Claremont School of Theology
FAQ Regarding Litigation with Claremont Colleges
How we arrived here
In 2015, Claremont School of Theology developed a strategic plan based on three goals:
Promoting transformative education, engaging local and global communities, and achieving long-term institutional stability.
CST leadership strives every day to see these goals come to fruition, and along the way has made bold decisions. The goal that has been the most elusive of the three listed above is “achieving long-term institutional stability.” Certainly, CST provides innovative, transformative, and life-changing theological education, and CST’s numbers and demographics prove engagement with local and global communities. Yet, CST has only survived financially on the prayers and gifts of faithful friends since its inception.
At the turn of the 19th century the School was embroiled in litigation over the sale of land and chose to embed with the University of Southern California. Decades later, when the leadership chose to become independent again and to relocate to Claremont, the School was still in debt. Today, CST is still in debt, and for the last couple of years has once again had to engage a legal team over the sale of its property. Through it all, CST’s leadership knows that it will not be the courts that determine whether or not CST has a future. Like many progressive institutions, you might say CST’s current financial and legal woes are in its DNA. In spite of CST’s current financial and legal challenges, students continue to 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. Indeed, CST exists to educate pastors, chaplains, professors, and nonprofit leaders who can respond empathically and generously to a rich and diverse world, and who can lead others to do the same. For this mission, CST’s leadership continues to be committed to finding a solution to its challenges and to carving a new path forward.
What caused CST to try to sell its property?
After decades of struggling financially, CST’s leadership determined the best way forward was to monetize its property in order to focus on its mission. From 2016 to 2021, the School explored and worked on a partnership with a university in order to reduce not only ongoing expenses, but also launch dual academic programs and provide students with more services. Although a difficult decision, based on research and the example of many free-standing schools, CST’s leadership agreed that the mission of the School and the progressive, life-affirming theological education provided at CST was more important than the School’s location.
How did the litigation with the Claremont Colleges begin?
Back in 1957, when the decision was made to leave USC and relocate to Claremont, the School’s leadership purchased the land from the Claremont Colleges under an extraordinarily unique and restrictive agreement. That agreement would allow the Colleges to buy back the property at a fraction of its value through a complicated formula. It is this formula that CST was fighting in the courts. Because of that restriction, the only entity that has the right to purchase the property is the Claremont Colleges. Very likely the School’s founders thought the School would be in Claremont forever, but because the property is CST’s primary remaining asset, the Board of Trustees and Executive Team concluded that for the future of the School, CST needed to sell the property.
Based on an early 1980’s California law, CST believed this 1957 restriction was no longer applicable and valid and that the School should receive fair market value for the property. CST leadership approached the Claremont Colleges before putting it on the market with the idea of selling only part of the campus. The Colleges offered $14 million for that portion. After deliberation, it was concluded that for economies of scale, reducing the budget, reducing the operation, and creating a sustainable financial model, it would be necessary to sell the entire campus. By selling the entire property at market value, CST would have been able to begin to rebuild its endowment, repay its loans, and reduce its costs. CST leadership returned to the Colleges to ask for an offer for the sale of the entire campus. Their offer was the same, $14 million, citing the 1957 agreement. Early on in the litigation process, the lower courts agreed with CST’s claim, causing the Colleges to appeal. Unfortunately for CST, the Court of Appeals reversed the lower court’s decision which would actually allow the Colleges to pay even less for the entire campus.
Does CST still want to sell its property?
No, CST no longer wishes to sell its property, however, after nearly six years of litigation, the Los Angeles Superior Court ruled on January 6, 2022, that CST is required to provide an offer to sell its property to The Claremont Colleges, Inc. When The Claremont Colleges, Inc. provided CST with an offer of $4 million for the entire property, CST’s leadership was left with no choice except to file for arbitration, which is afforded to us in the original 1957 agreement. As has been the case since the beginning, CST desires to receive a fair, reasonable, and equitable price for its property. We are hoping that the arbitration process will conclude by the end of 2023 (You can read more about the court decision here.)
Did the litigation start because of an antiquated 1957 agreement with the Claremont Colleges?
Yes. 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 the Colleges. However, over the last several years, multiple additional claims have been made by both institutions.
Why did CST plan to move to Willamette University in Salem, Oregon?
CST’s leadership developed a strategy that would set the school up for long-term success and best serve its students and faculty. During that process, CST was drawn to Willamette because the two institutions share common values and a commitment to high-quality education programs. In addition, Willamette has a connection to The United Methodist Church as does CST. Consequently, on July 6, 2017, President Kuan announced that CST was in the early stages of exploring the possibility of embedding within Willamette University, in Salem, Oregon.
CST would have become Claremont School of Theology at Willamette University and was to be one of three graduate schools connected to Willamette. While operations would have moved to Salem, CST had always planned to maintain a presence in Southern California to serve its alumni/ae and church connections here.
Is CST still moving to Willamette University?
No. Given the current state of CST’s litigation with the Claremont Colleges, a merger with Willamette University is no longer possible.
Why did CST plan to move to Westwood United Methodist Church, Los Angeles?
Since CST is compelled by the court to sell its property, and with the ending of any merger possibility with Willamette University, CST explored numerous options of relocation. When conversations began at the invitation of Westwood UMC to explore the possibility of a partnership, and the relocation of the school to the premises of the church, CST engaged all due diligence in the process, culminating in the signing of an agreement with Westwood UMC in March 2023. There are many advantages to this new site for CST. For further information, see “Claremont School of Theology Announces Relocation to Los Angeles”.
What is Yalong Group USA? Do they own or lease CST’s Claremont property?
In June of 2019, a lease agreement was finalized with the Yalong Group USA, an organization that planned to establish a bilingual Chinese-English college on CST’s campus. In Claremont, the Yalong Group USA seeks to expand their successful K-12 education model to include undergraduate programs and to use the CST campus to further educate their teachers.
Yalong USA’s owner, Zhang Wenrong, is the son of a construction worker with only a high school education. He began his career as a seventeen-year-old entrepreneur selling electronics. From there, he began buying and selling Japanese motorcycles in northern China – making his first million dollars before the age of twenty-one. With such business acumen, Zhang reinvested his money by starting a wire and cable company and is now known across China as the cable and wire king. Twenty years ago, he established Shanghai Gold Apple Bilingual School – recognizing the gap in his own education and in Chinese state schools, and motivated by the need for better schools for his children. Today, the school boasts nearly 3000 residential students in grades K-12 from more than ten different countries.
President Kuan visited the school in 2018 and was impressed by their curriculum, facilities, students, and faculty. He said, “Gold Apple Bilingual School is an impressive operation with large classrooms, beautiful green spaces, and admirable goals.”
What is the current state of our relationship with Yalong Group USA? Will they still lease the property if they don’t have an option to buy?
CST continues to have an agreement with Yalong, However, given the current circumstances, Yalong Group USA will not lease the property and is working with CST leadership on alternative options.
How can I help?
CST’s mission will continue, regardless of location. You can help by becoming a faithful donor. CST invites you to engage with the School on social media, promote CST in your churches and communities, and give regularly to CST’s annual fund. Your commitment to the School is the best way to see it thrive and is an encouragement to students, faculty, staff, and the board of trustees.
Give to the school at: https://cst.edu/give/