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Willamette, Claremont School of Theology explore partnership

Willamette University and the Claremont School of Theology announced Monday that the two schools would “begin the due diligence process” to explore moving and embedding CST within the Salem, Oregon university.

“Willamette and CST are both excellent schools with much in common—a focus on quality, and a mission to educate students and prepare them for lives that contribute to and transform their communities,” Willamette University President Steve Thorsett related in a press release Thursday morning. “Embedding CST at Willamette is an exciting opportunity to bring CST’s progressive approach to theological education to the Northwest, strengthen both institutions and support Willamette’s role as a liberal arts university with strong graduate programs.”

Last August, the School of Theology filed a lawsuit against the Claremont University Consortium (CUC), over a disagreement about real estate.

The conflict erupted after CST revealed its intent to sell 10.5 acres of the 16.4-acre campus. CST wanted $25 million for the land, located on College Avenue on the north side of Foothill Boulevard. But the CUC, which has right of first refusal, said it was entitled to the property for $4 million, the assessed fair market value, according to CUC.

Embedding CST at Willamette will not just solve immediate financial problems, but will allow the university to grow, college officials said. CST President Jeffrey Kuan sees the venture as a positive outcome to a challenging year for the university.

“CST is experiencing a period of enrollment and programmatic growth—and an opportunity to become part of Willamette has the potential of sustaining and supporting this momentum,” Mr. Kuan said. “I believe CST’s world-class faculty and our approach to theological education—with people of many faiths learning and living side-by-side—is an excellent addition to Willamette’s own dynamic community.”

Combining CST and Willamette adds curricular and co-curricular programs for undergraduate students, and will create expanded options for graduate study, the college said. Some of CST’s graduate programs could also pair with Willamette’s existing graduate programs—a graduate school of management and a college of law—as well as deepen coursework, research and connections with Willamette’s faculty and students at all levels of study.

Embedding also allows CST to reduce overhead, more efficiently address the rising costs of higher education and focus on student scholarship rather than maintaining an aging campus. Moving from southern California gives CST the resources to continue programs in Oregon and contribute to shared overhead costs, the college said.

In a fact sheet sent out to the community, President Kuan and CST’s board of trustees related they have examined every possible resource and angle to stay in southern California.

“Without an infusion of $50 to $90 million, our current location is cost prohibitive,” the release said. “Embedding within Willamette University is our best chance for not only surviving, but thriving as a provider of theological education. Willamette’s faculty is very supportive of this idea, as are our faculty members. We are each bringing something the other partner would like.”

President Kuan and CST Board of Trustees Chair Rev. Patricia Farris have created four task forces—academic, finance, governance and facilities—to begin the process.

Willamette is one of few United Methodist universities in the western US, allowing the Claremont School of Theology to retain its affiliation as a United Methodist seminary.

More information about the potential partnership is available on CST’s website at cst.edu/update-from- the-president. The COURIER?will follow up next week with a more complete story.