Answers to Questions about the Proposed Adventist University System of North America

At a special summit of the 13 Adventist higher education institutions in North America that begins later this week, attendees will discuss creating closer ties in the form of a University System. Gordon Bietz, one of the authors of the "Chicago Declaration," answers some of the most pressing questions about power, money and collaboration.

Question: At the Future of Adventist Higher Education Summit in Chicago, attendees will be discussing the "Chicago Declaration" — a proposal to effectively merge North American colleges and universities (though letting them maintain their own local governance) by creating an Adventist University System of North America. As associate director of higher education for the North American Division, you helped to create this document, along with a committee. How long has this been in the works?

Suggesting that the Chicago Declaration will “effectively merge North American colleges and universities” is going beyond what I read in the declaration. Functioning like a system through various collaborations doesn’t mean “merger” because each campus is independently operated. There are a lot of things we can do in a collaborative fashion without losing autonomy, and without merging.

In 2015 the Association of Adventist Colleges and Universities discussed having a mission conference in conjunction with the Teacher’s Convention in 2018. More detailed preparation began about a year and a half ago. In many ways as the 13 Seventh-day Adventist higher education institutions in North America have been doing more and more collaboration over the years you might say it has been in the works for a much longer time.

I don’t presume to know the outcome of the summit on The Future of Adventist Higher Education and want you to understand that The Chicago Declaration is a Talking Paper designed to stimulate discussion. The group that is meeting has no constitutional authority to make any decisions for the church or for any college or university. I believe, and the presidents of the colleges and universities believe, it is time to have an in-depth conversation about the issues we confront.

I know there is anxiety on the part of some that this is a top-down power grab on the part of the bureaucracy to get control of institutions. It is not; and regional accrediting agencies would not allow that. This summit is simply a recognition of the changing landscape of higher education in the United States and Canada and a desire to assure the long-term viability of Seventh-day Adventist higher education.

My comments here are simply my personal opinion, which will undoubtedly change over the weekend of discussions.

At the summit August 9 through 13, will there be a vote on whether or not to go forward with exploring the proposal?


Who will get a vote? Everyone who attends? Just college/university leadership? North American Division leadership?

Everyone who is registered for the summit. As I said, it is not a constitutionally formed body, so the vote has no “power.” It just has influence and provides encouragement for moving forward, or not.

Is there a university system that you have modelled this proposal on?

Not a specific one but I have attended the Association for Collaborative Leadership meetings now and then and The Chronicle of Higher Education as well as Inside Higher Education have had articles and illustrations about various levels of collaboration over the years.

What level of control will universities have to give up?

That is the fundamental question and the answer will grow out of the meeting. If we are to have a “system” of any type, individual institutions will have to yield some control or it is not a system.

Would universities maintain their names? When students graduate, where would their degrees be from?

Yes – local identity would be maintained, and degrees would continue to be granted by the local institution.

Will colleges be able to retain their unique characteristics/reputations (for example, Southern being seen as more “traditionally Adventist” and La Sierra as being more “progressive”) if decisions and management are centralized?

Yes. The decisions and management that might be centralized relate primarily to financial savings and strengthening academics.

What if some colleges don't want to join/aren't part of the "coalition of the willing?"

Then they would not join or be a part of the organization. If enough of the colleges and universities don’t see light in the proposal, then chances are the coalition would not happen.

Have all of the institutions been included in the discussion so far, including Oakwood University and Burman University in Canada?


Will money from more financially secure campuses be used to prop up less financially secure ones? Do you envision a redistribution of resources if financial decisions are centralized?

I don’t see a redistribution of resources. Financial decisions would be toward saving money on campuses.

Would different campuses be encouraged to specialize more, i.e. not all campuses would offer an English degree?

I could see some specialization in the long term, rather like we have now with engineering at Walla Walla University.

Have you had any negative responses to the idea from college presidents or board chairs?

Most people I speak with think it is a great idea – in concept. Of course, they are talking to me and may choose not to express their reservations. The challenges will come in working out the details.

Would any campuses be closed?

That question implies a much stronger central authority that I envision. This is not a power grab by the North American Division, it is a recognition of the changing realities of higher education as outlined in The Chicago Declaration:

  • Declining population of traditional college/university student population.
  • Decreasing financial capacity of many Adventist families to afford private higher education.
  • Decreasing willingness to borrow to finance a private education.
  • Extraordinary increases in costs of providing a traditional college/university experience over the past 25 years.
  • Increasing availability of competitive educational modalities that no longer require a residential campus (free community college, online degrees, subscription-based programs).
  • Transformation of the job market to more competency-based education.

Any idea how much money this plan would save in efficiencies?


How would this plan make the student experience better?

The combined strength of all the North American Division institutions could provide stronger departments and academics at each school. It could reduce some costs and make Seventh-day Adventist higher education more available.

Would teachers and students be able to move more easily between campuses? Would HR be more centralized, with faculty and staff employed by the system, rather than a specific campus?

It could be that some business functions like HR (e.g. payroll) could be centralized but the local board would control employment issues.

I would think it would be easier for students to move between campuses.

