Foundation and originating religious status
The founding Charter of the Western Orthodox Academy, issued on 1 August 1945, defined its authority as issuing directly from the powers inherent in the Chancellor as Catholicos of the Catholicate of the West as a fully autocephalous Orthodox and Catholic communion. These powers originate firstly in the commission to Mar Julius of Iona (Jules Raimond Ferrette) (1828-1904) on 2 June 1866 (Old Style) as Bishop of Iona and its dependencies by the Syrian Orthodox Church, and in the subsequent erection by Mar Julius of a British Patriarchate on 6 March 1874, united with the Catholicate of the West since 29 January 1945. Secondly, they originate in the acts of the Council of London of 17 October 1943, which established the Ancient Orthodox Catholic Church as the continuation of the Western extensions of the Syrian Orthodox Church. The Western Orthodox Catholic Church, having been formed by a Deed of Declaration on 23 March 1944, was then erected by the Patriarch of Antioch of the Ancient Orthodox Catholic Church into the Catholicate of the West. The Charter of the Western Orthodox Academy was issued by the Catholicos of the West on 1 August 1945. Subsequently, the Western Orthodox Academy was renamed the Western Orthodox University. Today, the Western Orthodox Academy functions as a division of the Western Orthodox University offering programmes in theology.
It may therefore be seen that the Western Orthodox University did not owe its foundation to any civil power or secular government, but was established purely on ecclesiastical authority. However, legal and regulatory developments since 1945 have meant that while the religious authority of its foundation has not at any point been rejected, the Western Orthodox University has been compelled to seek and obtain secular authority to grant degrees.
Corporate status of the Western Orthodox University (Commonwealth of Dominica)
The Western Orthodox University first gained additional secular authority for its grant of degrees and related academic activities in 1950 (within five years of its foundation), and has been incorporated twice more since then. It is this secular authority in the form of its status as an incorporated body that provides the legal basis for its operation as a degree-granting institution today.
The University has obtained the status of an incorporated body three times during its history. The first such incorporation was on 20 February 1950 in India, under Act XXI of 1860 (registration no. 5/1950), and the second on 6 August 1977 in California (corporation 213240). Both corporations are now inactive. Currently the University is incorporated in the Commonwealth of Dominica. The Commonwealth of Dominica is a member of the Commonwealth of Nations, the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie and UNESCO. The certificate of incorporation issued by the Commonwealth of Dominica provides the University with full legal authority to function as a private international university and to accept students worldwide.
The Western Orthodox University’s corporate basis in the Commonwealth of Dominica is established under Commonwealth of Dominica Statutory Rules and Orders (SRO) no. 65 of 1996, which authorizes the International Business Companies Act 1996 (“the IBC Act”). The University is incorporated under this Act as Western Orthodox University Ltd. with corporation number 12335 and incorporation date 11 June 2007.
Under the law of the Commonwealth of Dominica, no government approval or accreditation is necessary in order for a private university company formed under the above legislation to award its own degrees using the powers granted by its memorandum of association, duly approved by the Registrar of Companies. Section 4 of this document defines the Objects of the Western Orthodox University Ltd. as follows:
4b. to design, implement, deliver and promote programmes of tertiary education of an academic, professional and avocational nature, via classroom and distance learning methodologies.
4c. to examine and assess the achievement of candidates and to award academic, professional and avocational degrees to candidates successfully completing the requirements of their programmes.
4d. to collaborate with Universities and other institutions, to form partnerships and consortia for joint award schemes, and to join with other institutions for the purposes of institutional and programmatic accreditation and quality assurance.
This degree-granting authority, together with common law precedents concerning university title and the conducting of university work, means that the Western Orthodox University, Ltd., is legally permitted to conduct all activities proper to an international, private institution of postsecondary education, including the conferral of degrees up to the doctoral level, in any jurisdiction that permits this activity. Western Orthodox University, Ltd., maintains its registered office in Roseau Valley, Commonwealth of Dominica.
