Board Moving to Resolve
La Sierra Evolution Issue
Intro biology course to be revised, Graham says.BY MARK A. KELLNER
, news editor, Adventist Review
he question of what students at La Sierra University, a Seventh-day Adventist-owned tertiary institution in Riverside, California, learn about the origins of life on Earth is being resolved, said Ricardo Graham, LSU board of trustees chair and president of the church’s Pacific Union Conference.
Graham told Adventist Review in a telephone interview on May 19. 2010: “I am very, very hopeful of a resolution very, very soon.”
BOARD CHAIRMAN: Dr. Ricardo Graham, president of the Pacific Union Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, is also chairman of the Board of Trustees at La Sierra University, which is owned by the Union. [Photo: Gerry Chudleigh/Pacific Union Recorder]
The controversy, as Adventist Review reported in its April 15, 2010 issue [Read the original story.], centers on the presentation of evolutionary theory as an explanation of origins. Some La Sierra students and alumni have complained that the school presents evolution in opposition to the Genesis accounts of creation, which the Seventh-day Adventist Church has affirmed as part of its “Fundamental Beliefs” statement.
When one student, Louie Bishop, handed out fliers on campus to protest the lectures without official permission, he was placed on “citizenship probation” by school administrators and initially not allowed to register for fall 2009 classes. Among other items, critics said a new 2009 class announced by the school as “guiding these [freshman biology] students through the ongoing dialogue between faith development and scientific investigation” presented and endorsed views contrary to the church’s beliefs.
The class, “General Biology Seminar 111A,” will be reviewed, Graham said.
Asked what church members can expect from such a review, Graham said, “The thing to look at will be a particular adjustment in that class. I think that the body of believers should be able to see something significant happening … I think there will be some adjustments,” which he hoped would take place “prior to the beginning of school next fall.”
Graham added, “Our students are important; their parents make great sacrifices to send them to a Seventh-day Adventist school to get a Seventh-day Adventist education.”
He said, “I hope that in this entire discussion and throughout our continuation of this process that our members will remember all the positive aspects of this wonderful Seventh-day Adventist educational institution.”
The Union president’s statements followed two days of meetings by La Sierra administrators and trustees. The first, on May 12, was an annual constituency meeting, held, Graham said, to focus on a “report of the activities of the institution, plans of the institution and filling vacancies of the board of trustees.” The following day, LSU trustees met to handle business matters.
The constituency meeting, generally a public forum for Adventist institutions, was closed to the public this time. Three visitors were granted the right to attend and speak: Ella Smith Simmons, a general vice president of the Seventh-day Adventist world church; C. Garlan Dulan, education director for the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists; and Larry Blackmer, North American Division education director. Both Simmons and Dulan had served as provosts of La Sierra earlier in their careers.
SCIENCE STRUCTURE: Thaine B. Price Science Complex at La Sierra University, Riverside, California. [Photo: La Sierra University]
“Each one of them gave statements underlying the concern the world church has, recognizing La Sierra is a [Pacific] Union school and not a General Conference institution,” Graham said. “Dr. Simmons spoke very forthrightly about the need for LSU to address this issue; Dr. Dulan shared that concern and so did Dr. Blackmer. Simmons expressed her concerns about what was circulating about La Sierra.”
Speaking with the Review, Simmons shared her view of the situation: “My expectation is that LSU would be a model for the church and the world in that it is positioned to demonstrate to the world how the highest in academic knowledge and perspective can be united harmoniously with the foundational elements of our faith. My fear is the possibility that La Sierra, as with all of our colleges and universities, could move away from our Christocentric perspective.”
Graham noted that LSU president Randal Wisbey affirmed the school’s desire to remain a part of the Adventist movement.
“Dr. Wisbey said clearly it was the desire, plan and intent of LaSierra to remain an entity supportive and in line with the Seventh-day Adventist Church,” Graham said.
In its news release on the meetings, La Sierra briefly mentioned the discussion regarding biology curricula and noted the discussion lasted 90 minutes, reporting, “While many expressed support and appreciation for the university’s commitment to provide a comprehensive science education to its students, some delegates voiced concerns about how the church’s understanding of Biblical creation is included in the biology curriculum. After a thorough airing of the debate, Ricardo Graham, the chair of the Board of Trustees and chair of the meeting, brought the discussion and meeting to a close.”
The LSU statement also indicated that Wisbey gave a report on “Why La Sierra University Matters” during the constituency session.
“Our commitment to provide an exceptional Adventist university education happens each and every day at La Sierra University,” the news release quoted Wisbey as saying. “In our classrooms and laboratories, our dedicated professors give their lives to fulfill their God-given mission of serving this church in higher education. And they do so by providing outstanding teaching in an environment that values academic integrity and deep spiritual commitment.”
In a separate action, the LSU Board of Trustees appointed education Professor and Administration and Leadership Chair Steve Pawluk as university provost effective July 1, 2010. He replaces Warren Trenchard, who is a New Testament and Early Christian Literature professor in the School of Religion; Trenchard held the provost’s job for six years.
Pawluk, who came to La Sierra in 2007 following five years as an administrator at Southern Adventist University, holds a doctorate in education from Montana State University, a Master of Arts in religion from Loma Linda University and a Bachelor of Arts in theology from the La Sierra campus of Loma Linda University, the school said.