“Autonomy and Academic Freedom”: WASC’s 2010 Review of LSU

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:

  1. Receive the Educational Effectiveness Review report and reaffirm the accreditation of La Sierra University.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

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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;

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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.)

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108 thoughts on ““Autonomy and Academic Freedom”: WASC’s 2010 Review of LSU

  1. The Adventist Accrediting Association, or AAA, will examine the highly charged debate over the teaching of origins at La Sierra University during a visit the week of November 15 to the school.

    This is excellent. But I have a prediction: no matter what the conclusion or recommendations of the AAA, there will be people at EducateTruth who pick apart and find fault in any report that is made.

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  2. Why is it that the University seems to wish so strongly to CRUSH the Free Speech rights of Educate Truth? It is as if the University believes it has the sole prerogative of explaining its actions and that its explanations must not be challenged in the court of public opinion.

    LSU does not respect the “Academic Freedom” of those who believe that it has taken a wrong turn, and has failed to substantively address those who have challenged it. LSU has issued vague and ambiguous statements affirm the fact that it is not atheistic, but has done little to support the stated beliefs of the Adventist Church.

    LSU cannot handle the heat generated by this website. If LSU had a legitimate leg to stand on, it would have issued a response, but instead they run and hide hoping that criticism of its anti-literal 6-day creation bias will disappear.

    LSU is doing its students, particularly in the theology department, any service through this approach. When theology graduates go to their local congregations and preach sermons that the biology or theology departments at LSU would have applauded, they face the sad truth that the church at large is a very different place than the University. Several have had to either abandon the higher criticism taught at La Sierra, or find jobs outside of the local churches.

    Ivory tower or not, La Sierra needs to be grounded in the CHURCH, not in WASC. WASC should stay out of church business and develop an understanding that the church is the owner of the University and has every right to direct the actions of the University.

    LSU and the Denomination should not allow WASC to impose its will on a Seventh-day Adventist institution. If WASC decides to pull its accreditation because LSU decided to stand up for educating truth, then LSU will be better off without them. As it now stands, as far as this issue is concerned, WASC appears more in the business of racketeering than accrediting.

    WASC should keep its hands off the teachings of the church as expressed in its educational arm.

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  3. @Professor Kent:

    Note that there is nothing, absolutely NOTHING, in the WASC guidelines that prohibits the teaching of SDA beliefs. And the endorsement of LSU by WASC says nothing, absolutely NOTHING, about whether LSU teaches or does not teach LSU beliefs.

    WASC’s emphasis on the academic freedom of professors comes at the expense of the freedom of the institution to remove professors from employment who are no longer representative of the Church’s clearly stated goals and ideals. WASC cites a need for the school to have “appropriate autonomy” or distance from the SDA Church – even though it is the Church that built, owns and operates the school. Where does WASC recognize the responsibility of professors toward their employer? the Church in this case?

    This hiding behind the notion of “academic freedom” in order to continue to openly deride and undermine the Church’s most fundamental doctrinal positions in the classroom is sheer nonsense. After all, Catholic schools have recently fired teachers for undermining Catholic doctrine outside of the classroom (and a math teacher no less – see Link). Yet, no accrediting agency threatened the Catholic Church with loss of accreditation of its schools over such infringements of “academic freedom”? Why not?

    To quote the reason for the Catholic school’s dismissal of this math teacher:

    “When students in a Catholic school are running around the school with this survey and it says, ‘Do you believe in God?’ and it says, ‘No,’ well, that’s in conflict with what we are teaching.”

    WASC would have a cow if LSU required its professors to answer “Yes” to questions regarding fundamental SDA beliefs on origins – like, “Do you believe in a literal 6-day creation week where God created all living things on this planet?” Or, “Do you believe in a literal worldwide Noachian Flood that destroyed all land animal life on this planet and formed much of the geologic column and fossil record?”

    WASC is in fact threatening LSU, and essentially all of our schools in the western US, with loss of accreditation if the SDA Church insists that teachers actually support the Church’s doctrinal positions in their classrooms – to include their science classrooms. That’s a problem for the Church… a big problem…

    Sean Pitman
    http://www.DetectingDesign.com

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  4. Dear Wes

    “(Have you ever read C.S. Lewis’s “Surprised by Joy”?”

    No, but I read the Narnia series to my children. Fine Christian allegory. I wonder if it was an ancestor of his that wrote Genesis?

    I prefer his contemporary and friend J.R.R. Tolkein. Have your read Lord of the Rings? Like the Bible, it is a great classic.

    Waiting for ‘God’ot, thanks for letting me participlepate.

