Claremont School of Theology will remain a neighbor

by Frank Rogers, Jr., Muriel Bernice Roberts Professor of Spiritual Formation and Narrative Pedagogy, Claremont School of Theology
The last time you heard from Claremont School of Theology (CST) in the COURIER, we were planning a move to Willamette University in Salem, Oregon. In case you did not know, we never moved. I am writing today to share the story of why we never left.

My name is Dr. Frank Rogers, and I moved to Claremont more than thirty years ago as a young scholar. Today, I am CST’s longest serving professor, and over the last three decades, I have loved my work and this community. Our roots are here and I am grateful to be able to continue to serve CST right here in Claremont.

The school originated in the San Fernando Valley in 1885, then moved to USC in Los Angeles, then to Claremont in 1956 (when the city of Claremont was just 50 years old). Our main campus will continue to be located in Claremont, and we will have a branch campus in Salem.

The primary reason CST even considered a move to Salem was to achieve long-term financial stability. The truth is that the school has always struggled financially and our leadership, after researching every viable option in Southern California, saw a university partnership to be the school’s best path forward. At Willamette University, CST had found a perfect match. Willamette’s commitment to educational excellence and service to others, along with their Methodist roots, is very much in line with CST’s mission and vision. The hope was that by selling our property in Claremont and restructuring in Salem, the school would be able to build a sustainable financial budget that would endure for generations.

However, as we began the move to Salem, The Claremont Colleges, Inc. (the consortium) pointed to an old 1957 agreement that included a very complex formula whereby they would have the “right of first offer” and essentially be able to purchase the property for approximately $4 million. Clearly, the property is worth more than ten times that amount, and several appraisers have confirmed that. But the colleges have not been willing to pay a fair current market value.

We finally ended up in court over it.

The Superior Court ruled in CST’s favor, but the Appellate Court, on a minor technicality, overturned the lower court’s decision. We hoped the California Supreme Court would then hear our case, but because they only accept about 1% of the cases that are presented to them, our case just was not big enough. From the state’s perspective, the ruling may have been small, but for our little seminary it was everything.

So we have decided to stay. We are trying to make it work here with a presence in Salem so that the mission of the school, which is to prepare our students for lives of ministry and service, continues. It is truly our students and our mission that drive us. Even in the midst of this litigation, our financial challenges, and a global pandemic, CST is actually experiencing some of the highest student enrollment numbers in the school’s history.

Once we began sharing the news that we were going to stay, to our great delight, many of our alums, donors, and friends have enthusiastically reached out to us with their support. Many were surprised to learn that the seven Claremont Colleges, who are part of the consortium, with an endowment base of more than $4 billion, were not willing to pay current market value for CST’s land.

We hope to find a way to continue the school’s 135+ year mission here in Claremont. I am writing to you in the hope that you, too, will be delighted that we will continue to be neighbors. After sixty-five years in Claremont, CST has certainly been shaped by this community, and we look forward to many more years together.

(A short video of Mr. Rogers speaking on this subject may be viewed at: https://youtu.be/PQqB_geskgM.)

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