La Sierra University Accreditation: A Brief History

For Immediate Release
Larry Becker
Executive Director, University Relations
April 5, 2013

At its founding in 1922, La Sierra was not an accredited educational institution. In fact, at the time of La Sierra’s founding, Adventist Church leadership was engaged in a vigorous debate over the question of college accreditation.

While the church’s on-going discussions about accreditation’s desirability were not without controversy, it was the needs of the church’s fledgling medical missionary work that began to produce a consensus in church leadership’s attitudes about accreditation.

Commitment to developing a nationally recognized medical education program led Seventh-day Adventist Church leadership to seek American Medical Association (AMA) accreditation for the College of Medical Evangelists (CME, now the Loma Linda University School of Medicine). The AMA had given the CME its lowest possible rating in 1911. In order to avoid closure, the medical school needed a higher rating, which in part meant that the CME must only accept graduates from accredited colleges in order to maintain its status.

Ellen White helped settle the issue when she wrote, “Our larger union conference training schools in various parts of the field should be placed in the most favorable position for qualifying our youth to meet the entrance requirements specified by state laws regarding medical students. . . . Inasmuch as there are legal requirements making it necessary that medical students shall take a certain preparatory course of study, our colleges should arrange to carry their students to the point of literary and scientific training that is necessary.” (Counsels to Parents, Teachers, and Students p. 479)

The church formed its own accreditation system in 1928, hoping that this internal organization would be able to perform accrediting processes that would satisfy the AMA. But once it became clear that the AMA would not accept these efforts, the 1931 Annual Council voted to allow Adventist colleges to seek accreditation from regional associations.

La Sierra University’s accreditation history includes the following key milestones:
1946 - La Sierra first receives regional accreditation as a four-year liberal arts college.
1962 - La Sierra College is accredited by WASC (Western Association of Schools and Colleges). This is the year that WASC was founded.
1967 - La Sierra College merges with Loma Linda University, becoming that institution’s College of Arts and Sciences. During the next 23 years, La Sierra’s accreditation status was handled as part of the comprehensive Loma Linda University accreditation program.
1990 - La Sierra University becomes a WASC accredited institution after separation from Loma Linda University.
1996 - WASC makes a special visit to La Sierra University. The team’s follow-up report to that visit states in part:  “The Commission expressed concerns about the need to train the Board of Trustees, the need to more clearly delineate the authority and responsibility of both the Board and the President, and potential conflict between the needs of the church and the capabilities of the University . . . The Team has serious concerns about two issues pertaining to the composition of the Board of Trustees.” These were identified as

  1. the number of trustees not employed by any entity of the SDA Church (deemed insufficient at the time), and
  2. that the president of the Pacific Union Conference also served as chair of the Pacific Union College board.  WASC recommended four steps to take in beginning to address this issue.

La Sierra University’s 1996 WASC study document assured WASC that the university was making the following commitments:

  • Annual January board retreat with organized training seminars and presentations
  • Sending new trustees to a workshop sponsored by the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges
  • Publication and orientation to the LSU Trustee Handbook.
  • The report also stated:  “La Sierra University has attempted to address the concerns expressed by the Commission about the relationship of the University and the Board to the Seventh-day Adventist Church and is carefully studying the relationship to ensure that the academic integrity of the University and the allocations of resources to continue this relationship are monitored and comply with WASC Standards.

2010 - WASC votes to reaccredit La Sierra University for eight years. However, WASC also found two areas of concern sufficient to trigger a Special Visit to campus in April 2011. One of the concerns noted in the 2010 action letter is closely related to the same issues outlined in the 1996 Special Visit.  WASC was again concerned about issues related to Board governance, training and the appropriate role of the board and faculty.

July 2011

Following the special visit, WASC sends a letter to La Sierra University with a formal Notice of Concern. The letter gave the university one year to satisfactorily address the concerns or potentially face further disciplinary action. (WASC later extended the deadline to June 2013.)
The key paragraph from the WASC letter stated the following:

“The Commission’s review of La Sierra’s bylaws revealed that they establish a governing structure that, on its face, is inconsistent with WASC expectations for an independent governing board (CFRs1.3, 1.6, 3.9). Among the concerns raised by the commission’s review of the bylaws are the expansive authority of the board to hire and discharge not only the president but “the provost, vice presidents, deans, administrative department directors, academic department chairs, and faculty,” authority usually reserved to the president. There was also concern over the general lack of clarity about the president’s role, provisions related to the nomination and composition of the governing board, and the fact that the board chair and other members of the governing board hold multiple positions in the church and the University and also serve as chair or members of more than one Church-related educational institutions’ governing board The Commission expects LSU to undertake an analysis of its board structures, bylaws, and procedures and to make appropriate revisions to bring the governance structure into conformity with standard practices of governance in higher education, as expressed in the WASC Standards. In addition, LSU needs to take steps to ensure that the La Sierra community understands the respective roles and responsibilities of the board, president, and faculty.”

The letter went on to state “the Commission expects LSU to undertake an analysis of its board structures, bylaws, and procedures and to make appropriate revisions to bring the governance structures into conformity with standard practices of governance in higher education, as expressed in WASC standards.”

“Although the WASC Commission Report (June 29, 2010) noted in requesting this Special Visit that issues relating to board and faculty roles were of concern, it does not appear that the university has taken any significant remedial actions to address this area.” WASC’s impatience with La Sierra’s lack of progress on this issue since 1996 was beginning to show. In 1996, the university could claim to be a relatively new institution. By 2010, La Sierra University had existed for nearly 20 years.

Fall 2011

The La Sierra University Articles and Bylaws Committee begins its work to address changes to the bylaws that will be both responsive to WASC’s concerns and engender better governance.

2012 - WASC President Ralph Wolff writes to President Randal Wisbey, informing La Sierra University that the Commission voted to grant LSU a one-year extension of the dates for tendering the university’s report and for hosting a visit. The Notice of Concern was also extended for one additional year. Wolfe’s letter stated:

“In taking this action, the Commission is relying on your statements concerning the work that LSU has already done to address these issues, and your assurance that this work will continue unabated. The Commission expects the areas of concern identified in the July 5, 2011 Commission letter to be addressed by the time of the spring 2013 Special Visit, and to be fully approved by all needed parties no later than the June 2013 Commission meeting. If this has not occurred, especially after the extension of time, the Commission would need to consider more serious action.

2013 - The Board of Trustees unanimously votes to recommend the proposed bylaws revisions to the university constituency. The proposed bylaws are posted on the university web site and sent to the constituency.

February 21, 2013

The university constituency holds a three-hour meeting to discuss the proposed bylaws changes and makes recommendations to the Articles and Bylaws committee.

March & April, 2013

The Bylaws Committee continues to refine its proposed changes to the bylaws on the basis of input received during the February 21 meeting as well as other input from various sources.

May 23, 2013

The university constituency will meet in special session on the La Sierra campus to consider and vote on the proposed bylaws changes.

Fall 2013

Because of the limited amount of time between the May bylaws vote and WASC’s original June 2013 scheduled visit, WASC again reschedules their La Sierra on-campus visit, this time to Fall 2013. The team making that visit will consider the sufficiency of La Sierra University’s progress in addressing the WASC’s concerns about the university’s governance.

NEXT: Why is WASC Accreditation Necessary for La Sierra University?

Previous Releases
Is La Sierra University Leaving the Adventist Church? No! (March 15, 2013)
Vote on La Sierra University Bylaws changes postponed; Constituency Delegates share feedback on proposals (March 5, 3013)

  • Last update on  April 05, 2013