By Maddie DeBilzan

A Monday-morning email from Bethel University President Jay Barnes announced the discontinuation of Bethel University Seminary in San Diego, effective after this year. The move was recommended by several working groups tasked with making decisions to make up for this year’s budget shortfall.

The decision was made based on the preference students have shown towards online Seminary classes as opposed to face-to-face degrees.

Last year, the email said, Bethel Seminary launched five fully online programs. 96 new students chose the online programs, while 87 new students chose the programs’ face-to-face counterparts.  

According to Suzanne McInroy, Bethel’s Director of Communications, there are four full-time faculty members, about 10 staff members and 165 degree-seeking students at the Seminary in San Diego.

All of the staff positions at the San Diego locations will be eliminated after this year, according to the email. Full-time faculty and some adjunct faculty members will be invited to teach online Seminary programs. Students currently enrolled in a face-to-face degree at the San Diego location will be able to finish their degrees through a teach-out program.

“The decision to close the BSSD campus has been one of the hardest decisions I have made during my time as president of Bethel University,” Barnes’ email said. “The vision and plan we have for the future of Bethel Seminary provide some comfort, but it grieves me to close the campus in San Diego.”

23 COMMENTS

  1. Current Bethel Seminary San Diego MDIV student here. Having this news come out of left field, via email, just underscores a history of disconnectedness between the BSSD community and Bethel University. I pray that our St. Paul brothers and sisters would know just how pricelessly impactful Bethel Seminary has been for the church in San Diego for decades, providing a venue for theological training in community and building up the framework of whole and holy ministers that have provided leadership for hundreds of churches in the region. Killing BSSD would be a devastating loss for the church. There is simply no place that provides the level of training, community and excellence in an irenic environment in the region like BSSD. The complexity of these times call for institutions like Bethel to help pour into and lead the church in timeless truths in ever-changing contexts.

    When it comes down to it, if killing BSSD was a financial decision, then I would have thought that St. Paul could have communicated this to us well in advance, and even engaged with us and mobilized us to work towards solutions together. I wish we would have been trusted that much to take ownership of our situation – that is, if BSSD wasn’t truly carrying its own load (and that’s a food for thought that the facts can validate). If, on the other hand, this decision is based on an idealogical shift in education, then that’s another story. I disagree at a fundamental level that a fully online Seminary education can produce the “whole and holy” ministers that Bethel purportedly desires for the church. I want a Seminary that will not be reactive to culture or conditions, but rather stand on principle. Where there is vision, there is always a way.

  2. What makes it difficult here in San Diego is that this decision was made without any input from faculty, staff, donors, students, local church leaders or Christian leadership. We did not hear about it until the decision was made. To add insult to injury, Bethel will sell our building which we raised the money for and take it back to St. Paul. We have spent 40 years building relationships with southern California churches, not just in San Diego. Yes we can continue with fully online courses, but without a physical presence it is unlikely that Bethel will get many future seminary students from our area. The way this process was handled has angered the San Diego community and will tarnish the name of Bethel as an entity that cannot be trusted.

  3. Maddie,
    Perhaps you should do a little more research before you make the claim that this decision was based on the preference students have shown towards online Seminary classes as opposed to face-to-face degrees. this is quite misleading. The reason pure and simple that Bethel San Diego is on the chopping block is because the university in Minnesota is losing money and selling off the property in San Diego will help make up the short fall. Bethel San Diego has one of the best MFT programs in the world and the closure of this seminary will be a huge irreplaceable loss. You cant teach the MFT program at any where near the same level of excellence as you can face to face.
    The money for the building (which is nearly paid for) was provided almost exclusively by San Diego donors and alumni who expected their gifts to be used for theological education in San Diego. To sell this property in order to support the Seminary in St. Paul (and online) is reprehensible and contrary to the wishes of the majority of Bethel donors.
    While i agree that some of an M.Div and MFT can be taught online, nothing can even come close to the fellowship and synergy that occurs in a brick and mortar classroom.
    As an alumni of Bethel, we believe that spinning the truth is contrary to the gospel, so if the truth really matters at the Clarion (and Bethel) perhaps you can be a little more forthcoming with the facts.

  4. This is a fiasco that didn’t include any input by BSSD, it’s students, faculty or donors to San Diego campus, it’s projects or student body. The portrayal of “how difficult this was” is a sham; this is about the money and greed and shows an absolute lack of leadership and communication. The complete disregard for SD all for pet projects in another state is disgusting. People should be ashamed of themselves…absolutely abhorrent.

  5. I am a BSSD former student and I attended the meeting tonight. I was very concerned that Bethel Seminary San Diego started out as a partnership between San Diego community and Bethel University and has grown and thrived for over 40 years. That was a trust that the San Diego community had as it has funded to build the building that Bethel University now wants to sell out from under the community.

    The school was built by San Diego donors who believed in the mission and vision of Bethel University. Donors have given millions and millions of dollars into the seminary equipping men and women. Now, this decision has created a lack of trust between the seminary student body and Administration.

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