By Educate Truth Staff
La Sierra University released a memorandum on its website March 9, 2011 from The Creation-Evolution Study Group, an ad hoc committee of the La Sierra University Board of Trustees, tasked to investigate the allegations against the LSU biology program.
The memorandum includes an interim report, accepted by the board Nov. 2010, that states the biology department “generally” supports and respects the faith of students, explains the strengths and weaknesses of evolution, but should make a greater effort to present and support the church’s view of creation. This report is in significant contrast with the Adventist Accrediting Association’s (AAA) findings, which was given to LSU Feb. 2011.
The Adventist Accrediting Association’s visiting team reported the biology department disrespects and marginalizes some students for their position on creation, supports and teaches evolutionary processes as the plausible explanation of life, and inadequately presents the churchâ€™s position on creation. Without AAA’s findings, the ad hoc committee’s memorandum would have had little substance, as it relied almost exclusively on a student survey created by the university provost.
In the process of investigating the allegations, the committee examined four documents: a student survey, an informal report on the creation-evolution issue, and the Adventist Accrediting Association’s (AAA) draft report and consulting letter.
Educate Truth has several concerns regarding the validity of the survey and its ability to accurately represent student perceptions as a whole. There were 49 comments from students, none of which were included in the memorandum, and given the seriousness of the situation, it seems LSU should have assigned the survey-creating task to an unbiased party. Many of the questions do not address the allegations, and in some cases the language requires insider knowledge of the churchâ€™s beliefs in order to answer accurately. Itâ€™s shocking the committee gave â€œa great deal of weight to the survey results” instead of interviewing faculty, reviewing curriculum or interviewing the creationist students who were humiliated and punished for exposing what was occurring in the biology department.
LSU said the survey was created to determine student perceptions of what is actually being taught at La Sierra. It was delivered to 369 general biology and biology major students from the past four years plus students from 2000. Only one in four individuals completed the survey; twenty-six percent of these individuals were non-Adventist, according to survey question number 20.
The committee was concerned with the results of survey questions six, eight and nine, which had to do with many students thinking evolution was touted over creation or that creation wasn’t taught at all. But the committee claimed the only way to benchmark results was to have the same survey conducted by La Sierraâ€™s sister institutions in North America. However, LSU isnâ€™t being benchmarked by other schools, but by the stated position of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. The survey fell short, but luckily AAA picked up the slack in their observations of the biology department.
The AAA Report
In an unscheduled interview with the biology faculty during AAAâ€™s Nov. 2010 visit, the AAA team made some revealing observations, six of which are listed here:
1. Some biology faculty use evolution to explain creation.
2. Some faculty seem averse to sharing the position of the church on creation.
3. Biology faculty are honest in admitting the struggle to reconcile faith and science.
4. La Sierraâ€™s reputation on this issue was damaged by public statements by some biology faculty. La Sierra exacerbated the problem by using some of these same faculty to teach a course meant to help address the churchâ€™s view of creation. That further damaged the schoolâ€™s credibility with respect to the teaching of the Adventist view of creation.
5. Faculty from the School of Religion have not helped to clarify the issue and may have added to the controversy.
6. Some faculty statements could be construed as intimidating to those students believing in a Biblical creation, and students are given little classroom support of their faith.
AAA made three recommendations that deserve highlighting. First, they recommended the biology department ensure high quality science within the Adventist faith-based context. Obviously “the Adventist faith-based context” was not being promoted, or AAA wouldn’t have recommended that it be done. In Nov. 2009, the LSU Board said, â€œThe board is committed to assuring that the teaching of the theory of evolution takes place within the context of the Adventist belief regarding creation.â€ After the board made this statement, the biology faculty continued to teach evolution to the exclusion of the Adventist view of creation.
The second recommendation was that the new seminar class (BOIL 111A), which is supposed to support the Adventist view of origins, include professors who are overtly creationist. The seminar class had been exposed in 2010 for promoting theological ideas contrary to the churchâ€™s position on creation. How could it be otherwise, when the class was taught by known evolutionists? In an interview with the Adventist Review, LSU Board Chair described the course, saying, â€œWe realize the first iteration of it did not really have the results we desired. So, we will be looking at that for revision.â€
In the third recommendation, AAA appeared to acknowledge LSUâ€™s questionable PR campaign in their statement, â€œBe honest in all your communications.â€ Over the last two years LSU has made numerous misleading PR statements.
What seemed to be lacking from AAAâ€™s recommendations, as presented in the memorandum, was a timeline for immediate action to ensure that evolution is taught in the context of Adventist beliefs. A cursory look at Attachment 4 in the memorandum, a report provided by the provost about what they are doing regarding the teaching of evolution, also reveals no action ensuring immediate change. Words like “continuing,” “ongoing,” “beginning,” “refine,” “recommend,” and “discover” are sprinkled throughout the attachment. There are no voted actions or deadlines that show how and when the professors will change the way evolution is presented in their classrooms. But the conundrum remains: How can LSU biology professors promote creation when they don’t believe it’s true?
The Informal Report
An early 2010 report prepared by several LSU Board members, regarding how evolution was being taught at LSU, was never published and was only referenced once in the ad hoc committeeâ€™s memorandum. It appeared the ad hoc committee initially thought the document worthy of review, but after giving vague and unsupported reasons relating to its inability to evaluate curriculum, the report was given “little weight.” Instead of evaluating the curriculum itself, the committee waited to see what AAA would do. However, the AAA team didn’t review the biology curriculum by direct examination of syllabi and lecture notes either, but in significant contrast to the committeeâ€™s approach was AAAâ€™s three-hour interview with the entire biology faculty. This had not been done by the committee. Not surprisingly, both groups came to different conclusions in key areas.
The ad hoc committee’s memorandum concluded that the board should leave the curriculum management to the faculty and administration, which is interesting when the administration denied there was a problem for two years and would still be denying it had the pressure been lifted.
LSU said summer 2010, â€œIt should be pointed out that the theory of evolution is discussed, but not promoted, at La Sierra University,â€ according to a document passed out at the GC Session in Atlanta. Contrast this statement with a AAA statement that the biology faculty support and teach evolutionary processes as a plausible explanation of the origin of life.
The committee also told the board should focus on more positive aspects of the university, and to affirm its support for the LSU President and his administration and their ability to handle this situation. Is the committee suggesting the president and administration be left responsible when they have covered up the truth and continue to shield and support professors who are destroying student faith in Biblical creation?
In the memorandum’s conclusion, the latest “findings” of the ad hoc committee supported AAA research. LSUâ€™s subsequent and belated apology is a nice first step, but only came after having its arm twisted to the breaking point. What happens now?
The full AAA board must still accept or reject the AAA visiting team’s recommendation that LSU receive maximum accreditation. Itâ€™s unclear why the visiting team would recommend LSU receive maximum accreditation, considering how biology faculty and administration have handled themselves the past two years. The theory of evolution is still being promoted after all administration’s diplomatic promises, and students are still leaving LSU with their faith shaken or entirely gone. Educate Truth is very grateful the church appears to be taking this seriously and that AAA has put investigative effort into this issue.