    Felicitations
    Ken

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  5. What is interesting to me is WASC’s threat against one of our schools with the use of “academic freedom, institutional autonomy, and the role of the governing board”… independent of the Church’s entire purpose for creating a school in the first place. The Church isn’t asking that theories of evolution be removed from the curriculum of its schools. That’s not remotely true. The Church is arguing that these Darwinian and other mainstream evolutionary theories should be explained in great detail; but that our own professors should be able to go beyond the mere teaching of these theories to explain to their students how and why these theories are actually untenable given the overall weight of evidence in favor of the SDA perspective on origins – evidence which should also be presented in our schools in the most eloquent and attractive manner possible.

    Yet, WASC goes on with its threat against our Church Schools with the following statement:

    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.

    What? Is the Church supposed to support the “freedom” of a teacher to undermine the very purpose of the Church school to begin with? – the very reason why the SDA Church built it and supports it? Turning the tables around, “academic freedom” has not protected those who would think to question mainstream evolutionary thinking within public universities or institutions.

    Just look at what happened to Dr. Richard Sternberg, the editor of the peer-reviewed mainstream scientific journal Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington when it published Stephen Meyer’s paper, “The Origin of Biological Information and the Higher Taxonomic Categories” which questioned mainstream evolutionary thinking. Sternberg’s “academic freedom” did not prevent him from loosing his academic rank and his job at the Smithsonian Institute.

    http://www.educatetruth.com/featured/angry-scientists-publishing-on-intelligent-design/

    What WASC is trying to do is to uphold a state-sponsored religious philosophy of science at the expense of opposing views being presented against the prevailing view. This is not what SDA education should be about. The Church should strongly resist the implications of this WASC review or end up loosing all benefit to the Church’s goals and ideals from owning and operating its own schools of higher learning…

    Sean Pitman
    http://www.DetectingDesign.com

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  6. It’s sad the way so many of you wish to make a mountain out of a molehill. Take off your tainted glasses and read the actual standards that WASC wanted to make sure that LSU maintained. Note that there is nothing, absolutely NOTHING, in the WASC guidelines that prohibits the teaching of SDA beliefs. And the endorsement of LSU by WASC says nothing, absolutely NOTHING, about whether LSU teaches or does not teach LSU beliefs.

    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.

    CFR 1.6 – Even when supported by or affiliated with political, corporate, or religious organizations, the institution has education as its primary purpose and operates as an academic institution with appropriate autonomy.

    CFR 2.2a – Baccalaureate programs engage students in an integrated course of study of sufficient breadth and depth to prepare them for work, citizenship, and a fulfilling life. These programs also ensure the development of core learning abilities and competencies including, but not limited to, college-level written and oral communication; college-level quantitative skills; information literacy; and the habit of critical analysis of data and argument. In addition, baccalaureate programs actively foster an understanding of diversity; civic responsibility; the ability to work with others; and the capability to engage in lifelong learning. Baccalaureate programs also ensure breadth for all students in the areas of cultural and aesthetic, social and political, as well as scientific and technical knowledge expected of educated persons in this society. Finally, students are required to engage in an in-depth, focused, and sustained program of study as part of their baccalaureate programs.

    CFR 3.8 – The institution’s organizational structures and decision making processes are clear and consistent with its purposes, support effective decision making, and place priority on sustaining effective academic programs.

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  7. Re Wes’s Quotes

    “@ken: And while prayers are being offered for you, mine is that your Tibetan Plateau not become your Plateau Of Despond”

    “For that, especially that, you sure have a choice of models.”

    Dear Wes

    I feel your love brother and am grateful. It’s free up here on the fence and I don’t see any reason to leap off in fear or despondency. The plateau is rising a bit each year.

    I see your dangling carrot of immortality as well as Hitchens’s cup of despair. But each seems to block the view from my agnostic glasses.

    I really like your poetic, stream of consciousness style. Proof of creation and, Creation?

    Hope you had a good Sabbath.

    Cheers
    Ken

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  8. Re Adventist’s Quote

    “If I am not mistaken, evolution theory erodes faith in a Creator God. As such, it is engendering many children of the devil, and not children of God.”

    Dear Adventist

    I don’t take offense to you not considering me to be a child of God, but rather spawn of the devil. I understand and respect your conviction. Moreover, if you mistaken, I forgive you my friend.

    I hope those Adventists that are entertaining thoughts of theistic evolution will do likewise.

    “In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother. (1 John 3:10)”

    Great quote. It seems on all fours with Sean’s espoused Royal Law of Love.

    Love
    your agnostic brother
    Ken

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