In August, the annual Shanghai Academic Ranking of World Universities was published for 2023. It is an international ranking of the world’s top 1,000 public and private universities created by researchers at Shanghai University. It utilizes six criteria related to “scientific activity,” including publications of university professors and researchers, relevant awards, and number of citations in subsequent publications.
If what is presented in this article is true, it is very likely that no SDA institutions of higher learning will make it onto the future lists . I do not foresee a change in policy or attitude in the near future, In fact I tend to see the opposite- a crystallization and a hardening of policy attitudes which , if unchecked, can spell the end of enquiry, and systematic research within the organization.
The final paragraph of this article is most illustrative and perhaps the most telling:
Instead, bureaucratic pastoral leadership has marginalized intellectual and professional elites, sharing at least some similarity to what was practiced by communist countries when intellectuals became “enemies of the people”—when in reality, they were only the enemies of unique authoritative thinking. A return to excellence in Adventism and an elevation of Adventist institutions to the rank of elite universities will be possible only through a renewed role for intellectual rigor and critical analysis, which presently are silenced, withdrawn, and disenfranchised.
Unless there is a radical change in attitude and practice, I fear there will not be very many SDA intellectuals who are truly free to engage and pursue what they love the most and what they have been trained to do- to promote and pursue research!
We should recognize that these positions on health did not originate from a science perspective, but rather from the pen of Ellen White. Loma Linda has taken some steps to establish scientific validation of what was believed to come from inspiration, but the foundation of our beliefs in this arena are still based on “revelation” - although Numbers’ Prophetess of Health called that into question.
Meanwhile, while we spouted our health beliefs because Ellen said so, secular sources have gained the upper hand on scientific knowledge of health practices. What we used to think was special insight on health has become common information in the public sphere. Is this because we relied on the spiritual dimension rather than the science dimension?
I’m sorry, but how does this article get published without mentioning that these rankings are renown for being biased towards large universities? I mean, even a casual reading of their methodology for these rankings makes it obvious it’s near impossible for an Adventist school to be ranked in it; most of their scoring is done via counting stats and not per capita. Even if the author didn’t want to do the due diligence of checking the methodology, the fact these rankings are biased based on university size is even on it’s wikipedia page.
In my experience, it’s not an equivalence in many corners of Adventism. It’s an actual rejection. “Traditional” SDAs have a really weird love/hate relationship with education, and I’d say that includes the current leadership too. They’re more than happy to promote GYC, SDA academies, Southern, and maybe Weimar. But then everything else gets branded as some sort of hive of godless progressive indoctrination, as does asking questions in church. You’re supposed to just agree with what the GC and EGW have to say.
We just saw this play out at Andrews. Ted Wilson had preferred candidates for both Andrews president and Pioneer Memorial lead pastor. Both got shoehorned in without any real local feedback, and neither of them appear to be a very good cultural fit. That’s exactly what the GC wanted, though. Someone to stem the notorious liberal hotbed of (checks notes) Berrien Springs.
Thank you for noting this isn’t limited to educational institutions. Some of us still remember the seemingly intentional demise of the One Project. I was attending a pretty good class locally (which I was pleasantly shocked to find), but it’s going downhill. The traditional crowd has finally found it, and you hear rote answers and “Ellen White says…” shutting down discussions more and more. Disappointing, but I should’ve expected it.
The feeble annual membership growth rate of a net of 1 to 2 percent in the NAD we have seen in recent years has resulted in the closure of hundreds of our schools. But this massive apostasy in our faith community has not become a scandal.
When I served as an elder many years ago, I learned some shocking truths about the zero-sum economy of the Seventh-day Adventist Church:
The conference does not want your school to grow. Suppose you have an elementary school of 40 students taught by two conference teachers. If you were to double your enrollment, which would necessitate the hiring of two more conference teachers, the conference would have to fire two people to make budget. No administrator is going to get fired. Pastors are purchased by tithe money, so they are not going to get fired. The only way the conference can make budget is to transfer education dollars from another school (which is correspondingly failing) to the more prosperous school. Conference administrators are very adept at ensuring that such failures occur and that successes are minimized so that money allocated for education remains stable and tolerable.