Would the General Conference have any control over the system, or would it all be from the North American Division?

It is all from the NAD, but as you know, the NAD is really a division of the General Conference and the division officers are elected at a General Conference Session.

Any influence that the General Conference has is already exercised by the Adventist Accrediting Association.

If you had to guess where this proposal will be in 10 years, what would you say? What do you think will happen to Adventist higher education in North America if this plan is dropped?

I am a Pollyanna and so I would see a much more unified effort that provided creative educational solutions online and on campus across the United States and Canada resulting in increased enrollment and lessening financial burden on students and their families.

If this plan or something like it is not implemented there will be a few more school closings and Adventist higher education could stagnate. Some schools will survive in niche markets, but the potential of Adventist education might not be realized. (See the Preamble of the Chicago Declaration.)

Gordon Bietz, formerly president of Southern Adventist University, now serves as associate director of higher education for the North American Division and as the director of the Association of Adventist Colleges and Universities.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

I cannot invision a chancellor of an Adventist system of higher education. I can see a willowing. The denominational community college is dead. Operating costs, tution costs make it a bad investment for both the Church and the student. I see Andrews, Southern, Loma Linda/La Sierra, Walla Walla, and some specialized like Kettering, and Orlando?


Why is the denominational community college “dead” when it is thriving outside the denomination? My years of experience in both Adventist higher education and community colleges tells me that many families would send their students to a campus near home for at least part of their education. It is likely, for instance, that many families living in Northern California (north of San Francisco) would not send their students to La Sierra for undergraduate work (graduate work is a different consideration), especially if those families were not affluent and able to afford travel, and a community college (there are over 100 in California) is available nearby.

If a system of some sort cannot be developed and some campuses close (PUC, for instance) I very much believe that there would be many fewer Adventists in Adventist higher education below the graduate level. That would seem very sadly counterproductive to me.

AUC might still be open, for instance, if it had become the “Massachusetts Campus” of Andrews University. Standing alone, it has essentially died. And I believe it could be shown that more Adventist college students are now attending public institutions - not CUC, Southern, or Andrews!

Which outcome do you think would be preferable?

Who of talent would want to risk a career teaching on the Risky notion of financial insecurity and dire consequences hanging over their heads. Why would a parent risk sending a child to a school that was bending more and more like a Weimar and go into debt greater than a house and car combined. Find a good community college and a Gospel based church and buy them the car. Two of my children have doctorates and one a masters in history and economics all have career high honors. they did their foundation education at Adventist institutions.


I have every confidence in Doctor Gordon Bietz,

In his many years as President of Southern Adventist University, he skillfully and diplomatically walked that impossible tightrope, satisfying the impossible demands of big time, very conservative donors, and a faculty and student body who demanded academic freedom and transparency. Not to mention being obsequious to and yet maintaining independence from an over controlling GC administration!

His diplomatic skills will be useful in engaging the competing demands of the thirteen SDA colleges each with their own local,agendas, and efforts to maintain their own bailiwicks / domains.

Southern Adventist University is an appropriate size institution, about three thousand students. Any center of higher education smaller than that, which labels itself a “.university” is guilty of hubris/ arrogance /self importance.

Southwestern Adventist University (800 students ).
Union College (900 students )
Burman University, Canada (500 students)
and Kettering College (.750 students.) are all woefully small and inadequate to provide choices in curriculum ;/
careers / courses…

They should be shut down, as was Atlantic Union College, recently, for similar reasons…

Those campuses with 1000-2000 students are marginal

I applaud an alliance such as exists among the ten campuses of the University of California, with 250,000 total student and presided over by President Janet Napoolitano, former Governor of Arizona.

In perusing rankings of US Colleges, when my grandson graduated from high school recently, I did not find ANY high rankings among our schools for ACADEMIC EXCELLENCE.

However, three of the thirteen SDA colleges, qualified in the top,fifty, of Us colleges that graduated students with the highest student debt !!.

Maybe our Adventist students need to access the nearest, cheapest community college and then proceed to other schools with in state tuition, so as not to be saddled with insurmountable debt, upon graduation ??

Shouod college chaplains be assigned in major metropolitan areas to facilitate recreational / dating /worship experiences for Adventist students in the area attending non SDA schools ??

I still think the Mormons do it best, with one huge university — BRIGHAM YOUNG, whose THIRTY FOUR THOUSAND students on one campus, allow for superb science labs, lecture / concert halls, sports facilities and multiple course / curriculum /. career choices .

Maybe LOWER TUITION, achieved by consolidation rather than duplication of services, will encourage ADVENTIST students to both attend our schools and remain debt free .??


I didn’t know Dr. Bietz but I did know and worked with his father. if his father had become the President of the general Conference what a different church there would be today. He lost out because he did not have any world mission experience. so sad. I also used to deliver the daily newspaper to the Bietz home when Dr Bietz was a youngster. Mrs. Bietz was very pleasant on Sunday mornings when I did my collections. Elder Bietz and I cried on each other’s shoulder when Mrs Bietz died at LLU Medical Center. I still stand by my view on the future of Adventist higher education.


