The following statements are from the WASC evaluation of La Sierra University ending in March of 2010 – specifically dealing with the evolution/creation issue at LSU. Also included is an excerpt from the Commission Action Letter, addressed to Pres. Randal Wisbey, and dated June 29, 2010:
An excerpt from the Attached Commission Action Letter, addressed to President Randal Wisbey (dated June 29, 2010), p. 3-4
Institutional Autonomy and Academic Freedom. As highlighted in the team report, “[o]ver the last fifteen months, the issue of creationism vs. evolution has been the subject of considerable attention at La Sierra University.” The Seventh Day Adventist Church has a historic and current belief in the six-day creation of the world and La Sierra University places high value on critical evaluation and science education. There has been considerable tension between these two principles, and since the spring of 2009, the University and several of its biology faculty members have been the focal point of a major church-related controversy. A critical website gathered more than 5,000 signatures of concern and opposition to teaching evolution as fact, independent of whether that was actually being done at La Sierra University. Articles have been published making these issues a matter of national attention, coupled with concerted efforts to interfere with the University’s ability to establish its own curriculum. This situation involves several basic principles in the WASC Standards: academic freedom, institutional autonomy, and the role of the governing board. Realizing that this is a challenging denominational matter, the Commission is deeply concerned with this external threat to La Sierra’s institutional autonomy and to academic freedom. In your communications with the Commission, both in writing prior to meeting and at the Commission meeting, you expressed the commitment of the board and the president to resist efforts that would compromise academic freedom and institutional autonomy. The Commission’s action, described below, is intended to assure that La Sierra University withstands this threat and continues to meet WASC Standards. (CFRs 1.4, 1.6, 2.2a, 3.8)
Given the above, the Commission acted to:
- Receive the Educational Effectiveness Review report and reaffirm the accreditation of La Sierra University.
- Schedule the Capacity and Preparatory Review for spring 2018 and the Educational Effectiveness Review for fall 2019. The Institutional Proposal for this comprehensive review will be due in spring 2016.
- Schedule a Special Visit in spring 2011, focused on the issues surrounding the teaching of evolution in the science curriculum, including institutional autonomy, the appropriate role of the board and faculty, and academic freedom. The institution’s spring 2011 Special Visit report will be due eight weeks prior to this visit.
- Schedule an Interim Report due Nov. 1, 2014, focused on the issues set forth in this letter, including strategic planning, assessment, student success, information technology and institutional research, and any unresolved matters related to the controversy about the teaching of science.
In taking this action to reaffirm accreditation, the Commission confirms that La Sierra University has satisfactorily addressed the Core Commitments to Institutional Capacity and Educational Effectiveness, and has successfully completed the multistage review conducted under the Standards of Accreditation. Between this action and the time of the next review, the institution is expected to continue its progress and be prepared to respond as expectations of the institutional performance, especially with respect to Educational Effectiveness and student learning, further develop under the application of the 2008 Standards of Accreditation. The commission reserves the right to issue a sanction if the findings of the 2011 Special Visit team confirm that LSU fails to meet Commission Standards.
Excerpt from the WASC Report:
Integrity (CFRs 1.4-1.9) p. 17-20
The Team paid special attention to CFRs 1.4 and 1.6 in light of a particular series of events on the campus since the Capacity and Preparatory Review. Over the past fifteen months, the issue of creationism vs. evolution has been the subject of considerable attention at La Sierra University. The Seventh-day Adventist Church — the sponsoring organization for La Sierra University — has a historic and current belief in the six-day creation of the world. At the same time, the University places high value on critical evaluation and science education.
As evidence on evolution has accumulated, there has been periodic conflict between those who support the scientific position and those who support the basic Adventist belief that the earth was created in six days. Several times in the past, Adventist scientists and theologians have been brought together to develop a consensus on creation and evolution, with the most recent effort being in 2003. No consensus has been reached and there has been ongoing tension between those who support a strictly creationist view and those for whom evolution provides the most likely explanations for the functioning of the natural world.
Since spring 2009, La Sierra University, and several biology faculty specifically, have been the focal point of that tension. While exposing students to creationist views, faculty members also incorporate evolutionary theory into the curriculum. Although only a handful of students felt that La Sierra presented evolution as fact rather than theory, the issue took on an off-campus life of its own. A website posted class syllabi, PowerPoint presentations, emails between students and professors regarding grades on papers, and letters and articles by church members and church leaders. The website directed a constant stream of criticism toward the faculty, instruction in biology, the University, the President, and the Board of Trustees. The situation became more intense as the website gathered more than 5,000 signatures of concern and opposition to teaching evolution as fact—-independent of whether that was actually being done at La Sierra University or not.
