This October ended, as it has for five centuries, with the anniversary of Martin Luther’s famous theses on the door of the Wittenberg cathedral. Both of our European programs—the Europe Semester and the Northern Europe program—have arranged for visits to Wittenberg this semester. I have closed this report with a few reflections on the anniversary, drawn from some of my chapel remarks at the start of the term. 

In its fall concert, Westmont’s orchestra saluted the historic occasion with a rendition of Felix Mendelssohn’s “Reformation Symphony,” written in 1830 to commemorate the “Church Revolution” and filled with echoes of Luther’s hymn “A Mighty Fortress.” As Michael Shasberger noted in his introduction to the performance, Mendelssohn was not only a prominent German Romantic, but also the primary composer to rescue the religiously oriented music of J.S. Bach from relative obscurity. 

Some of the exhibits in the recent Guatemalan art exhibit explore themes of music and obscurity. The fragmented forms and characters of Carlos Mérida’s painting “In a Major Tone” convey something of the rhythms and variations of Central American music, while Marilyn Borer’s prints accent the lost or fading words in Kaqchikel, one of the indigenous Mesoamerican languages of the region. The Westmont-Ridley Tree Museum was one of the few college or university museums among the 70 institutions included in the exhibition “Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA"—an encounter between Latin America and Los Angeles in art.  An engaging sing-a-long of music from the 1930s and 40s provided the preface to the Theatre Department’s production of The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, a play written in response to the ascent of Hitler. Broadway World praised the show as “meticulously stylized,” with the key roles “played with gusto.”  The reviewer also noted how the production effectively used a video feed to show how “photographic and video media [can] create propagandistic material that manipulates a population to aid a rise to prominence.” 

The women’s volleyball team has been making its own forms of art recently. Patti Cook’s club has not lost a single conference match in the last two years, and just wrapped up its second-straight regular-season GSAC title. Congratulations.

Mark Sargent signaure




I am delighted to announce the appointment of Kya Mangrum as a new assistant professor of English.  Currently on the faculty of the University of Utah, Kya has special interests in nineteenth-century American literature, African-American literature, visual culture and media, and science and technology studies.  Raised in Los Angeles, Kya completed her undergraduate work at UC Berkeley and then earned an M.A. and a doctorate from the University of Michigan. 

Prior to moving to Utah, Kya held a two-year appointment as a Mellon Diversity Postdoctoral Fellow at Cornell University.  She has also been awarded fellowships by Penn State and the National Endowment for the Humanities.  At present, she is completing a book manuscript that explores how “photography—the most revolutionary visual technology of the nineteenth century—transformed how U.S. slave narratives were written, reproduced, circulated, and consumed.”  “My research,” she writes, “focuses on sight and seeing, in large part, because I am fascinated by the nature of God’s eye—the ways in which his vision of us and of the world is perfect, without flaw, and always full of His love and mercy.” Two of her recent articles on slave narratives will be published in edited collections by Cambridge University Press.  She will join us in the summer of 2018. 



We recently received the results from the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE), a major appraisal of educational practices throughout the nation.  The survey assesses how thoroughly “high-impact educational practices” are embedded in our students’ learning experiences.  The NSSE compares our own results against various cohorts of other colleges and universities across the nation.

Westmont achieved its greatest distinction in the NSSE in the category of global learning.  About 100 institutions that emphasize global education agreed to participate in this portion of the survey, and Westmont’s results clearly stood out from the pack.  For instance, 90% of our seniors stated that they had completed (or would be completing) a “course that focuses on perspectives, issues, and events from other countries or regions.”  The national average was 55%. Similarly, a majority of our Mexicoseniors—58%—claimed that Westmont had notably helped them to “understand how their actions affect global communities.”  The average for the full national cohort was only 38%.  During their first year at Westmont, 88% of our students declared that they had “looked for information about global education programs and opportunities,” substantially higher than the 45% across the nation.

The results certainly affirm the good work done by so many faculty and staff in cultivating our global plank.  Special thanks to Barb Pointer, who has worked for years to help support the operations of off-campus programs, to Cynthia Toms for expanding our curricular vision and scope, and to all of the faculty who have led study-abroad programs, reframed their curricula, and incorporated global themes into their teaching and scholarship.



It has been a tradition for September to close with our Celebration of Summer Research, an opportunity to highlight the achievements of students who collaborate with faculty over the summer months. For the second straight year, the Celebration coincided with our STEM Preview Day for prospective students. More than 20 students presented posters and exhibits.

One project examined embryonic heart rates in garter snakes, especially as the population increased following last winter’s rains. Another explored how synthesized molecules might be constructed in order to attach to and remove inorganic pollutants from drinking water. One student examined the increases in extreme variability of California weather, while a psychology student demonstrated that being routinely late is a clear sign of cognitive impairment.

