La Sierra University, a Seventh-day Adventist-owned educational institution in Riverside, California, received a three-year accreditation through 2016, following a vote by the Adventist Accrediting Association (AAA) board, meeting Wednesday, October 9, in Silver Spring, Maryland.
Formally known as the Accrediting Association of Seventh-day Adventist Schools, Colleges, and Universities, the AAA is the denominational accrediting authority for all tertiary and graduate educational programs and institutions owned by Seventh-day Adventist Church entities. The organization meets twice each year to receive reports and take action to certify the uniquely Adventist identity of the church’s 112 institutions of higher learning. Colleges and universities are typically accredited for specified periods of time, and 25 institutions were considered at the October 9 meeting.
The maximum term granted for accreditation is five years, Lisa Beardsley-Hardy, director of education for the Seventh-day Adventist world church and chair of the AAA board, said. The three-year accreditation was granted following an April 2013 AAA committee’s report of “good progress” by La Sierra administrators in addressing items brought to their attention during a 2010 AAA site visit. The AAA action Wednesday also specified that another “focused visit” -- the terms of which Beardsley-Hardy did not specify -- would take place after the first year of the new accreditation term.
The La Sierra accreditation decision was made after “a thorough and careful deliberation,” Beardsley-Hardy said. She also expressed “optimism that they [La Sierra] will continue to make progress.”
Commenting on the action, La Sierra University president Randal L. Wisbey said, “La Sierra University appreciates the AAA Board recognizing the good progress that the University is making and its grant of full accreditation through 2016. We will continue to build on the many commendations of the visiting team and will continue to follow through on their recommendations.”
According to the AAA handbook, “Through the accreditation process, the institution demonstrates how it aligns its efforts and resources to provide the best academic education possible—while also nurturing faith in God and preparing students for positions of leadership in their communities and churches. The accreditation process helps the institution accomplish these goals.”
The accreditation issue – which includes denominational recognition by the Church and qualifies a school for certain appropriations from denominational funds – arose following a two-year controversy over La Sierra’s teachings on human origins. Beginning in 2009, critics, including some church leaders, laypersons and LSU students claimed that the school taught the theory of evolution to biology students as the explanation for the origin of life. (See Adventist Review, April 15, 2010, page 8.)
La Sierra President Randal R. Wisbey and Ricardo Graham, Pacific Union Conference president and La Sierra University trustee board chairman, acknowledged La Sierra’s need to make improvements in a March 9, 2011 open letter, available online at http://bit.ly/g8JRCq.
In other actions, the church's International Board of Education and the AAA board voted to accredit a program of dental education for the Chile Adventist University (Universidad Adventista de Chile, or UnACh), the first such in the church’s South American Division. The program is expected to commence in 2015, but may begin operation as soon as 2014.
Rusangu University, formerly known as Zambia Adventist University, near Monze, Zambia, was voted a two-year extension of its candidacy for AAA accreditation. Schools such as Rusangu which seek initial AAA endorsement frequently take a multi-year track before achieving full accreditation.
The board also “recorded” the December 31, 2013 expiration of AAA accreditation for Atlantic Union College in South Lancaster, Massachusetts, and agreed to a joint site visit with the Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools (TRACS) between January and March of 2014, as AUC seeks to reorganize and reopen.
AUC was founded in 1882, and is the oldest Seventh-day Adventist college in the world still on its original site. Long known for strength in the liberal arts, especially literature, art, music, and history, the college closed its regular academic program in 2011. A school of evangelism (Northeast Evangelism Training School—NETS) has since been operated by the Atlantic Union Conference in one of the college’s buildings.