Westmont Magazine Being Obedient to the Call
By President Stan D. Gaede ’69
“Does Westmont want to be an elite liberal arts college?” That’s a question I have been asked more than once in the last few months, and that usually means it deserves an answer. And with the U.S. News & World Report college rankings back on the shelves, this is probably as good a time as any to address the issue.
The best answer is also the simplest, so let me begin with the bottom line: No, we do not want to become an elite liberal arts college. For one thing, we already are, by most measures. And I think it is poor stewardship to pursue something you’ve already attained. Far more importantly, however, it’s a bad goal. It’s based on comparing yourselves with others, for one thing. A not altogether biblical ambition. But it also leads to focusing on the wrong things.
For quite a while now we have stated very clearly that our goal is to be a quality liberal arts college rooted in Christ. That may or may not put us in an elite category. But it absolutely requires our best effort. In the end, I doubt the Lord is much interested in public opinion polls — for people or colleges. Rather, from an eternal perspective, the question is always one of stewardship. What have you done with the calling and the gifts that God has given you? That’s a personal question for all of us, of course. But it’s an institutional question as well. Especially for a college whose motto is “Christ Preeminent in All Things.”
The Lord did a very interesting thing when he brought Westmont to Santa Barbara some 60 years ago. On the one hand, He gave the college a location as beautiful as any in the world. It is hard not to have your breath taken away by this small corner of Montecito on the hills above the Pacific Ocean. But that gift came with another over time: an enrollment cap of 1,200 students. As a result, almost from the very beginning, it was understood that the goal at Westmont was not to be big, but to be good at what we do.
And so we have committed ourselves to one task with a vengeance: to plant ourselves in Christ — His Word, His Truth, His Life — and to blossom in the liberal arts as a result. We do that not for ourselves, of course, but for Him. Thus our ambition is not to be better than anyone else, but to be as good as He wants us to be.
And why would we seek this objective? For our students, number one. At their core, the liberal arts are about enabling young men and women to become the people they were created to be. To flourish, in other words. But we are serving more than our students in this cause, if truth be known. Because it is precisely such people that this world badly needs. We serve our students so that they may in turn serve the world to which God has called them. In a real sense then, Westmont is about world transformation. Not out of hubris. Not even out of any expectation that the world will ever understand. But out of obedience to the One who has called us into being in the first place. “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.” Those are the words we want to hear. And frankly, nothing else matters.
Do we want to be an elite liberal arts college? It’s the wrong question. We seek for ourselves precisely what we pray for every college and university in every corner of the globe: obedience to the Call, and faithfulness to the Caller. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” At Westmont. And anywhere else, for that matter. Thanks be to God.