In addition to the students’ presentations, several faculty members demonstrated their latest scientific research gadgets. Ron See gave a spooky demonstration of a human-to-human interface that allowed one person to control the movement of another person’s hand. Don Patterson helped visitors improve their drone-flying skills. Ken Kihlstrom added to the fun with an infrared camera and a group bouncy-ball drop down the center of the Winter Hall atrium. Many thanks to all the faculty, students, and staff who made this event a grand success!



This semester the Library has partnered with the Provost's Office to provide a new service to students. We are providing additional support for specific general education classes, many of which fall into the Common Contexts portion of the GE. This support involves weekly peer tutoring for General Chemistry (CHM 005) and Calculus I and II (MAT 009 & 010); peer and librarian-led study sessions before tests and workshops led by Jana Mayfield Mullen (photo) for Introduction to New and Old Testament (RS 001 & 010); and for Perspectives on World History (HIS 010) and Composition (ENG 002) we are continuing to provide workshops led by Jana Mayfield Mullen and Diane Ziliotto respectively. We are excited about partnering with professors teaching classes in the general education program to give additional support to students who find the classes especially challenging, especially early in their Westmont careers.



While the college's latest accreditation visit by WASC took place just two years ago, Westmont's Department of Education is gearing up for another, completely separate accreditation process—this one run by the Commission on Teacher Credentialing (CTC). This process is vital to the college's ability to award teaching credentials.

After a pre-visit by the team chair in January, the full visit of the CTC evaluation team will take place on March 18-21, 2018. Our program will be evaluated on Common Standards, which are larger issues of goals and institutional support, and Program Standards, which are more detailed matters related to the Multiple Subject (or Elementary) and Single Subject (Secondary) programs. Several departments can feed students to the Single Subject Credential: Art, Biology, Chemistry, English, History, Kinesiology, Music, Physics, and Spanish. The Education faculty and staff—Heather Bergthold, Michelle Hughes, Andrew Mullen, and Jane Wilson—have been preparing for the review process.

The Education Department has worked hard to cultivate a strong relationship with the local community and the local schools over the years, and that is apparent in the exceptional record of job placements. In the past four years, 59 students have earned teaching credentials at Westmont, and all but one student has landed a teaching position in the upcoming year. Of particular note, 27 of these graduates are now teaching in Santa Barbara County.



This year we have formalized our policy of supporting student travel to present their papers and research at regional and national conferences. Small grants are available and more details can be found under the Faculty Development link of the Provost's Office webpage.

Already this year, two students have received travel grants. Earlier this month, senior Hien Bui (photo) traveled to the Midwest meeting of the Society of Christian Philosophers in Houston. His presentation, The Problem of Divine Freedom and Perfect Goodness, won best undergraduate paper for the conference. Hien found the whole experience gratifying as he got to meet many scholars and graduate students in the field and had good discussions about his work. Next March, senior Connor Gibbs will be traveling to Atlanta to present a poster at the Society for Personality and Social Psychology’s Annual Convention. He will be presenting on his collaborative research with Carmel Saad from our Psychology faculty.



The Faculty Council is sponsoring a special Westmont Forum on some of the recent debates regarding free speech. The forum is called "You Offend Me, So Shut Up": Rethinking Free Speech in a Polarized Age. The panelists and audience will consider whether the First Amendment allows us to say and do whatever we want, or whether there are limits to our freedom. The debate has been sparked by a number of recent cases—e.g., NFL players kneeling during the national anthem, right-wing speakers at UC Berkeley, and the protests at Charlottesville. The program will take place in Hieronymous Lounge at 7:00 on Wednesday, November 1, and will be moderated by Jesse Covington. Featured panelists will include Tom Knecht, Chandra Mallampalli and Sandra Richter.



Greg Spencer conducted several Oral Communication workshops entitled "Six Communication Principles I Want My Students—and Myself—To Remember" on October 25, 26, and 27. Altogether, thirty-five faculty members attended the workshops, where they learned about major principles of oral communication and helpful tips about incorporating oral assignments in classes. The attendees had lively discussions, and enjoyed their learning experiences and time together. Greg also provided useful resources for further reading in this area.

The workshops were part of a yearlong assessment of oral communication, one of our Institutional Learning Outcomes. Lesa Stern is overseeing that general assessment. One of our hopes in the process is that we will provide more frequent—and more finely crafted—opportunities for students to make oral presentations and engage in oral communication in their courses.


The wooden doors on the Castle Church in Wittenberg, where Martin Luther allegedly posted his famous 95 theses, were eventually destroyed by fire. Actually, Luther never mentions the act of nailing the theses to the church entrance in any of his own writings. The first written account of the event comes nearly thirty years later, after Luther’s death, from his friend Phillip Melanchthon. At that same time, one of Luther’s assistants also hinted that the theses might have been posted on several churches in town. Whatever their first appearance, the theses were widely republished in 1517 and afterwards by Europe's humanistic editors and scholars. Yet, thanks to Melanchthon’s recollection, the doors on the Castle Church in Wittenberg have long been identified as the epicenter of the Reformation. In 1858, the church installed new ceremonial doors with all 95 theses engraved in Latin. Luther’s dissent—not so much an act of rebellion but an invitation to local scholars and clerics to join him in deliberation—has been turned into a bronze monument.

