Adventist Accrediting Team
to Visit La Sierra University

Biology issues to be on docket, at school’s suggestion
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.
The site visit is expected to bring nine Adventist educational administrators and experts to the Seventh-day Adventist tertiary institution in Riverside, California. Every ten years, the AAA conducts a site visit at the institution, to consider the renewal of the school’s accreditation by the group.
“Accreditation is a self-regulatory mechanism of the education community and plays a significant role in fostering confidence in the educational enterprise of the church,” an “Accreditation Handbook” prepared by the General Conference’s department of education states. “Accreditation and the self-study process serve to maintain minimum standards, enhance institutional effectiveness, and provide inter-institutional recognition,” the document states.
According to the AAA handbook, “Accreditation is concerned principally with the improvement of educational quality in institutions operated by the Seventh-day Adventist church around the world. Accreditation of an institution by AAA signifies that the institution has a purpose appropriate to service the educational needs of those in its constituency and has the resources, programs, and services sufficient to accomplish the institution’s goals.”
The recent controversy over the teaching of origins at La Sierra apparently falls under the purview of the site visit team, particularly since the school itself included the matter in “self-study” documents prepared before the visit, said Dr. Niels-Erik Andreasen, president of Andrews University and leader of the inspection visit.

At the heart of the controversy is the way evolution is presented to biology undergraduate students. Some, including student Louie Bishop and LSU alumnus Shane Hilde, contend professors are presenting evolution as the reliable theory of origins and diminish the notion of creation, which is a fundamental belief of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Bishop said he was placed on “citizenship probation” by the school for circulating letters opposing the teaching of evolutionary concepts and for posting notes of a professor’s lecture online, despite a verbal agreement that Bishop would not do so without consulting the teacher. (See Adventist Review, April 15 and June 10, 2010.)

“[The] self-study draws attention to the issues raised there,” Andreasen told Adventist Review in a telephone interview Nov. 11. “It’s not something the site visitors have to bring up. [The s]elf-study is prepared by the campus for the site visitors.”

Andreasen added, “as best I understand that issue, it deals with governance, because it’s something the board (of trustees) has attended to; it deals with management; it deals with education, programs and services … it comes up there; it deals with the spiritual formation … both inside the curriculum and outside the curriculum. It is part of the accreditation.”

However, he stressed “this does not respond to LSU in the news. It is a regular, 10-year accreditation visit that will look at all the standards the AAA has maintained.” Accreditation by the AAA is important within the Seventh-day Adventist community; however, La Sierra, as with all Adventist colleges and universities in the United States, pursues and has either regional or national accreditation. The Western Association of Schools and Colleges, the regional accrediting body under which La Sierra is accredited, recently renewed that designation.

According to Larry Blackmer, vice president for education of the North American Division (NAD) of Seventh-day Adventists, the AAA “is the church’s vehicle for insuring that institutions continue to fulfill the Adventist mission.”

Blackmer, who will be part of the site visit, said, “It’s a privilege to be on La Sierra University’s campus to highlight their successes and help them continue progress with their challenges.”

Pastor Daniel R. Jackson, NAD president and a former college church pastor, told Adventist Review in an interview that division leadership is looking to the site visit team for leadership. He said he’d e-mailed GC Education director Dr. Lisa M. Beardsley and, while recognizing that the AAA site visit is primarily to weigh the school’s performance against established criteria, “I appealed to them to reflect upon the understandings and philosophy of the church as they carry out this task.”

The site visit is expected to last four days, and there is no immediate indication of when results would be publicly announced.

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