As a faculty member and administrator who lived lived through the consolidation and dissolution of Loma Linda and La Sierra, I can say with feeling “Be careful what you wish for!”

I could write at great length on the many issues involved but wifi try to refrain!

Overall the plan sounds like a good idea. I just wish that the Chicago Declaration would include a section on ethics and social moral responsibilities. For teacher, staff and students. When ethics declines no amount of money, investments, advanced educational degrees–can make up the difference.


Live so as to make our world a better place, to love, to not hate, to be kind and caring, to be helpful and to have personal integrity.


Dr Friz Guy and I were commissioned by the Board to draw up the terms. They were adopted we were thanked and the ideas were shelved. We knew at that moment that the merger was dead on arrival. Both institutions are better for it. But I did enjoy visiting with my retired parents on the Board dollars.,Frankly the Board was just to keep accredition intact. . I did enough Owly bird fights for a life time.

Those virtues can’t wait until college. they must start at home. morning and evening worship, Choice reading and parents who live those virtues. Treat as you would be treated.


“Let all things be done decently and in order.” 1 Corinthians 14:40
Perhaps there is a tendency to stick close to the status quo. But scripture teaches that we should do things “decently and in order” It’s easy to just adjust the previous budget by a few percentage points and play it safe for another year. Such “safe” practices are not orderly or decent. They seldom lead to breakthroughs in achieving the mission of the church or the affiliated college, or perhaps even in EXCITING any major donors. As I see it the main three reasons why more consolidation can and should take place:

  1. Overlapping Missions
    Whenever I see multiple organizations serving nearly the virtually same need in the exact same area or adjacent areas of the world, I wonder how they keep from bumping into each other. More importantly, I wonder if they are hurting their ability to raise funds, recruit board leadership and truly fulfill their mission.
    Even if the missions of two or more organizations only overlap a small amount, it should be worth having the discussion about what combining them could bring to the table. Perhaps the resulting combined or more narrowly focused mission will resonate with funders and donors. Add to the above facts that the consolidated staff might be able to operate more efficiently or provide even more service than before.
  2. More Efficient Fundraising
    The consolidated fundraising team can now have specialists in such key areas as Major Gifts, Planned Giving, Special Events, Annual Fund and others. The specialization should allow each area to be taken to a much higher level.
    The combining of the databases allowed a large number of duplicate accounts to be eliminated and all communications structured to avoid redundancy. This should also allow the quality of every communication offering to be elevated.
    If one or more of the organizations being combined was considering a capital or endowment campaign, the focus can now be on a single campaign. This should allow the case statement to be stronger and a wider base of prospective donors to be approached.
  3. New Leadership Possibilities
    In any consolidation there will be multiple boards and standing committees involved. The extra individuals can be used to create exciting new committees to address previously ignored issues.
    The discussions leading up to any consolidation allow the very best of your to emerge. Such strategic discussions are what the board, if comprised of the right individuals, is best at. The top leaders from the separate organizations will almost always rise to the top of consideration for the board of the new organization.
    Creating the new board allows for timely pruning of any previous members from the separate organizations not pulling their weight or worse yet, causing difficulties in some manner.
    “Decently and in order”… The question remains are we brave enough to do it?

Tom is right that the driving issue for Loma Linda and La Sierra was accreditation. I wil have to enlarge on that from my almost 30 year memories. I cannot resist trying to enlighten the next generation currently responsible for the future!


"All the better to control you with, my dear!":unamused:

Please, enlighten away! :slightly_smiling_face:

1 Like

Ideally you are correct. Yet in my opinion, teaching in public school, these virtues are mostly not valued. Remember that Christian education can be Christ centered in language but lack ethics in judgmentalism and strict honestly. Even my church attending youth could not tell me one of the Ten Commandments. Basis Sermon on the Mount values.

The idea of having a “University system” is not a new idea. Going back thirty years there was this idea floated but went sour when Andrews was to be the center under the GC control. The other colleges like PUC, LSU, Union, and others would be under the big GC sponsored Andrews.

Then again in 2002 there was a college president on the west coast that tried to push for open recruitment. At the same time he tried to change the name of his institution to Pacific University of California or PUC. That concept was DOA with alumni. I don’t ever see this concept being accepted for two reasons, 1. It makes good business sense, SDA’s are terrible with business decisions. 2. Alumni from all of these NAD colleges and universities simply won’t buy in to that concept.


Accreditation issues can seem overwhelming at times but situations can change. For example several years after LLU regained full accreditation, Dr. Behrens, who lead LLU as president through the process, was elected to membership of the WASC commission (which had placed LLU on probation)!

That very same thing happened elsewhere

1 Like

In my not so humble opinion, LLU was placed on probation because of internal issues between the campuses which had minimal impact on educational outcomes. Fortunately, the emphasis seems to have shifted to educational outcomes which provide more objective evidence for accreditation. I believe this will allow for more diversity of policies and practices but similar satisfactory outcomes in the proposed system. The health science programs may require policies that may not be appropriate in the liberal arts programs. The system will need to be wary of well meaning members of visiting teams who may not fully appreciate this viewpoint.