Early in February several of us attended the International Forum on Christian Higher Education in Dallas, which was sponsored by the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU). After a season of unrest and turnover, the CCCU has recently regained its stride. The Forum—held about twice a decade—was hopeful, even as it looked squarely at the squalls and gales affecting faith-based institutions and higher education in general. When it was founded in 1976, the CCCU set out to be a “broad association of Christian colleges” that would “provide a unifying voice for Christian higher education in the public square.” According to historian James Patterson, part of that unity could be attributed to the “Graham consensus.”

As a young man, I attended some Billy Graham Crusades with members of my church. Although I am not by temperament drawn to revival meetings, I remember those big-tent events (or, in my case, big-ballpark events, most notably Angel Stadium) as a form of liturgy for rededicating yourself to Christ. Graham’s focus on the central call of the gospel and the tenderness of one’s heart also provided a language that usually transcended denominational and doctrinal quarrels. As Patterson intimates, Graham’s buoyant evangelism helped prepare some of the common ground that made consortiums of Christian colleges possible, despite their different theological DNA. With Graham’s passing, I recognize that the community I have enjoyed now for more than three decades with so many other Christian higher education professionals owes much to his legacy.

Some of the current goodwill and energy among Christian colleges is evident in a series of articles on institutional leadership published recently in the Christian Scholar's Review. Phil Ryken—the president of Graham’s alma mater Wheaton—has written the lead article, and a few presidents, including Gayle Beebe, have contributed responses. Among other attributes, Gayle underscores the need for an "aspiring edge," "spiritual disciplines that lead to self-correction," and "emotional intelligence and empathy." 

Of course, we all realize that we are living in one of the most divisive times in our public life, with many people trapped in shrill partisan echo chambers or increasingly discouraged about prospects for trust. At Westmont, we will have some opportunities in the coming month to explore new patterns of dialogue when the Faculty Council sponsors another Westmont Forum and the Gaede Institute devotes its annual conversation to “liberal learning in a ‘post-truth’ age.” There are brief descriptions of those programs below.

One of the panelists in the sessions is Niva Tro, our accomplished chemist who is retiring this year. I close this report with words of appreciation from those who have been fortunate to be his colleagues.

Mark Sargent signaure



Michelle hughesPattersonTENURE FOR FOUR COLLEAGUES

In late January, the Board of Trustees voted to grant tenure to four Westmont faculty members. The vote came upon the recommendation of the Faculty Personnel Committee. Beginning at the start of the 2018-2019 academic year, Michelle Hughes (Education), Donald Patterson (Computer Science), Carmel Saad (Psychology), and Ronald See (Psychology) will join the ranks of the tenured faculty. 

Carmel SaadRon SeeThe trustees had high praise for their scholarly work, their intellectual interests, and their commitment to the spiritual mission of the college. Be sure to congratulate these colleagues on this significant milestone.  As usual, we will have a special celebration for them after the first faculty meeting of the fall semester. 



I am delighted that Yi-Fan Lu will assume a full-time, tenure-track post in the Biology Department, starting in the fall of 2018. For the past several months, Yi-Fan has been serving in a one-year role, and he was the candidate chosen after our national search. He came to Westmont last fall after a year as a postdoctoral scholar at the Institute for Genomic Medicine at Columbia University, and he remains actively engaged with scholars at Columbia and the Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies in various research endeavors.

Yi-Fan completed his undergraduate degree in Life Sciences at the National Taiwan University, and then earned his Ph.D. in Molecular Genetics and Microbiology at Duke University. He has contributed to Zika antiviral drug development, worked with pluripotent stem cells, served as a consultant on drug discovery research, and done modeling of neurological diseases. In addition, he has been an academic editor with the Columbia Medical Review. Over his years of graduate work, Yi-Fan has been active in ministry, and was one of the co-founders of a Duke/UNC Bible Study Fellowship. Fluent in Mandarin, he participates in softball, judo and fencing, and enjoys drawing, especially nature and animals.

Last fall Yi-Fan began working with students on various projects, and several of his students were recently accepted for poster presentations at the American Society for Microbiology’s meeting in Atlanta during June. The students include Laurel J. Bonsack, Clayton Brown, Adreanna Villanueva, Taggra Jackson, Albert Hyun, and Caleb Wilson.

Although only in a one-year post, Yi-Fan has been active in many aspects of college life during this interim year, and I look forward to his ongoing presence on our campus in the future.



Alister Chapman has recently launched a new blog aimed at helping us all probe the depths of major historical and cultural issues. "The world is complex," he writes. "Often we don't understand what's going on or why. We can't see beneath the surface." Written with Alister's usual lucidity and wit, The Rest of the Iceberg offers concise and lively answers to various questions so that we can "understand and engage the world's challenges better." Some of his recent posts seek to explain "why the US is the only country in the developed world that does not provide universal health care to its citizens" and why Africa remains the last continent where famines regularly happen. In light of the "remarkable rise of China," Alister reflects on renewed interest in the possibilities of communism. Other posts consider why there is so much gun violence in the United States, why Singapore is rich, why North Korea is belligerent, and why Europe is now secular. You will find some brisk and engaging reading at The Rest of the Iceberg, and Alister even invites you to send in your own questions for him to address.



Meredith Whitnah has received a full-year “book leave” from the Global Religion Research Institute at the University of Notre Dame, which supports work that will “significantly advance the social scientific study of religion around the globe.”  She will use the leave to complete her book Faith and the Fragility of Justice: Religious Responses to Gender-Based Violence in South Africa.


SAMEERSameer Yadav has been granted the Arnold L. and Lois S. Graves Award in the Humanities, which is a biennial grant aimed at encouraging “outstanding accomplishment in actual teaching in the humanities by younger faculty members.” This is the second-straight occasion when a Westmont colleague has won a Graves Award. (Caryn Reeder was a recipient in 2016.)  Awards are administered by Pomona College under the auspices of the American Council of Learned Societies.  The grant will help Sameer work on his latest book project, entitled Ignorance and Bliss: Wonder, Mystery, and the Transformation of Theology.



Congratulations to Felicia Song, who has been elected by her peers to serve on the Faculty Council for the next three years. She will join Lisa DeBoer, Tom Knecht, Sarah Skripsky and Greg Spencer, and will be replacing Jane Wilson, who has completed her term. Jane has been a wonderful colleague on the Council; she has a make-it-happen spirit, a creative and a pragmatic voice, and a knack for teamwork. For all of her efforts, we should be (that's right) very grateful.

Lisa DeBoer and Sarah Skripsky will be the "lead assessment specialists" of our Institutional Learning Outcomes (ILO) assessment efforts during the coming year. In 2018-2019, we are blending the Christian Understanding, Practices, and Affections (CUPA) assessment with the writing appraisal, as we will integrate various writing assignments into the CUPA enterprises. Sandy Richter will assist Lisa, Sarah and Tatiana Nazarenko with the design of the CUPA/writing activities.

I am pleased that Katherine Bryant will continue with Westmont in a one-year role in our Political Science Department. Katherine has been teaching international politics, and looks forward to offering a new class on environmental politics. She completed her doctorate at UCSB. Also, I am grateful that Ogechi Nwaokelemeh will once again teach the August nutrition seminar for students in our global health program in Uganda. Additionally, Daniela Kostruba will take a second turn as the director of Westmont in Mexico during the fall semester.


net title for westmontWINTER SPORTS HIGHLIGHTS

Both of our basketball teams climbed into the top 10 in the NAIA at some point during the season, the women reaching as high as number 4 and the men claiming the 8th spot. And both teams have now played their way into the Golden State Athetlic Conference (GSAC) championship game. This is the first time in the college's history that both men and women will play for the title in the same year.

Congratulations to Coach Kirsten Moore and the women's team for winning the regular season title (conference record 12-2). This is the third year in a row when the women's team has won the conference tournament and/or the regular-season crown. Senior Lauren McCoy was named the GSAC Player of the Year, and Joy Krupa was the Defensive Player of the Year. Kirsten once again was named the conference Coach of the Year.

Coach John Moore and the men's team finished tied for second in the GSAC during the regular season with an 11-3 conference record. Both teams anticipate receiving bids for the NAIA tournament in mid-March.

The captain of the baseball team, Michael Stefanic, recently became Westmont's all-time leader in hits, topping the 221 career total recorded by Ryan Eisele (1998-2001). Cynthia Toms

Several track and field athletes were stand-outs at the recent NAIA national indoor championships. Pieter Top and Anthony Cota finished second and third respectively in the heptathlon, both of them surpassing the school record. Top now holds the new mark of 5,117 points. The women's 4 x 800 relay team (Abby White, Janna Jensen, Emily Park, and Hope Geisinger) finished fourth, while Chena Underhill tied the school record in finishing fifth in the pole vault (12' 5 1/2").

