University of the West (commonly known as UWest) is a private, not-for-profit, university located in Rosemead, California. It was founded in 1990〔(Welcome to the University of the West )〕 by Venerable Master Hsing Yun,〔(Our Founder )〕 founder of the Taiwan-based Buddhist order Fo Guang Shan〔 and Hsi Lai Temple,〔 the North American order headquarters. The school offered its first class in spring of 1991.
UWest is a private, non profit school〔(Mission Statement )〕 accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.〔 Although founded by a Buddhist organization, UWest is not a Buddhist college, which is a term typically used for monasteries or schools that train people for the monastic order. University of the West is an accredited undergraduate and advanced degree-granting institution.
UWest students are not required to subscribe to the Buddhist faith or practice Buddhism in any form. Indeed, UWest's undergraduate and graduate programs in Business Administration garner higher enrollment numbers than its undergraduate and graduate programs in Religious Studies.
The university, then known as Hsi Lai University () started in a small classroom in Hsi Lai Temple, the North American head branch of the Fo Guang Shan order. In its first semester (1991) the school had only four professors and a student body of around 30 students made up of monks and nuns from the temple. Early instructors were Dr. Roger Schmidt, Dr. Dan Lusthaus, Dr. Jim Santucci (now chair of the Department of Comparative Religion at California State University, Fullerton), and Dr. Lewis Lancaster, an eminent Western scholar of Buddhism, a former UWest president and now Chair Emeritus at University of California, Berkeley. Over the years, each of those original professors have returned to the UWest campus to teach or act in administrative roles (or both).
In 1996, Fo Guang Shan purchased a property at 1409 Walnut Grove Ave. in Rosemead, California, a multicultural suburb of the San Gabriel Valley, approximately ten miles east of downtown Los Angeles. The campus belonged to Biola University at the time and was the site of Biola's seminary school. According to Dr. Jim Chen, a UWest professor of accounting and one of the original negotiators of the property purchase, the Christian-based Biola organization was reluctant to sell the property to a Buddhist organization. After a tussle, the property was successfully purchased.
At that time, the university decided to pursue accreditation while also adding additional programs to its offerings. Undergraduate and advanced degrees in business, English, psychology, history, philosophy, Chinese language, and comparative religious studies were added. An English as a Second Language program was also established, given the international character of students attracted to the school. The degree programs in history, philosophy, Chinese language, and the bachelor of arts in Buddhist studies, are no longer offered, however they remain accredited should the university revisit them in the future.
The accreditation process took approximately 10 years to complete, with former Dean of Academic Affairs and noted Buddhist scholar Dr. Ananda Guruge steering the drive for WASC recognition. Accreditation was granted in February, 2006. Shortly thereafter a drive to attract American students to the campus was initiated. As of 2014, approximately 40% of the student body are American citizens or permanent residents.
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