The Western Orthodox University is a private international university incorporated in the Commonwealth of Dominica under the IBC Act. As such, it is not a part of the Dominican or any other state education system, is not a government-accredited university, and does not award state degrees. Moreover, it accepts no state funding in connection with any of its activities. Indeed, the University does not offer educational activities within Dominica itself, instead being specifically authorized to operate internationally and outside Dominican territory under its statute. The activities of Dominica-licensed private universities operating wholly outside that country are subject to statutory exemption and are the responsibility of the Registrar of Companies rather than the Ministry of Education and the National Accreditation Board, which are concerned solely with institutions that operate on Dominican territory. Further information concerning the University’s legal status is available on this page.
For the avoidance of doubt, the Western Orthodox University is not a United Kingdom, European Union, or United States university, and its degrees may not be considered equivalent to government-accredited degrees that are issued in those jurisdictions. Because it is not a United Kingdom university it does not have recognition or accreditation from the government of the United Kingdom. Because it is not a United States university it is not regionally or nationally accredited by a government-recognized accrediting body in the United States.
Status of the Apostolic Episcopal Church
The Apostolic Episcopal Church, with which the Western Orthodox University and the Catholicate of the West have been united since 1977, was granted the power to award degrees in sacred theology in its own right or through any seminary it may authorize for the purpose, by the State of New York, USA, under the Religious Corporations Law, article 3-A, section 50, in 1933. However, all degrees described in this website are granted under the authority of the Western Orthodox University’s incorporation in the Commonwealth of Dominica.
The international context
The status of the Western Orthodox University as a private international education provider sometimes causes some confusion as to how it should be categorized within the educational spectrum. The assumption that all degree-awarding bodies must be part of a national system of education is frequent, but incorrect. Moreover, private education providers are not always listed in official publications and databases of tertiary institutions.
One approach to the matter is provided by the European Area of Recognition (a consortium consisting of a number of national recognition bodies from European Union member states), whose European Area of Recognition Manual (European Area of Recognition Manual: Practical Guidelines for Fair Recognition of Qualifications; Nuffic, 2012) contains a chapter devoted to “Non-Recognised but Legitimate Institutions” (chapter 16, p. 69). This says,
“When an institution is not recognised in a national system, it is important to not simply dismiss it. An effort should be made to ascertain whether the institution can be considered to be a legitimate provider even though it is not officially recognised, in which case a fair and transparent assessment is still possible. ‘A Non-recognised but legitimate institution’ refers to institutions which are not formally recognised by the authorities officially responsible for the accreditation and recognition of institutions in a given system, but which may offer study programmes of comparable level to other formally recognised programmes. Such institutions may include government or military institutions, adult education centres or religious seminaries.”
This statement correctly recognizes that religious institutions and adult education centres, such as the Western Orthodox University, may have their origins and maintain their operations independently from national systems of education, and goes on to say that some (as in the case of the University) may also be transnational education providers. It recommends an approach to recognition based on the gathering of information and research about the institution in question. Having given an example of the approach for dealing with a credential from a religious institution that is not accredited by the relevant quality assurance authority in the home country, it recommends that “An analysis of the qualification may lead to some form of recognition, on the basis of the course entry requirements, duration, structure, learning outcomes and any external quality assurance mechanisms which may apply. Details of research conducted and the decision made are then saved centrally to ensure consistency in future assessments.” (p. 70)
Another approach is offered by the Union Nacional de Educacion Superior Continua Organizada and its UNESCO Centre Central and South America. In its publication “International Handbook of Universities” 2018 edition, this organization lists the Western Orthodox University in its category of Transnational Universities, explaining,
“The term Transnational Universities describes universities that operate in multiple jurisdictions and are not part of a single national system of education, although they may be legally registered in one or more jurisdictions and are required to comply with relevant legislation governing the delivery of higher education in the countries where they operate. Such institutions include transnational consortiums of existing universities that offer programmes in their own right or as joint degrees between providers located in different nations, universities which are under religious rather than governmental direction and other providers of adult education, typically delivering programmes through distance or blended learning via the Internet and affiliated campus centres.”