Finally, here's a shout-out to our faculty colleague Cynthia Toms. Over the Presidents Weekend she was formally inducted into the Messiah College Athletic Hall of Honor. As an undergraduate, Cynthia twice led her Messiah field hockey team to the Final Four of the NCAA Division III tournament. She was also a two-time player of the conference and a first-team All-American for three consecutive years.



We have been reshaping the summer internship program at Westmont in San Francisco (WSF), which will run from May 13 to July 20. Summer is high season for San Francisco internships and the program’s wide network affords many opportunities; this year the WSF program is offering three tracks for different interests. Economics and Business and Data Analytics majors can enroll in the Applied Management Science track. Enrico Manlapig’s four-unit "Applied Management" course will focus on microeconomic models and quantitative techniques. Students can then complete a four-unit internship in which they use their skills from the class to help with data-driven decision-making at their placement site.

The Pre-Med/Pre-Health track offers a six-to-eight-unit internship in a clinical setting, while students will take a course from one of our former professors, Marilyn McEntyre. Professor McEntyre has been teaching courses for medical students at the University of California at San Francisco and at Berkeley for several years now, and she will be adapting one of those classes for the summer WSF program. The course is called Bioethics in Context: An Introduction to the Medical Humanities and it will fulfill the Biology major's “integrative” requirement. Finally, students from any major can enroll in the General track, taking the eight-unit WSF internship over ten weeks. There is already a waiting list for some of the tracks so students are encouraged to apply to the summer program soon. For more information, contact Brad Berky (bberky@westmont.edu).



The current exhibit in the Westmont Ridley-Tree Museum offers a splendid array of African works from the collection of Santa Barbara residents Jere and Fima Lifshitz. Much of the art comes from regions of West Africa where English professor Carmen McCain formerly lived and taught. She is helping her students see how traditional "African art resonates in the present via Afrofuturism," part of the current buzz around the film Black Panther. I asked her for some thoughts on the museum show. "I really love the aesthetically pleasing way the exhibit is set up," Carmen observes. "The piece I feel closest to is the terracotta Nok head dated to around 500 BC. The Nok people lived from around 1000 BC to 500 AD in Jos, where I spent my teenage years, and other parts of northern Nigeria, and I've seen a few of the heads in the Jos museum. I'm also drawn to the bronzes from the Benin Empire, which was in power in what is now southwestern Nigeria from the 14th century until the British destroyed the Oba's palace in 1897 and looted much of the art kept there. This history is referenced in movies such as the Nollywood film Invasion 1897 and most recently the blockbuster Black Panther. I think that it is particularly rewarding to visit the exhibit after having seen how filmmakers interpret the significance of this art in a contemporary (or Afrofuturistic) context. The Mammi Wata masks from Sierra Leone in the center of the back room remind me of very similar masks I saw masqueraders wearing during a festival my family went to in southeastern Nigeria shortly after we moved to Nigeria. The Mammi Wata (mermaid spirit) tradition is spread throughout West Africa and the Caribbean."

The exhibit ends on March 24. In other news about the museum, Judy Larson reports that Westmont's previous exhibit "Rembrandt and the Jews" is currently on display at the Appleton Museum of Art in Ocala, Florida. Lisa DeBoer gave the opening gallery talk and lecture for the exhibit. Following that show, Westmont's Rembrandt exhibit heads to the Frost Museum in Miami.



Americans own weapons. Lots of them. There are 89 guns in the United States for every 100 persons. That ratio is nearly double that of the second-highest nation, Switzerland (46 guns for every 100 residents). Moreover, you are far more likely to die from firearms in the United States than in other nations. The per-capita death rate from gun violence in Switzerland, for instance, is fifteen times lower than in the United States. There are three gun deaths in the United States for every 100,000 people. By contrast, in England, Australia, Japan, France, and Spain there are only three gun deaths for every 3,000,000 (or more).

This year the Faculty Council has decided to host a series of Westmont Forums on controversial topics. The Council had settled on the debate over guns, violence, and the meaning of the Second Amendment before the recent shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. The Florida tragedy has merely underscored the urgency and relevance of the issue.

The goal of the Forums is to engage and model a healthy discourse about current issues, airing differing perspectives and mutually exploring various solutions that move beyond some of the calcified partisan views. The Forum will take place on Tuesday, March 27, at 7:00 in Hieronymous Lounge. Russ Howell, Judy Larson, and Niva Tro will serve as the primary panel (hosted by Greg Spencer), with time for questions and comments from the audience. All are welcome.



Over the years, many Westmont faculty and staff have served on CCCU Commissions. Most recently, Teri Bradford Rouse, the Senior Director of Alumni and Parent Relations at Westmont, has been selected to chair the CCCU Alumni Commission. She will share that duty with her colleague Jay McClymont of Messiah College.

The Alumni Commission advises the CCCU on relevant alumni matters, conducts surveys, plans the annual meetings, and oversees research. This role is a three-year term.



The seventeenth annual "Conversation" hosted by the Gaede Institute for the Liberal Arts will delve into the current anxiety over truth and discourse in the public square. According to the conference planners, "we live in a moment when disputes about knowledge and truth—always at home in the academy—have broken out dramatically in our wider society. Shared sources of information and standards for credibility seem to have evaporated. Once-esteemed academic institutions, scientific enterprises, and media organizations are routinely dismissed as politicized engines of propaganda. Trust in the expertise, professionalism, and the simple good faith of those with differing views seems increasingly rare." Several speakers will help sort through the possibilities for greater consensus about knowledge and truth amidst the furor and claims of "fake news" during the events of March 22-24.

The Gaede Institute is also preparing for the second summer Trailhead program. As a prelude to the summer seminars, the Institute sponsored a Conversation on Youth and Vocation in February, a mini-conference for pastors and youth ministry workers. Stephen Argue, professor of youth ministry at Fuller Theological Seminary, was the keynote speaker and he highlighted some of the opportunities and challenges for sustaining faith among adults before they reach the age of 30.



N. Tro is certainly a good name for a professor who studies nitrogen and nitrous oxide. Nitro is also the name of a Marvel Comics character, a Six Flags roller coaster, an 80's rock band, and a Spanish-language TV channel. It isn't hard to imagine Niva Tro enjoying life as a rock star or superhero or the host of his own TV show on science. If you spend any time with him you will easily catch his zest for living and learning. As Jim Taylor observes, Niva has "una corazón muy grande: he loves life, his family and friends, his students, food and wine, and of course chemistry!"

A Westmont graduate and the son of a Cuban immigrant, Niva returned to his alma mater in 1990 after finishing his doctorate at Stanford, and he has distinguished himself for nearly three decades as a teacher, colleague, scholar, and communicator. By now, his chemistry textbooks are virtually everywhere in the academy, and he has an international reputation for his teaching videos and workshops. Once a student of Allan Nishimura, Niva has honored his mentor by strengthening the tradition of student research at Westmont with both his service and largesse.

Niva retires this year, and before he ventures off into the next chapter of his life I wanted to express my own gratitude for his "corazón" and his "amistad." I have valued his wise and straightforward counsel, and admired his scholarly productivity and personal humility. In my many conversations with him, he has always focused on principles rather than his own privileges and spoken of others long before he mentioned his own exploits or honors. And there have been many honors, including a recent award as Westmont's Alum of the Year. I asked several of his colleagues to share a few words of their own.

"Niva has been an even keel helping the Chemistry Department navigate varying waters over the years," Michael Everest writes. "He has set us on a course that is headed toward an exciting future." Russ Howell observes: "For me Niva's textbook writing reinforces the truth of Proverbs 22:29: 'Do you see a man skilled in his work? He stands before kings; he will not stand before obscure men.'"

"Niva was one of the best professors I ever had," Carrie Stein states, "and it has been a privilege to teach alongside him for the past ten years. He is a kind and generous colleague and friend and we will miss his presence in the department more than he will ever know." Amanda Silberstein was quick to celebrate Niva as "a wonderful example of a committed teacher and dedicated mentor to students." "Many years ago I had an office next door to Niva's," Patti Hunter recalls, "and would overhear some of his conversations with students. He was especially sensitive to the concerns of student-athletes and always had an encouraging word for them."

Eileen McMahon McQuade remarks that "Niva's passion for improving education is inspiring no matter what discipline you are in. He never just localizes the problem on the student to study harder and be more dedicated. Instead, he focuses on what professors have more control of: how can we teach better, how can we craft more engaging examples, how we can capitalize on technology to improve learning."

Steve Contakes told a story that shed light on Niva's character: "When we hired Kristi Cantrell, Niva felt strongly that it would send the wrong message if Chemistry's first tenure-track female faculty had an office in the stockroom, which was the only available space at the time. So Niva moved out of his office, the one he had occupied for twenty years, and moved into a tiny office without an exterior window in the stockroom."

Niva, I hope that there will always be time for us to share some Office Hours, wherever our paths cross. Gracias.