Luther wittenbergThere were no statues of Luther erected in a town square, or in all of Germany, until 300 hundred years after his birth, when a monument to Luther was set in the Wittenberg marketplace. The sculptor, Gottsfried Schadow, had already won acclaim for his chariot and horses on top of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin; there is no way he could have imagined that this sculpture would one day become the most prominent symbol on the wall that divided the city during the Cold War. His bronze monument of Luther, though, endures as an image of generosity and inclusion. It presents the Augustinian monk in ecclesiastical robes, holding open the Scriptures to the first page in his translation of the New Testament. That translation has long been known for its accessibility, streetwise idioms, and colloquial prose—the fruit of Luther’s time walking in the markets and common places. In the Wittenberg square, Luther’s gesture is not, as in other statues of the Reformer, one of defiance. Rather it offers the raised fingers of a minister’s blessing over the Word. The Scriptures are a gift to the people.

Reformation WallOften a rival for John Calvin, Luther is relegated to only a small stone memorial on the periphery of the most famous of all Reformation monuments—the 100-meter Reformation Wall in Geneva. Built between 1909 and 1917 to commemorate the four-hundreth anniversary of Calvin’s birth, the memorial includes six-foot statues of the French Reformer and three other prominent Calvinists—John Knox, Theodore Beza, and William Farel.  Numerous Americans contributed to the funding for the wall, spurred on by Theodore Roosevelt, so it is not entirely surprising that the Mayflower Compact and Roger Williams have places of notoriety in the stone panorama. The wall was built on the site of the old city walls, emblematic of Geneva’s history as a place of shelter during the fiercest decades of violence and religious persecution in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. For all its hints of theological friction, the memorial wall still evokes the heritage of safety for the refugee.      

DresdenFor nearly half a century the statue of Martin Luther stood outside of the ruins of the Church of Our Lady, or the Frauenkirche, in Dresden. Collapsing under the intense heat of the firebombing of the city by American and Allied forces during World War II, the church lay as a blackened rubble for over forty years, a conspicuous testament to the desolation of war. Only after German reunification was the Frauenkirche rebuilt, with the new cross on its tower cast by a British blacksmith, the son of one of the bombers. The nineteenth-century sculptors—Ernest Rietschel and Adolph von Donndorf—had modeled their work after a statue of Luther in Worms, the famous site of his interrogation for heresy; they could never have envisioned that a new century and the terrors of warfare would turn their statue of Luther’s resistance during trial into a modern tableau of reconciliation and restoration.

Luther's roseIn the last century and a half, Protestantism has spread dramatically around the globe. There are more Lutherans today in Ethiopia, Tanzania, and Indonesia than there are in Scandinavia. Outside of Northern Europe and North America, you will find few statues to Luther, but thousands of images of Luther’s rose, commonly set in stained-glass windows, woven into folk art tapestries, or painted on church walls. The dark cross, laid over a red heart, is surrounded by the unfolding petals of the white rose—for Luther an image of hope, and for many Lutherans in the global South now a symbol of the expanding community of faith.

As we neared the 500th anniversary of Luther’s theses, I found myself reflecting on the memorials built to commemorate the Reformation, even as the United States has faced its controversies over monuments. When we set ideals in stone—or steel—we intend them to last. But that permanence is an illusion: the granite and bronze survive long enough to undergo many shifts of meaning. Robert E. Lee, on horseback, is no longer the totem of civic duty and conciliation in Charlottesville. And certainly the meanings of the Reformation will be continually reappraised, as we endeavor to assess its legacy, both the honorable and the acrimonious.

DivideNew centuries have given new shades of meaning to the monuments of the Reformation, yet in the changing light we can be reminded of some of the most honorable ideals that were evident in Luther’s time, often rising above the contentious and caustic rhetoric of the religious tempests. Those include a respect for inquiry and principled dispute, an accessible Word, a commitment to provide refuge for those in need, a worldwide communion of believers, and a longing for reconciliation. In that respect, one of the memorials worthy of attention on Reformation Day could be Maurice Harmon’s sculpture of two young men—one Catholic, one Protestant—in Derry, Northern Ireland.  The bronze memorial, erected two decades after the infamous Bloody Sunday, shows the two figures cautiously reaching their “Hands Across the Divide.”  Half a millennium after the theses in Wittenberg, we can recall the highest ideals and convictions of the Reformation even as we strive to remember, more faithfully, what we all share as followers of Christ.





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