crisis at La Sierra University is carried upon God’s heart (Testimonies to the Church, Volume 7, page 298.1). It is my hope that this information will enable the Adventist Accrediting Association and the constituent members of La Sierra University to exercise their duty of upholding correct principles at LSU. “…Take care lest in their efforts to prevent discord, they surrender truth; lest in warding off division, they sacrifice principle. True brotherhood can never be maintained by compromising principle.” (Review & Herald, 1/16/1900, Par. 6)
Short excerpt from Dr. John Webster’s lecture at LSU on how to correctly interpret the Bible: