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Claremont seminary loses, regains, accreditation

Dec. 11, 2007

A UMNS Report
By Linda Green*

A United Methodist theological school that lost and regained its accreditation this year has until February 2008 to show that it can operate within its budget and a new business plan.

The Western Association of Schools and Colleges reversed its decision in November to terminate the accreditation of Claremont (Calif.) School of Theology and placed the seminary on "Show Cause" status. The association's accrediting commission for senior colleges and universities had decided at a June 22-23 meeting to terminate Claremont's accreditation effective Aug. 10.

Following a visit to the 50-year-old theological school last March, the commission had publicly sanctioned the school for not being in compliance with commission standards around financial planning and management, and said Claremont had not satisfactorily explained or corrected deficiencies.

The basic criteria for accreditation revolve around organization, curriculum and instruction, support for students' personal and academic growth, and resource management and development.

The association's Accrediting Commission for Senior Colleges and Universities accredits 150 degree-granting institutions in California, Hawaii, Guam, the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas, American Samoa, the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, and East Asia.

Claremont School of Theology is one of 13 seminaries related to the United Methodist Church in the United States. The Rev. Jerry D. Campbell had been at the helm two weeks when the association acted to terminate the institution's accreditation. He is the school’s sixth president and the current student enrollment is 289.

The school, he said, had failed to perform to its budget and had been in a deficit for three years. "That is not allowed by any accreditor," he said. "We didn't manage our budget."

Campbell, who formerly was dean of libraries and chief information officer at the University of Southern California, said the association's action to terminate accreditation does not happen with great frequency, but it is not rare for an accrediting body to point out an institution's deficiencies.

"One of the obligations of an accreditor is to help make certain that capacity to deliver on the educational mission is in place."

Campbell said "there were no surprises to me" in the association's decision. "I knew that this was going to be an opportunity worthy of some effort." He said he is a champion of hard work and likes to devote energy to "things worth doing, and returning this institution to fiscal and managerial health is something eminently worth doing."

'A public sanction'

During a Nov. 8-9 meeting, the commission for senior colleges and universities issued a Show Cause Order to Claremont, according to a Nov. 27 statement from the Western Association of Schools and Colleges. "Show cause is a public sanction reflecting the judgment of the commission that an institution is not in compliance with one or more commission standards."

At that meeting, the commission, after considering a review of its decision filed by Claremont's leadership, withdrew its action to terminate the seminary's accreditation.

"While the school is out of compliance with Standards 1, 3 and 4, the commission extended accreditation for good cause. The commission has acted to allow the new leadership of the school the period until the Feb. 21-22, 2008, meeting of the commission to demonstrate that it has fully met the WASC Accreditation Standards," the association said.

Campbell, quoting the commission in a letter on the seminary's Web site, said that while the "significant uncertainties" around finances and management offset the positive steps taken by the school's administration, the commission found "sufficient basis to modify its previous decision to revoke accreditation to allow the new leadership team of the school to demonstrate that it can and will, act decisively and immediately to respond to the significant crisis before it."

In that same letter, Campbell said that although "this is still a serious situation," the school has an opportunity "to continue our financial progress and our vital education programs." Claremont, he said, has overcome numerous obstacles to become "a premier theological school" and now has an "opportunity to take bold and innovative steps to improve on our strengths, overcome our deficiencies and meet the emerging needs of our communities."

The seminary's leadership appealed the association's action and presented a new budget and business plan, Campbell said.

"We developed a revised budget, and we shrunk the institution to fit inside it," he said. The staff was downsized, and "we trimmed everywhere in the operating budget that we could trim. We cut back on whatever we could cut back on," he said. The school, he said, made a "realistic budget" and is living within it, he said.

A vision for the future

What happens if Claremont does not meet the association's prescribed conditions in 15 months and loses its accreditation again?

Typically, an institution is required to plan a "teach out," using existing revenue to make arrangements with other institutions if necessary to provide a way for all students to finish their academic pursuit in an accredited environment, Campbell said.

Claremont, he said, "is not planning on that. We are putting our energy into getting things back in order."

He sees the seminary having a role to play in helping the United Methodist Church address its U.S. membership decline. If the seminary is recommitted to helping the denomination understand, come to grips with and reverse the decline, "it would be worth keeping this institution going," he said.

Claremont, he said, has decided that if it overcomes its current problems, "we are going to dedicate ourselves to the renewal of the church, the transformation of the church."

*Green is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Linda Green, (615) 742-5470 or

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Claremont School of Theology

WASC Accrediting Commission for Schools

Public Statement on Claremont School of Theology

An Important Message from Jerry D. Campbell

United Methodist Theological Schools

United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry