UOP’s Methodist Affiliation

UOP’s Methodist Affiliation

On July 10, 1851, Pacific was founded by Methodist ministers Edward Bannister, Isaac Owen, and William Taylor in Santa Clara, California.  In its original charter, Pacific was first known as “California Wesleyan College”, keeping in it a common tribute to the founder of Methodism.  A group of 24 Methodist men, however, realized its initial request to found a university, not a college, and wanted a much more bolder name which would stand out.  Although originally the Supreme Court was not authorized to incorporate “universities” in the charter, only “colleges”, the legislature granted the Methodists’ request for a name change and resolved its oversight to authorize the founding of “universities” as well as “colleges”.  The once known “California Wesleyan College” was now known as “University of the Pacific” on March 29, 1852.  One of Pacific’s professors of the nineteenth century, James Martin, stated his response to the name change: “They gave her a name sufficiently expressive of their enlarged ideas of her destiny.” (Gilbertson, pg. 7).


As soon as the name change was approved, construction began in Santa Clara.  The founders of Pacific planned to build the university less than a mile west of the Jesuit’s Santa Clara College, given the competition between Protestants and Catholics in the Bay Area.  Their actions proved that Rome would not rule higher education.  Methodists carried substantial power as they worked to spread their influence among other colleges in the U.S.  As one scholar summarizes, “Methodism had become the largest Protestant denomination by speaking the language of the people, winning those people to a heart-felt religion, and creating a system of circuit riders and local lay leaders and exhorters to establish societies of Methodists across the frontier.” (Gilbertson, pg. 8).  It took Methodists a while to seek the value of higher education, but once they knew that schools would  contribute to human betterment, they established 1,200 schools, universities, and colleges.


From the 1850’s to mid 1870’s, Pacific’s enrollments were dropping and debts were rising due to The Civil War.  Instead of closing down Pacific, the board was exempt from financial responsibility for a year.  After the war ended, the Santa Clara campus was sold and Pacific moved its new campus to College Park, San Jose in 1871.  The campus was once again moved to its final, permanent location in Stockton, California in 1923 for financial, academic, and demographic reasons.  In 1943, another landmark was established on Pacific’s Stockton campus – Morris Chapel.  Percy Morris offered half the funds to build the chapel. Morris Chapel’s stained-glass rose window serves as a symbol of the Temple Methodist Church in San Francisco and serves as a memorial to board chair Rolla and Mrs. Watt.


Pacific continued to thrive as a college, however, the board began to consider its relationship with the United Methodist Church (UMC) in regard to the constitutional issue of state and federal aid to students at church-related schools.  The problem was that higher court rulings wanted to halt all public aid to institutions controlled by religious groups.  The only way to keep federal aid from the state was to “reduce or completely eliminate the church’s control of the board” (Gilbertson, pg. 161), which provided that the Board of Regents be elected by the Methodist Church.  To change this, approval of the two regional units of the Methodist Church that presided over the College was required.  Relationship with the church was not financially beneficial because they did not contribute as much.  Most schools found more success in conducting fundraisers themselves to raise money instead of relying on the church.  Although Pacific was ruled predominantly by Methodists, the UMC was supportive of Pacific’s decision to cut off ties with them in 1969.  If Pacific hadn’t separated from the UMC, they would’ve lost financial support from the state to students, and therefore would’ve resulted in high debts including a loss of students.


Today, UOP readily acknowledges its Methodist heritage but does not state it having affiliation with the UMC.  The move to Stockton declined active relationship with the church because the Valley was populated with diverse students.  The decrease of Methodist clergy was also a sign it was time to diversify leadership.  Gilbertson states, “The most important shift in religious identity began in the 1970s when Pacific moved from being a college of Christian culture to a university with specific human and community values embracing all religious traditions… Of the core values of Pacific planted by the Methodist founders long ago, the most important are respecting academic freedom and honoring the relationship of reason and faith, nurturing whole-student development and close community, standing for social justice, and preparing for future community leadership and service.” (pg. 163-164).

Link to subsection 2 about: Religious Education