March 15, 2023 | CLAREMONT, Calif.
Claremont School of Theology (CST) announced today that for the first time in 66 years it will be relocating this summer to Los Angeles, CA. In existence since 1885, CST will be located at Westwood United Methodist Church.
CST, a leading theological school in the West, has been in Claremont, CA, since 1957. It was previously located on the campus at the then Methodist-affiliated University of Southern California (USC) before moving to Claremont. The school will continue to offer all its current degree programs at its new location, strategically located within walking distance from University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and a short distance from USC. The name of the school will remain Claremont School of Theology.
“We are beginning to reimagine CST around our signature values of ‘Compassion, Justice, and Belonging’ by expanding upon our recognized distance learning excellence and transformative in-person hybrid experiences, allowing for increased flexibility and accessibility as a global community of learners. CST will be expanding both its in-person and 100% online programs,” said Bishop Grant Hagiya, President ad interim. “We see Westwood as a strategic move that allows us to begin to retire debt, expand our online digital offerings, and continue to reach toward our 150th year.”
“In this season of radical transformation across theological education, CST’s Board of Trustees, along with our faculty, staff, and students, have remained focused on our mission,” said board chair, Rev. Patricia Farris. “The extensive facilities of our beloved campus in Claremont are no longer necessary for that mission. Resources formerly dedicated to maintenance and upkeep can now be shifted to support the teaching and mentoring of new generations of pastors, chaplains, leaders of non-profits, and community-builders.
“Our new partnership with Westwood UMC maximizes their facilities and opens new partnerships with other educational institutions and faith communities across the greater Los Angeles area. I am grateful to the Westwood congregation for sharing the vision in new, innovative, and deeply faithful configurations,” Farris said.
The relocation to Los Angeles will deepen the school’s mission and emphasis on both in-person and distance learning and will ultimately fold into a strategic plan with renewed focus on the principles of Compassion, Justice, and Belonging. The plan is in the early stages and is currently labeled “Claremont 2.0.” The plan will expand the range and quality of its programs and community partnerships. The school has also launched a new website design today, CST.edu, that will more deeply share its progressive core values.
The school has been working diligently for its mission to continue since trying to restructure its finances and exploring a merger with Willamette University in Salem, Oregon in 2016. Those plans were halted because of a now nearly 10-year court battle with The Claremont Colleges, Inc. (TCC). TCC cited a 1957 agreement that stated that if the school sold its Claremont campus, TCC would have the opportunity to purchase the property for pennies on the dollar. Based on an early 1980’s California law, CST believed this 1957 restriction was no longer applicable. The disagreement on the interpretation and validity of the 1957 agreement and formula is what initiated the legal battle between CST and TCC.
The amount TCC is required to pay CST for the campus is at the heart of the litigation, and now both parties have entered arbitration which is expected to be completed later this year.
Dr. Hagiya also stated that, “students choose CST because of its commitment to the global church, to interreligious engagement, and to rigorous, life-giving approaches to theology, spiritual formation, and the life of vital faith communities. We believe that Westwood is the perfect location to carry out that unique approach to theological education,” he said.
“Westwood UMC is pleased to welcome CST, and proud to be able to use our beautiful campus in a location in Los Angeles as a home for progressive theological education,” said Rev Molly Vetter, pastor of Westwood UMC and graduate of CST. “The congregation has a deep commitment to theological inquiry and a long legacy of partnership in interfaith work and justice-seeking that are a natural fit with CST’s commitments. We look forward to ways that CST’s presence will contribute to our congregation’s practice of justice and compassion,” said Rev Vetter. “The school will have exclusive and shared use of two wings of our large church campus. This is an exciting time for the congregation, and we are confident CST will be a beacon of theological education in the Los Angeles area,” Vetter said.
CST’s leadership is working with apartment property managers and owners surrounding Westwood, including housing executives who are members of the Westwood UMC congregation, and is identifying affordable housing options that the school will subsidize for CST students currently living on its campus. Beyond subsidizing the cost of housing for its current students living in offered Westwood area apartments, CST will also be paying their moving costs.
“This is the exciting conclusion to a long process to find the perfect location for such a vital institution like CST,” stated Dr. Jeffrey Kuan, the school’s president who is currently on sabbatical leave. “We are eager to be in a location that will enable us to continue our mission.
“There has been a sea change in theological education the last two decades, and the COVID pandemic has confirmed for us that we do not need a 16-acre campus to teach and train our future leaders,” said Kuan. “Yes, leaving our large Claremont campus will be difficult, but it has become a burden for our future success,” the president said.
CST’s transition to Los Angeles will occur this summer.
Claremont School of Theology is United Methodist in origin and affiliation and ecumenical and interreligious in spirit. CST is one of 13 United Methodist seminaries, currently located in Claremont, California, and currently in a final review and affirmation process with WSCUC of the Westwood location. Please take a moment to explore CST’s new website and consider giving to its future at CST.edu/give.