Following legal battle, Claremont School of Theology will stay local

"A tall tan building stands proudly next to a Claremont School of Theology sign.
The Claremont School of Theology’s attempts to leave its Southern California campus behind were stymied by financial challenges and a previous agreement with the Claremont Colleges. (Olivia Shrager • The Student Life)

After five years of litigation and an unsuccessful appeal via the California Supreme Court, the Claremont School of Theology is staying put. The decision came after CST was found to be financially bound, under a land agreement dating back to 1957, to the Claremont Colleges.

Since 2015, CST — a graduate school of religion and philosophy and one of the United Methodist Church’s thirteen official theological schools — sought a relocation to Salem, Oregon, to partner with Willamette University amid growing financial concerns. However, after a series of lawsuits with the Claremont Colleges, CST will stay in town a while longer. 

After CST showed initial interest in a move in 2015, the Claremont Colleges offered to buy the land for $14 million and pay for needed renovations to housing facilities, as the original land agreement gives the colleges business transaction priority before a third party can be involved. 

In 2016, CST sued the Claremont Colleges over the price dispute in an attempt to renounce the land agreement from 1957. 

Interim Vice President of Communications Steve Horswill-Johnston CST ’89 told TSL the land agreement allows the Claremont Colleges to repurchase the property at approximately 10 percent of its current market value. TSL reported in 2017 that the Claremont Colleges have disputed claims that its offer for a portion of the land is under the market price, saying that based on the original agreement the land is worth $4 million.

CST is still struggling financially,” Horswill-Johnston said via email. “Like many progressive institutions, you might say CST’s current financial and legal woes are in its DNA.”

“CST is still struggling financially. Like many progressive institutions, you might say CST’s current financial and legal woes are in its DNA.” — Steve Horswill-Johnston

The monetization of CST’s property, in partnership with Willamette University, was a “difficult decision, based on research and the example of many free-standing schools,” Horswill-Johnston said. 

But “the mission of the School and the progressive, life-affirming theological education provided at CST,” he added, was much more important than the school’s location.

After challenging the land agreement, CST was handed a short-lived victory that was overturned in the appellate court in both January and June. CST argued that the court’s decision was settled on a minor technicality and sought to make an appeal to the California Supreme Court, but the case was declined. 

“From the state’s perspective, the ruling may have been small, but for our little seminary it was everything,” CST professor Frank Rogers said in a letter published in the Claremont Courier.

In a response to Rogers, the colleges argued that keeping the property within the consortium is an important aspect of protecting the legacy of the Scripps family, which donated the land in 1925.

“Throughout the five years of litigation TCC has repeatedly attempted to negotiate a settlement agreement that would help to address CST’s financial difficulties and avoid litigation,” TCCS’ statement said. “Unfortunately, CST has repeatedly rebuffed those attempts.”

Despite the decision, CST has found one means of thriving: establishing a two-campus model. CST will maintain its presence in Southern California with its main campus located in Claremont, while also retaining a partnership in Salem with Willamette.

“If the School can cut expenses, continue to experience strong enrollment and grow its donor database, a two-campus model, with Claremont being its base, might help CST live into its vision of becoming the foremost progressive theological school in the Western United States,” Rogers said.

Facebook Comments