Most administrators and pastors are not productive. Conferences have baptism lists. If you look at those lists, you will see a lot of zeros next to pastors’ names. You can enjoy a thriving career as a church administrator or pastor and not baptize people on a regular basis. Because of this chronic non-productivity, our schools have not been adequately funded.
What is very shocking, I have learned over the years, is that most SDAs don’t want their pastor to do evangelism and grow the church. Instead, they want the pastor to cater to their needs. Many SDAs feel destabilized, disoriented, and even threatened by seeing new faces in the church. Ironically, the principal cause of most internal church conflict I have witnessed over the years has been evangelism.
We recently witnessed Ted Wilson and Mark Finley speak with great passion about LGBT+ issues. In contrast, although both are in support of Adventist Christian education, that support has relatively low salience. You will never see much passion exhibited by either one in support of Adventist Christian education, because they understand the zero-sum economy of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. And they also understand, as all administrators understand, that they owe their jobs to non-productive church workers on the lower rungs of the ladder.
What is most frightening is that there is a faction in our faith community that is opposed to Adventist Christian education. One particular website, an SDA white nationalist website, is on record in support of the immediate closure of all of our institutions of higher learning. Is it outside the realm of possibility that these malcontents will eventually get their way? We do not know the answer to that question.
There was some talk about codifying a new Fundamental Belief in support of education, but for reasons I think are obvious that’s not going to happen.
Most SDAs in a typical city like Houston, Texas, for example, have never heard of Andrews University. In fact, many of them have never even heard of Southwestern Adventist University. These people tend to be poor, non-Caucasian, and not much interested in higher education to begin with. But is there any interest in causing a fleeting, wandering spark of a thought in their minds that Adventist Christian education is something that they should consider? Not really.
It is very important that we continue to pay our tithe and offerings. We cannot succeed in diverting that money to our schools, because conference administrators will correspondingly adjust and reduce support for our schools. You cannot outmaneuver conference administrators; they will close our schools, if necessary. Accordingly, in order to provide a lagniappe of support to Adventist Christian education, we have to dispense largesse in support of the entire SDA Church bureaucracy.
In other articles I have read on this site regarding Adventist educational institiutions, the point was raised that the institutional church discouraged or blocked the typical development of large endowments from donors, in order to remain the principle source of funding for these institutions, thereby retaining ultimate control over academic pursuits and research. This is stifling in the extreme. It’s a wonder our universities have been able to retain any capable teaching faculty, particularly in areas of science and religion.
I replied that even in fields where we claim high expertise, we are absent. My example was the program guide for a weekend session of the Creation Project, a multi-year effort funded by the John Templeton Foundation. At the gathering of 85 featured scholars, only one worked for an SDA college or university; Andrews.
Again: This was at an event where the topic was CREATION; one organized “to catalyze a field of study around the doctrine of creation that is faithful to Scripture and informed by contemporary scientific research.”
A softball, in other words.
2] As this article on Adventist science rankings is circulated amidst the brethren, expect the loudest voices to turn its outcomes into some kind of accolade.
They’ll confidently state the reason SDA’s are not ranked is “we would rather hold true to the Word of God, over the theories of men,” or that our schools “may not get recognized here, on Earth, but a reward from Another Ranking Society is awaiting them…in heaven.”
To which I’d say, “Tell it to Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah.”
Thank you for reminding me why I got a marginal education at PUC and never considered Adventist colleges for my girls.
I sent them to other colleges and universities, which worked out quite well. When comparing notes with their friends who went to Adventist colleges, they were aghast at what they heard. Most of those friends bailed after a couple of years and went to other schools, which they too found to be much better.
Who consults the Shanghai Rankings in selecting a university or college?
How does Shanghai research? What criteria and methodology?
Where are other viewpoints included that reveal the strong resesrch world-class scientists are performing in a variety of science programs in Adventist universities?
Adventist science undergrads get accepted into top research universities for graduate work.
Accrediting associations, both regional and national, have standards that all American colleges and universities must meet to be accredited. Adventist colleges and universities meet rigorous standards.
Perhaps Spectrum could do an informative piece on the many distinguished unknown Adventist scholars and their distinguished awards, publications, presentations, specialty niches, and accomplishments.
Perhaps besides using the citation index, Shanghai might land upon such an article in its own research.
