Should an Adventist University System Be Created in North America?

When attendees convene in Chicago for the Adventist Higher Education Summit on August 9-12, 2018, they’ll be looking critically at several challenges facing Adventist colleges and universities in North America and “planning strategically to ensure strong, faith-based education in a financially challenging, increasingly secular environment”1 endures.

Recognizing the deep roots the Adventist educational system has throughout the Church, Summit organizers are encouraging “decision makers and influencers” to attend — not only from the colleges and universities, but also from the General Conference, North American Division, unions, conferences, and from Adventist healthcare organizations.

Several Adventist entities were involved in organizing and sponsoring the Summit including the Association of Adventist Colleges and Universities (AACU), the North American Division Department of Education, Kettering Health, and Adventist Health System.

Richard Hart, president and CEO of Loma Linda University Health, will offer the keynote address on Thursday evening. Both Friday and Sabbath feature full days with presentations from some of the biggest names in Adventist higher education, including Richard Osborn (20th president of Pacific Union College and currently vice president of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges), Andrea Luxton (president of Andrews University), Vinita Sauder (president of Union College), Dan Jackson (NAD president), Gordon Bietz (retired president of Southern Adventist University and currently associate director of higher education for the NAD), George Knight (emeritus professor at Andrews and a leading Seventh-day Adventist historian and author), and more. Several higher education experts and consultants will also speak on topics including current higher education trends, research, and demographics.

The goal and perhaps the most highly anticipated aspect of the Summit is a “Chicago Declaration” which the planning committee who crafted the document hope “points the way for a robust future for Seventh-day Adventist higher education.”2 The committee is comprised of Gordon Bietz, John McVay (Walla Walla University president), Jon Paulien (Dean of the School of Religion at Loma Linda University), Larry Blackmer (NAD vice president of Education), Niels-Erik Andreasen (retired president of Andrews University), Ron Carter (LLU provost), and Vinita Sauder.

Bietz explained that in its current draft form, the Chicago Declaration is a talking paper, developed by the conference planning committee “to assure that there will be an outcome from this summit.”3 Bietz notes that there has been interest in increased collaboration among the Adventist colleges and universities for years, especially as small private colleges across the nation face mounting financial and enrollment challenges. The Summit and Declaration are the culmination of years of interest and effort on the part of college, university, and union presidents to sustain Adventist higher education into the future.

The crux of the Chicago Declaration is a proposal to “structure a formal process to develop the potential of ‘The Adventist University System of North America’ that would better serve both students and institutions through a “higher level of integration” and will help “to mitigate the increasing costs of providing high quality education and to strengthen the academic offerings provided at each school.”

The Declaration stresses that under this plan, each institution will “retain its identity, board, operating structure, and constituency” and proposes that:

The Adventist University System of North America (AUSNA) would be a non-profit corporation with multiple campuses, to further the higher education objectives of the North American Division of Seventh-day Adventists. The System would be operated by its members and board of directors, which would have limited authority. Each campus in the System would be independently operated, yet aligned and participating with the System.

The suggested timeline for “one overarching institution with multiple campuses” will begin with a vote at the Summit as to whether AUSNA is an idea worth pursuing further. If the vote passes, college and university presidents, along with the NAD Administrative Committee, will review a process and finalize a proposal to be brought before representatives at the NAD year-end meeting in November 2018. The goal is to achieve full institutional integration by 2025.

As the conference unfolds, and attendees have the opportunity to interact with each other and listen to the presentations, organizers hope they will also think about the final form the Chicago Declaration should take. If approved at the Summit, it will go through many iterations before being finalized.

Attendees are encouraged to read the document carefully and come to the Summit with questions like:

1. Who will pay for this? 2. What will the return on investment be for our institution? 3. Will we lose control of our institution? 4. What about our board and the allegiance of our alumni? 5. What do we give up and what do we gain?

The proposed Chicago Declaration is provided in full below:

Registration for the Summit is open online through August 1 on the Summit website.

Notes & References:

1. The Future of Adventist Higher Education Chicago Summit website:

2. Summit newsletter, June 18, 2018.

3. Summit newsletter, June 24, 2018.

Alisa Williams is managing editor of

Photo by Andre Hunter on Unsplash.

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

Our entire North American structure—conferences/union conferences, but especially our colleges are an out dated anachronism. They allow for costly duplication of services with competing constituencies demanding local control.

They were set up in the horse and buggy age, pre automobiles, pre Greyhound buses, pre freeways, certainly pre air travel.

In those days, travel was arduous, so it made sense to locate our colleges, not too far distant from where the students lived.

The result: a plethora of institutions, many too small to function adequately, and all of them duplicating services, courses, and structures.

The Mormons did it right when they set up BRIGHAM YOUNG UNIVERSITY. This one large institution, allows for a multiplicity of courses/curriculums/career choices, and superb sports facilities, lecture /concert halls and science labs.