The University responded to the criticism in various ways. The Faculty Senate, after reviewing what was happening in class, passed a resolution affirming support for their biology colleagues:
- Whereas, the Department of Biology
has trained at the undergraduate level in biological sciences thousands of students who have become successful professional physicians, dentists, and pharmacists, as well as academic scientists;
has excelled in the scholarly publication of scientific research;
is recognized for its outstanding teaching, enhancing the excellence that has long characterized La Sierra;
has been active in service to the community and to the church; and
- Whereas certain off-campus persons
have publicly attacked and circulated a petition against the (biology) faculty for including in their classes the evolutionary aspects of the modern biosciences;
have attempted to dictate to the University, including its administration, trustees, and faculty, the content of aspects of the bioscience curriculum;
have not followed the protocol established by Jesus and outlined in Matthew 18: 15-17;
have thus made the work and lives of these dedicated Adventist professors more stressful and difficult;
Therefore, be it resolved that the Faculty Senate of La Sierra University, representing the combined faculty of the College of Arts and Sciences, the School of Business, the School of Education, and the School of Religion, affirm our strong support for our colleagues in the Department and affirm our commitment to the preservation of academic freedom with intellectual and moral integrity in the context of our heritage and service as a Seventh-day Adventist Christian university.
The University President issued a statement rejecting the charge that atheistic evolution was being taught and supported the open exchange of ideas “in a supportive Adventist environment.” The President wrote both a public letter and personal letters to church leaders, made public relations statements stressing the strengths of the Biology program, communicated with other Adventists schools in the state, and made presentations to alumni.
The Board of Trustees has also acted by pronouncing that “both academic responsibility and commitment to Adventist beliefs are important parts of a vibrant university.” The issue appeared on four Board agendas, as the University controversy gained national attention via a number of publications.
Before the visit, the Team reviewed a variety of the websites and articles which referred to this conflict. During the visit, the team met one-on-one with four Biology Department faculty members who were mentioned on the website, the Chair of the Biology Department, biology students, the Faculty Senate, the President of the University and five members of the Board of Trustees including the Board Chair in order to learn more about this issue.
The Team focused its evaluation of these events in terms of WASC Standard 1. Of primary concern was La Sierra University’s performance in relationship to CFR 1.4: “The institution publicly states its commitment to academic freedom for faculty, staff and students, and acts accordingly. This commitment affirms that those in the academy are free to share their convictions and responsible conclusions with their colleagues and students in their teaching and in their writing.” The Team also reflected on the significance of this issue in the context of CFR 2.2 which requires that “Baccalaureate programs ..ensure the development of core learning abilities and competencies .. [and] breadth for all students in the areas of …scientific and technical knowledge expected of educated persons in this society.” The evolution-creation question also triggers the issue of university autonomy and the expectations of CFR 1.6—Does the University operate with appropriate autonomy from the Church?
The Team undertook a thorough review of documents and had multiple and direct discussions with a variety of University constituents. As a result of examining the University’s treatment of the issue from the students’ perspective (of interest to the Team was the fact that not one student mentioned this issue when asked on several occasions for “issues of concern”); interviewing faculty and reviewing the faculty’s responses (including the Faculty Senate Resolution); raising the issue with the President (discussing his handling of the situation); and meeting with representatives of the Board ( and reviewing Board minutes and public statements), the Visiting Team believes that La Sierra University is operating in alignment with Standard 1, CFRs 1.4 and 1.6 and Standard 2, CFR 2.2.
Additionally, the Team found evidence of La Sierra University’s commitment to CFRs 1.5, 1.7, 1.8 and 1.9. The University has consistently positioned issues of diversity as a core component of the institution’s educational mission. La Sierra University has been recognized by U.S. News and World Report as having one of the most diverse student populations among comprehensive universities in the western United States. The University communicates its commitment through its public “Statement of Shared Values: Diversity,” which provides for “equal opportunity for all individuals” and defines diversity as encompassing “age, color, ethnicity, gender, national origin, a disability or handicap, race, religion, socioeconomic background, or unique individual style” (CFR 1.5.)
The practices of “integrity, compassion and mutual respect” which underpin the University’s mission also characterize the efforts of all the units on campus: academic, support and cocurricular. Academic policies, programs and services are evaluated and revised on a systematic basis and the student, faculty, and staff handbooks provide evidence of established practices and procedures to ensure an environment of open communication and ethical practices (CFRs 1.7-1.9.)