Trying to make the Shanghai ratings could be a strategic goal of the NAD, but why not pour those dollars into research and development grants and scholarships?
This article missed a few important issues. The other religious institutions mentioned are far larger than any SDA school. For whatever reasons, SDA higher education is split between much smaller regional schools, while the likes of BYU is kind of a champion for the Mormons (although they have another one in Idaho as large or larger now). Since the ranking here is of 1000 world institutions, it should be no surprise it will be skewed to larger ones, something noted in the Wiki article where it notes that a criticism of this ranking is it fails to consider institutional size and thus is biased towards larger institutions.
But that said, the author here fails to point out that BYU which does show up on the list has similar Church oversight as the SDA institutions do, including limitations of academic freedom, something that has been well noted and discussed in the press at times. So why, given the bent of this article, is BYU on the list while Loma Linda is not, other than size?
Higher education is fascinating, especially for English-speaking SDAs where the USA is the default culture. Here’s a view from Canada.
So my alma mater, McGill University, placed 70th according to the Shanghai rankings (3rd in Canada), and 31st in the world according to the 2023 QS rankings (1st in Canada). McGill, Toronto and UBC rotate the top 3 spots in Canada in just about every ranking, with the order being shuffled from year to year (although Toronto almost always claims one of the top 2 spots).
My tuition and fees in the 1990s was about $2,000 Canadian dollars per year (65% was covered by scholarship). My son’s tuition and fees at McGill this year is about $5,000 Canadian dollars (about USD$3,750). I also graduated with a degree from the University of Alberta (a very good school, 110th worldwide on the 2023 QS ranking; 4th in Canada) where my scholarships exceeded the tuition and fee charges (tuition and fees around CAD$1,500/yr; scholarships and research fellowships over the 4 years paid around CAD$20,000), so I was actually paid to go to school. A part-time job covered rent and food, and I was able to graduate debt free.
My ex studied at Université de Montréal (116th worldwide in the 2023 QS ranking, 5th in Canada and always a top 8 worldwide among French speaking universities) and graduated with a whopping student debt of about $6,000 Canadian dollars - paid off within a month or two of graduation.
In 2023, Burman University advertises tuition and fees of CAD$17,000, more than 3 times McGill, and close to double University of Alberta tuition. And of the 13 or 14 accredited Universities in the province of Alberta, Burman is often ranked 12th or 13th.
A fast google search suggests tuition and fees at Southern Adventist University to be around USD$34,000.
We do pay a lot in income taxes, but we do from time to time receive some services in exchange.
BYU is well-regarded in at least some STEM fields. I know the engineering firm I work at regularly recruits engineering graduate students from their program. Nobody I work with has ever heard of any SDA universities. I expect there are a few factors at work here, one is the smaller overall size of SDA universities. Fewer graduates is going to mean less research and less impact overall. But I’m sure the church’s attitude toward science (other than medical science) has something to do with the discrepancy.
It’s not a very rigorous way to compare, but just a quick search on Google Scholar shows a significant difference in research output. For example, in the past 10 years Google catalogues about 93,500 papers from BYU and 18,200 from Loma Linda. The reason that SDA universities are not ranked highly in lists of research universities appears to be that not a lot of research is actually being done at these schools.
Personally, I think the church’s attitude toward science and knowledge in general has a lot to do with this. The church makes public statements about the age of the earth, evolution, and history that fall into the same anti-science bucket as flat-earthers and ancient alien theorists. Why would any thoughtful STEM student pursue research at a university that was associated with these beliefs? Why would thoughtful academics choose to work for or be affiliated with them?
In the end, this is a problem that goes right back to fundamental SDA beliefs and a dogmatic campaign to protect them at all costs. Why would a church that 1) advertises exclusive ownership of The Truth, and 2) believes the world is literally about to end, care two wits about investing in human knowledge or pushing research forward? The church is at least 150 years behind already, and appears insistent on remaining officially and frustratingly ignorant. To put it very simply, if you sell snake oil, then teaching chemistry to the masses is not in your best interest.
P.S. The overall attitude of the SDA Church toward education and pursuing truth also has a significant impact on member retention and evangelism. For me, finally digging into how the church promoted it’s ideas and responded to criticism exposed a deep and fundamental lack of honesty or integrity that I simply could not respect whatsoever. The church lies and manipulates through official channels. It does so with some frequency, and is resistant or unresponsive to even careful critiques. Truth claims aside, this kind of behavior is not ethical.
I agree. To underline the distinction here, it seems obvious to me that in general Adventist leadership loves indoctrination and hates education. The stated goals for SDA educational institutions is to create more Seventh-day Adventists, not to educate people freely and give them the best tools to interpret and navigate the world. This is not a secret. It is stated explicitly in many mission and value statements. NAD educational leaders regularly give reports on SDA education that claim success based explicitly on the number of students who remain or become Adventists.
I think that “one particular website” (let’s call it the “peculiar website”) has about as much influence on SDA policy as the old man shaking his fist at a cloud has on weather patterns. The anti-intellectual, anti-thought, anti-logic, anti-reason, anti-reality creatures that make up the contributors of the peculiar website, along with the peanut gallery of participants in the comments, want the schools closed, since the schools promote thought and inquiry, while thought and inquiry are the enemy of dogma.
But the SDA schools won’t close because they are too “liberal” and too open to questioning. Nor will they close because of the anti-intellectual wing of the church not supporting them. What may sound the death-knell for SDA education is (a) the poor cost-benefit ration and (b) simply a lack of interest from the mainstream membership.
The refrain from Leonard Cohen’s “Anthem” includes the line:
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in
For me the crack in SDA indoctrination came in HS sophomore English composition in the course of which class-and in order to remain accredited-the student must be taught fallacies in argument.
One that struck me at the time, and which has stuck with me ever since, is “appealing to a higher authority”. This is the essential fallacy upon which all religions are based.
Of course, it isn’t necessarily a knockout refutation of one’s argument to use this line of reasoning if the authority to which one appeals can be shown to exist and is also demonstrated to be authoritative in the topic at hand.
Which evidence my teachers then, and Adventism still insists today, will be provided any day now……
That’s exactly it. And the SDA literature confirms it. The idea is to indoctrinate little helpless innocent children at a time when they can be made to believe anything and before their critical thinking skills can develop.
SDA “education” isn’t about a search for truth, but a rote memorisation and meek compliance with dogma. SDA “health” isn’t about actual health as much as it is about following EGW dogma.
This is the essence of the whole matter. It took me 30 years to recognize the circular reasoning and logical fallacy behind text-based dogma, and the utter foolishness behind Proverbs 3:5,6.
It started for me when I dated a mormon girl in high school. After we broke up (in big part over religion), I read the Book of Mormon and was struck by how everything the Mormons taught would be “true” if we simply accepted the Book of Mormon as the infallible Word of God. I then reasoned that the Muslims taught truth if we were to accept the Koran as the infallible Word of God. From there I made the connection that the “truth” of a self-proclaimed holy text cannot be based on the claims of that text itself, but that accepting one text over another (or accepting no text) must be based on reason. Then the scales fell off my eyes and I began to put away the childish things such as blind acceptance of EGW and SDA dogma. It still took me another decade or so to apply the same sort of reasoning to the biblical text.
At the time I thought I had made some profound discovery, only to learn that thinkers far more talented than I articulated the “appeal to authority” logical fallacy centuries and even millennia ago.
Some religious folk will claim such confidence in their dogma and will state that it can stand up to scrutiny, yet they fear such scrutiny. The recipe for indoctrination is to choke off ideas that challenge the dogma.
For the SDAs it’s right in Fundamental Belief #1, where they cite 8 texts to “prove” that the texts are true.
My cringiest and most embarrassing moment as a SDA was in our youth group when I was about 19. One young man posed the question, “why are so many smart people atheists”. I boldly and confidently responded that the Bible says that the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom and that the fool says there is no god. So therefore, the atheists aren’t really very smart, and the theists are the smart wise ones.
It was embarrassing because I was old enough and ought to have known I had committed a logical fallacy (although I couldn’t articulate it), I dismissed a friend’s sincere question with sophistry, and no one in the class, including the adults, called me on my error - on the contrary, I was praised for my succinct and “biblical” answer. It was only a number of years later that I realised how silly I must have sounded.