La Sierra University Responds to Adventist Review Article
April 1, 2010
Executive Director, University Relations
On March 31, 2010, the Adventist Review posted on its website an article—“Evolution Controversy Stirs La Sierra Campus.” This article represents an unprecedented alignment of the official church paper with voices seeking to tear down a church institution. While the article appeared to be objective, it in fact omitted pivotal information about the issue and the way La Sierra University and its board, administration, and faculty are addressing it.
Consider these areas in which the Adventist Review article could have provided fuller context for its readers:
- The La Sierra University Board of Trustees has spent many hours examining how science and faith are taught on the campus. In November 2009 and again in February 2010 the Board affirmed the university’s support for the Adventist view of creation. The Board instructed the University to implement the statement and is monitoring progress—a fact left out of the Review article. (Full text of the Board action can be seen at www.lasierra.edu/board/Board_Statement_of_Support11-09.pdf.)
- The Association of Adventist Colleges and Universities (AACU) at its March 2010 meeting recognized the church’s lack of initiative in bringing together faculty to discuss the integration of faith and science. AACU took the following significant actions—none of which were reported in the Adventist Review article, even though the Review acknowledged receiving the information:
VOTED that AACU expresses their support for the La Sierra University Board of Trustees and administration and their work in addressing the complex issues that surround the teaching of origins on SDA campuses, and
VOTED to appoint an ad hoc committee to develop strategies to encourage faith-based methodologies in the teaching of science on Adventist campuses.
VOTED to approve the following members to serve on the committee: Eric Anderson, Gordon Bietz, Ron Carter, Dick Hart (chair), Heather Knight, and Randal Wisbey.
- The Adventist college and university chaplains, meeting in March 2010, voted this important statement regarding La Sierra University that was not reported by the Adventist Review, though the information was shared with the bylined reporter:
Recommendation regarding the creation/evolution debate involving La Sierra University:
Following the counsel in the Gospel of Matthew chapter 18 we affirm that differences among fellow believers should be addressed directly in love with accountability in community.
We are honored to know and have confidence in the leaders at La Sierra University who continually and actively seek God’s will in their dedication to the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
We stand on the shoulders of pioneers who went before us seeking the knowledge that God continues to reveal.
Therefore, we the North-American Division Campus Chaplain’s Council (NADCCC) affirm our support of our sister institution and call for all those involved to align themselves with the wisdom of Paul in 1 Corinthians 13.
- La Sierra University has already begun teaching a new class for all freshmen biology students to help prepare them to navigate issues of faith and science—a fact that the Review article did not mention. The seminar is led by scholars from biology, religious studies and the Geoscience Research Institute. Topics in the fall of 2009 included the role and function of science, the importance of faith, and the relevant doctrinal positions of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Students who attended the seminar responded positively to it. The faculty will continue to seek ways to strengthen the content.
- La Sierra University has never, and will never discipline a student for holding Seventh-day Adventist beliefs. Never! Nor will La Sierra ever discipline a student in other areas because he or she holds Seventh-day Adventist beliefs. Federal law limits us from commenting on the situation of a specific student (something the Adventist Review chose to do). La Sierra, like every other Adventist college and university, requires all students to abide by regulations printed in our Student Handbook, which is available online. When a student is reported to have committed an infraction against a specific policy, it is investigated and, if necessary, he or she is heard before a judicial committee.
Furthermore, the article conveyed the student’s opinion on U.S. copyright law as pertains to posting online a professor’s intellectual property, such as lecture notes and slides. The article did not make clear whether the student’s opinion is based on appropriate legal counsel or is his own interpretation. In either case, the Review article did not give the University an opportunity to share the opinion of its attorney’s perspective on the ethics and legality of unapproved selective posting of faculty intellectual property.
- Reaction in the secular media has been limited. The Adventist Review article gives the impression there has been significant public reaction to this internal church issue. It does so by grouping three specific “public” responses into a single paragraph. It might have been helpful to readers to know that the letter released by the Adventist pastor became public in June 2009. The on-line trade website (InsideHigherEd.com) posted a report on the issue in September 2009. The local Riverside, California newspaper ran a single article in November 2009. This is hardly a surge of public reaction. All three are in fact old news.
- The Adventist Review reporter interviewed La Sierra University President Randal Wisbey at length regarding the issue, but the article contains none of the comments Dr. Wisbey shared during that interview. Instead, the reporter quoted only from a letter President Wisbey wrote in May 2009. Certainly an institution’s president’s thoughts would be relevant in any discussion of a major issue.
- The Adventist Review gave a disproportionate voice to a group of critics who are unhappy with the pace of decision-making at a church organization. It quotes the editor of an attack website as asserting that the site allows people to make “informed decisions” about the issue. However, the Review article does not report that comments posted on that website are subject to editing or deletion at the web editor’s discretion. During the nine months that the site has been in existence, the editor has deleted from the site a number of comments that take issue with positions the site is attempting to promote or that have been supportive of La Sierra University. And the site has allowed highly negative, destructive attacks on individuals and on Adventist institutions.
The most recent example of the attack website’s questionable practices is a posting on the site made by Dr. Larry Blackmer, the North American Division vice president for education. Dr. Blackmer stated in his post that a number of his remarks made at a Lake Union education summit “had been taken seriously out of context” by the website. Dr. Blackmer’s words reveal the seriousness of his feelings regarding the web editor’s actions. “I feel betrayed by this website,” Dr. Blackmer wrote. “I have explained the context of my remarks, yet you have taken my remarks and used them in a way that demonstrates exactly what I was speaking against.”
Dr. Blackmer, in his post to the website, went on to share his thoughts on the creation/evolution debate going on in Adventist higher education and to offer his support for La Sierra at the current time. The attack website removed Dr. Blackmer’s post within hours. It went on to privately offer to him a heavily edited version of his statement that the website would find acceptable. The edited version contained roughly half of Dr. Blackmer’s original thoughts and removed his direct challenges to the website for posting his comments inappropriately. Dr. Blackmer did not authorize the posting of their revision.
La Sierra University is a Seventh-day Adventist institution by its mission and heritage, by the commitment of its Board and faculty, and by its curriculum and policies. It is fully accredited by the Adventist Accrediting Association and listed in the Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook. It is unprecedented for a group of critics to be given this kind of voice in the official church publication. And we cannot think of another instance in which the discipline process of a student in an Adventist college or university has been reported on in this manner by the Adventist Review.
As written and published, the article of March 31, 2010, contributes to the controversy rather than to its solution.