|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
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
"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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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