CC onstituents easily approved the transfer of Oakwood University from the Seventh-day Adventist Church’s General Conference to its North American Division in a move that won’t affect the amount of church money that it gets every year but will lead to a downgrade of its Ellen G. White Estate Branch Office.
Constituents supported the switch in a 129-1 vote on Wednesday, the last day of the Annual Council, a major church business meeting at the General Conference’s headquarters in Silver Spring, Maryland. A subsequent vote to amend the university’s bylaws passed 114-0. Neither vote had any abstentions.
The transfer earlier was endorsed by the board of trustees at the Huntsville, Alabama-based university and by the General Conference, which oversees the Adventist world church. Wednesday’s decision clears the way for a final vote by the North American Division in a few weeks.
“Welcome home to your home division,” Daniel R. Jackson, president of the North American Division, told the meeting on Wednesday.
Administrators at Oakwood, a traditionally black school for North Americans, initiated the conversation to transfer to the North American Division after deciding that it made sense to align more closely with the division where its target students live.
The General Conference has sponsored the school since Adventist Church pioneer Ellen G. White co-founded it in 1896. Without the General Conference, the school likely wouldn’t have survived the troubled racial history of the U.S. South.
University president Leslie N. Pollard praised White’s influence on Oakwood.
“If there is anyone close to being a saint in the African-American community, it is Ellen White,” he said at the constituency meeting.
Ella Simmons, a General Conference vice president who has actively worked with Oakwood on the transfer, said ahead of the vote that she believed White would have approved of the plan. She said she had a passage from White’s book Ministry of Healing that applied to the situation.
Reading a list of questions on what an engaged couple should ask before marriage, she said: “Let the questions be raised, ‘Will this union help me heavenward? Will it increase my love for God? And will it enlarge my sphere of usefulness in this life?’ If these reflections present no drawback, then in the fear of God move forward” Healing (p. 356).
The transfer will lead to the downgrade of the university’s Ellen G. White Estate Branch Office, a depository of White documents and other historical materials from the main office at the General Conference headquarters. Only General Conference-sponsored schools are allowed to have the higher status, and the Oakwood facility will be renamed a White Estate research center.
Jackson said the only impact of the change would be on the sign outside the center’s door.
“Nothing is going to change—just the name,” he said in an interview after the vote.
Jackson also said that the size of the university’s subsidy would stay the same but come from the North American Division rather than the General Conference.
The General Conference has earmarked $1.28 million for the university in 2015, a 2 percent increase from 2014, according to General Conference financial statements released at the Annual Council. The North American Division will deduct that amount from the money that it sends to the General Conference and give it to the university, Jackson said.
Oakwood is in good financial health, said Pollard, who last month opened a university-owned franchise, Edible Arrangements, in a bid to cut student tuition. Oakwood is the first Adventist school to own a franchise.
Pollard said 10 percent of the university’s $50 million annual budget comes from North American Division institutions.
General Conference Treasurer Robert E. Lemon concurred with Pollard’s financial assessment.
“Oakwood University is in a very, very good financial position,” he said.