Low fares on discount airlines mean that travel to one central university need not be costly. And yes, Greyhound buses still,exist!

Problem is, that vested interests will create competing clashes as to which jurisdiction will,be home to the new institution. And maybe, the best option /choice will,fuse both Canadian and American institutions into one mega English instruction center of higher learning.

Welcome to another hornets nest of college “.compliance” controversies!


Why an Adventist system. I paid my way through predental at 25 cents an hour at EMC. Let us be sure there is a Christain church nearby a state college. there are more than 30 state colleges in Georgia and hundreds of churches many of which are Gospel based. Adventism offers nothing to the Everlasting Gospel.


One of the main reasons, IMO, is to find an SDA mate.

Otherwise, totally agree.

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I found mine at camp meeting. I jguess they are also history.

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I’m guessing camp meetings are dying out to some degree or another.

Has anyone on the boards been to a camp meeting lately?

Is this a “Trick” to remove the now Universities which are under their respective Unions
control and MOVE them to be Under General Conference control through the North
American Division??
One Step closer for forcing ALL University teaching and other staff to Take the OATH
to the “28”? So there will be NO Critical Thinking or Teaching allowed??
Will students HAVE to go to Public Universities to get a “real” education that will prepare
them to enter Master and Doctoral programs elsewhere??
SORRY – Just Asking!!
Seems like there is already a lot of controls that can be taught in the Sciences, or that
is allowed to be taught in Religion Classes.
It seems like things have gotten so BAD that our Universities have had to employ a
Director of Diversity, for probably at LEAST $50-60,000 a year.


With any proposal there will be pros and cons. In this case, there is also a great big huge question mark.

The proposal references a university system. Where do colleges fit within a university system? Will the university system predominantly provide the universities with economy of scale, or will there be real meaningful benefits to the colleges? Will it make it easier to close down colleges that have reached the end of their useful missional life? Just what exactly are the limited powers that the board would have? I would think that the board of the system and the individual university/college boards would all have limited powers - you can’t give limited powers to one entity without taking away some powers in another area.

As others have pointed out, there is then an issue as to who has control - the NAD (which is an arm of the GC) or the Unions, with their own constituencies. I don’t see any issue with a single purpose entity being created that is “owned” by the Unions, and to which the unions have the powers to appoint its members. It may appear to duplicate what the NAD is doing in some respects, but the overall headcount and cost shouldn’t be different if the entities can clarify who is responsible for what.


$40,000-$50,000/year, Steve? That was the wage scale of a full professor at some Adventist colleges 25 years ago! At least I was making about $40,000/year at an Adventist college back then.

I urge you to familiarize yourself with higher education systems! They have been and continue to provide strength and stability to many “secular” institutions. So why not Adventist higher education? My bias? I hold a doctorate in higher education administration with 20+ years experience in Adventist higher education and 21 years in secular higher education as an instructional dean.

Why doesn’t California operate about 112 independent community colleges? Actually, they are stronger because they are a system with a common “chancellor”, although each college has its own board, president, etc. However, for instance, they share expensive automation such as systemwide access to expensive online information resources, administrative software, course development, etc. Why is there a University of California system that ties together great institutions since as UC Berkeley, UC Riverside, UC San Diego, etc.?

This exists in many states. If it has been proven beneficial for these institutions to have a system, why is Adventism with its relatively [very] small institutions even debating whether this is needed?

Why not a single institution such as the Mormons operate (Brigham Young)? I believe the vast majority of Adventist families would not send their young people from Maryland to California, from Oregon to Michigan, etc. for one large institution such as Brigham Young. That is why larger states do not have a single university or community college.

I’d far rather see our existing Adventist colleges and universities be strengthened through such a system rather than limp along or fail.

PROBLEM is, though, that such a system likely could not remain accredited if it were controlled by the General Conference or an unduly influenced North American Division. An Adventist higher education system could not be operated as a group of “Bible colleges” or Weimars and continue to offer degrees that would give students access to accredited medical schools, law schools, nursing schools, and other graduate programs.

I applaud those who have thoughtfully prepared this proposal and pray that it will succeed!


Peter –
I applaude the idea of “sharing”. Perhaps even making it easy for students to move
from one SDA University to another, working on their choices of Life Work.
I just believe that it would be FATAL to the ability for the teachers in the class rooms
to have the AUTONOMY they need to teach, to present information, materials, and
discussion that THEY BELIEVE their students NEED.
I am FEARFUL that the Classrooms, the TEACHERS will end up being MICRO MANAGED
by Administrations which are MICRO MANAGED by persons from the Division or the General
Conference Office Structure.
We have ALREADY seen this BEGUN by having everyone sign documents which would LIMIT
the Ability to have ACADEMIC FREEDOM in the Classroom.
And, if they DID step out and take FREEDOM, could lose their jobs in the Denomination if
someone complained – as was done at Southern in 1982 and 1983 about the Religion
Several even found it NECESSARY to LEAVE the Denomination all together.

