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WASC approves new University of the West Buddhist chaplaincy program

Los Angeles Chronicle, August 14, 2008

ROSEMEAD, CA (USA) -- University of the West President Dr. Allen Huang announced on Thursday the interim approval of its Buddhist Chaplaincy Program by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.

UWest will immediately begin recruiting students to the three-year program for the training of chaplains, who would work at hospitals, prisons and in other distressing environments for the spiritual care of suffering individuals. UWest has set a target date of spring semester 2009 for the start of the program, however no official start date has been set.

"This highly anticipated program will be affordable and above excellence in quality," Huang said. "We are working diligently to make University of the West the preeminent location for the academic study of Buddhism."

Huang said there is a high demand for an affordable Buddhist chaplaincy program that is accredited.

"The development of the Inter-Faith Master of Divinity program at UWest is the product of intense collaboration with hospital-based clinical pastoral education programs, Christian and Buddhist denominations and eminent theologians from the United States and abroad," said Dr. Kyle Matsumoto Burch, as Assistant Dean of Enrollment at UWest, formerly of San Francisco Theological School and the Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley. "We are looking forward to a new way of meeting the ministry needs of a new generation."

University of the West is now one of three American schools offering an accredited Buddhist chaplaincy program.

"The significance of WASC approval means other institutions are far more likely to recognized the program, and employers as well," said Dr. Ken Locke, Chair of UWest´s Department of Religious Studies. "Anybody can give out degrees. Accreditation affirms that our peers in the world of academic learning and professional training have recognized us."

It took professor Locke nearly two years to develop the Buddhist chaplaincy program and guide it through the accreditation process. He was assisted by Danny Fisher, a well-known Buddhist chaplain who played a crucial role in developing the class and training curriculum.

"One of the obstacles for Buddhists seeking certification as professional chaplains is the lack of accredited graduate training programs," Fisher said. "The program here at UWest is important because it helps to solve this problem and encourage the professional development of Buddhist chaplains."

Students in the chaplaincy program will be required to live on UWest´s campus for two years. "A two year on-campus residency requirement is vital for chaplaincy training," Locke said. "Since an indispensible part of being an effective chaplain is good interpersonal skills, this residency requirement will allow UWest to evaluate and help students develop these skills."

The academic side of the program will focus on developing an understanding of Buddhism, comparative religious study, psychology and some management skills. The training side focuses on communication, counseling, meditation and spiritual exploration," Locke said.

Interestingly, the program grants a Master of Divinity degree, even though the concept of God is not necessarily central to Buddhism. Locke explained. However, University of the West backed away from calling the degree a Doctorate of Buddhist Studies. "If we called it a DBS no one would know what it is. ´M.Div.´ immediately tells everyone you´ve studied chaplaincy."

University of the West is was founded in 1991 and accredited by WASC in 2006. It is one of three accredited Buddhist universities in the United States and the only one of the three offering a Master´s in Business Administration degree. It´s current enrollment is approximately 260 students. UWest is located at 1409 N. Walnut Grove Ave., Rosemead, CA 91770.


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