Court Rules in Property Dispute at Claremont School of Theology

By Alejandra Molina
Claremont School of Theology
The Claremont School of Theology in Claremont, California. (Photo courtesy of the Claremont School of Theology)

The Claremont School of Theology must offer to sell its property to the neighboring Claremont Colleges for a price below market value, a Los Angeles County Superior Court ruled earlier this month.

The Claremont Colleges — made up of five undergraduate liberal arts colleges and two graduate schools — and the Claremont School of Theology, a United Methodist seminary, have been in litigation over the land for nearly six years.

At the center of the dispute is an agreement reached in 1957, when the Claremont Colleges sold the seminary land to relocate to Claremont, a city about 30 miles east of Los Angeles.

Under this decades-old agreement, the consortium of colleges has the right to repurchase the land — for less than the fair market value — if the seminary puts it up for sale. Claremont School of Theology leaders have sought to sell at a higher value than stipulated by the agreement. The seminary had it appraised for nearly $40 million and estimated that under the agreement the price could be as low as 10% of market value. The Claremont Colleges have previously offered $14 million for the property, but the seminary said that wasn’t sufficient.

The court order states the seminary “must promptly make an offer of sale” to the Claremont Colleges in accordance with the “terms and conditions” detailed in the 1957 agreement.

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Claremont School of Theology leaders, in a Jan. 6 statement, said they are “considering appealing the decision and will continue to use every avenue available, including arbitration, to receive a fair, reasonable, and equitable price for its property.”

Kah-Jin Jeffrey Kuan, president of the School of Theology, said last fall that the seminary would likely close if it wasn’t able to sell the property for close to the appraised value, according to Inside Higher Ed.

The seminary in 2015 sought to ease its financial struggles by merging with Willamette University, a private university affiliated with the Methodist Church in Salem, Oregon. Due to the litigation, the seminary last summer said selling the property was “no longer an option.” Instead, Claremont School of Theology leaders moved toward becoming a two-campus institution, with a home base in Claremont and a branch at Willamette.

Since the pandemic, the seminary has held its classes online, with faculty members based in Salem, Claremont and elsewhere, and administrators in Claremont, according to United Methodist News.

“Our number one priority is ensuring our current and prospective students maintain access to the world-class education they want and deserve from Claremont School of Theology. We prefer to carry out that mission on our campus in Claremont, where we have successfully done so for more than 135 years,” Kuan said in the statement.

“We hope to collaborate in good faith with The Claremont Colleges Inc. to identify a mutually beneficial and fair resolution to this matter that will allow (Claremont School of Theology) to continue to operate on our present property, perhaps on a smaller footprint,” Kuan said.

Meanwhile, Claremont Colleges officials, in a Jan. 6 statement, said they were pleased with the court’s rulings and remained “steadfast” in ensuring the land “is used in a manner consistent with the higher education mission of The Claremont Colleges.”

The Claremont Colleges said it envisions using the property for additional student housing, office and classroom spaces and new academic programs.

“The litigation has been complex and taken several years, but (the Claremont Colleges) is the prevailing party. The rulings issued provide a clear path forward for resolution of this matter,” the statement read.

Alejandra MolinaAlejandra Molina is a national reporter for Religion News Service.



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2 thoughts on “Court Rules in Property Dispute at Claremont School of Theology”

  1. A lot of Christian institutions are struggling with financial viability. Add California living expenses to the mix and the struggle is even more acute.

    It’s unfortunate that the seminary can’t see a way forward without getting market value, but it’s obvious they only have the land because they agreed to these terms at the time of purchase. It’s like buying land with an easement that isn’t being used. You got it at that price for a reason.

  2. Sounds like the Seminary is fully of whiney dishonest cheaters who will not operate according to their agreements. How in God’s name do you call yourself a Christian educational institution when you will are fundamentally dishonest – and demonstrate by seeking to break your own covenant??

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