Well stated, Peter. I agree that there are good reasons to create a higher-level administration (with very limited GC interference) while maintaining multiple local institutions.


Long overdue. Glad to see this conversation beginning in earnest.

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Yes, actually. I’ve recently attended a short portion of the 10-day Redwood Area Campmeeting in the Northern California Conference as well as spending a few hours at the 5-day Gladstone Campmeeting in the Oregon Conference. Seems to be business as usual.

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Well, here we go again . . . another summit that will merely serve as a diversionary tactic to avoid the real issue facing Adventist Higher Education: an outdated business model. And that model cannot change without a radical change in leadership and governance. As someone who has worked for many years in Adventist Education and now works for a large private non-profit university system, I have one caution for the summit: the convergence of many struggling colleges/universities may just amount to one struggling system. The system will only be as strong as its weakest college/university. Fundamental drivers of financial success must reside within each unit of the system for the system to be successful.


I’m no expert on SDA tertiary education, but I don’t think the “weakest link of a chain” dynamic necessarily applies to a diffuse system. Consider a pandemic–a catastrophic disease spreads across the globe. Cooperating governments and NGOs distribute the vaccine or antidote following an agreed upon plan. One incompetent government fails its citizens. The pandemic does not get eradicated, as it will persist in that country and could potentially spread further, but millions of lives will be saved nevertheless, and the system can keep the disease from spreading. The system achieves success despite a weak (failed) link, and the success for participating countries far exceeds that of the failed state. The system can succeed even if there is more than one weak link.

If the “weakest link” analogy applies to all systems, there would be no such thing as “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts” (i.e., emergence theory). Some level of central coordination can facilitate this property of systems.

I do appreciate your concerns, Dr. Lawrence, and mean no disrespect; I just have a different perspective.

No disrespect taken and I do appreciate your thoughtful response. Let me go along with your public health analogy for a bit and ask: what if 10 of 13 countries decided not to distribute the vaccine?

The situation with NAD Colleges and Universities is that no more than three of the 13 have what I would consider a sustainable business model. Even the flagship Andrews University is buckling at the knees due to low enrollment and high-cost delivery mechanisms. My point is, with or without a system, some units will fail and should in some circumstances be allowed to fail.

My fear with “weak links” in an organizational structure is that they sap energy from the system and constantly need to be rescued. The SDA Church is known for beating the proverbial “dead horse” in addressing what would otherwise be business decisions [AUC]. Such actions unnecessarily diverts resources from others with better thriving potential.

Good discussion. I am very much in favor of a system and pray that we get it right this time.

Thank you.


Good points! There are two things I believe would be essential:

  1. Freedom from management by the GC. The system should be an NAD system with minimal management from union officials.

  2. An understanding that not all institutions would necessarily remain open or remain the same. Some secular systems offer classes at multiple locations although those locations are not in and of themselves colleges. For instance, Chapman University, U of Redlands, U of the Pacific, and U of La Verne (and others) in California offer classes, even degrees, at multiple locations (often in rented space in office buildings) that are not branch campuses. Some have campuses that only offer one degree/program such as a campus that is only a law school.

Peter –
At one time the LLU School of Public Health offered their Masters Program at Satellite
areas. An intense lecture program, and then homework between sessions. At one time
they did this in the Southern Union. I started it until I became too busy with my job to
engage in the homework. But I have benefited from the classes I was able to attend
throughout my Nursing career since then.
An Adventist Nurse neighbor of mine was able to complete the whole program. And
benefited professionally by it.
So, Satellite programs ARE doable by our institutions of higher learning.
And, working persons can engage in them without taking a lot of time off, if any,
from their job.

When I was called to become a professor at the SDA Theological Seminary at Andrews in 1965, the main topic of discussion among the faculties had to do with the need to close some of the colleges run by the church at the time. They were taking too much money from the church, especially those that were too small to collect significant amounts of tuition money. It was pointed out already that the facility to travel then available made it unnecessary to have colleges close to the home of its students. Most of them were in need of new laboratories to keep up with the developments going on in the sciences, and they were very costly. So, most of the people involved in these discussions agreed that it was necessary to close some of the colleges and have just two big ones: one specialized in the sciences and one in the humanities. It did not happen then, and I doubt it will happen now. Why, because every Union wishes to have its own college and the support of its alumni, and because, due to the lack of baptisms from evangelistic meetings of people who actually become church members for long, the colleges are seen as the only evangelistic source of members. That was the argument back then. I am not sure the second reason holds water these days. Like the question of the ordination of women, this question will keep attracting money and time to itself, probably with indefinite results.
I wish I could be an optimist in this regard.

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