Westmont Magazine Faculty Like These
‘So, Mr. President, where do you find faculty like these?” That was the question. And I didn’t have much of an answer. The setting was a meeting of CEOs in Santa Barbara. The question came after I shared a story about one of our faculty members, Dr. Paul Willis, who recently received a national award for his poetry. I could tell by the question, however, that the asker was not so much interested in my story as he was in his own experience. As I looked at him with something of a blank stare, he began filling in the details.
A longtime Santa Barbara resident, he has hired a number of our graduates and has rubbed shoulders with our faculty in local schools, churches and various other organizations. “They’re different,” he said. They are scholars and artists; he knew that from the local newspaper and exhibitions he had attended. They are great in the classroom; he knew that from the Westmont students he had hired. But they are also people who care: They care about their families, their churches, their schools and their community. And he thought the combination of gifts, abilities and caring was pretty unusual. “Where do you find them?” he said, once more.
Not wanting to look too dim for too long, I talked about the process of searching for new faculty. I told him about our criteria for candidates: They must be deep in faith and deep in learning, committed to wedding their faith and scholarship and bringing it to bear in their students’ lives. I talked about the priority we place on learning and the fact that we view faculty and students as co-learners, each journeying together on a pilgrimage of faithfulness to the great Teacher. I talked about a lot of other things, as well — all true, but not the best answer. I could tell that by looking at his glazed eyes, but I felt it in my bones as well.
The fact is, these faculty are gifts. They’re here not because we have an ingenious recruiting process, but because God has blessed Westmont in multiple and marvelous ways. It’s always dangerous to pick an example, but let me take just one. His name is Dr. Tremper Longman III, and he came to Westmont through a very peculiar confluence of events. As a background, you need to know that Tremper is an exceptional Old Testament scholar, who has built quite a reputation based upon his prolific pen and engaging teaching style. A few years ago, he was happily ensconced at Westminster Theological Seminary, carrying on a very productive career. But then something happened. He began noticing a number of Westmont graduates in his own discipline as well as in his classes. And he was impressed. This was coupled with something he had known for a long time: the strong tradition of Westmont faculty, including a number in biblical and theological studies. Then one day, he heard about a new position opening up at Westmont: an endowed chair named after Robert Gundry, one of the finer New Testament professors at Westmont or any place else. All those things cocked his ear and made him pay attention when we contacted him about applying for the position.
But here’s the part of the story few people know. Several years earlier, a friend of the college (and a parent of Westmont graduates), offered to provide substantial funding toward an endowed chair honoring Dr. Gundry. This was his own idea, and he did it both out of gratitude for the kind of education his children received and the kind of teacher-scholar Bob Gundry represents. We, of course, were delighted by this opportunity. A number of other folks (some of whom are reading this) joined in to support the idea and fund the chair. Because of that chair, Tremper Longman is now a member of our faculty, continuing the tradition.
But that’s not really the way to say it, is it? The chair exists because of Robert Gundry and the faculty who influenced this man’s family. Tremper listened to the call from Westmont because he saw the evidence of a Westmont education all around him. You don’t get a faculty like we have without a lot of faithfulness, over many years, and a faithful God behind it all.
Where do you find faculty like these? You don’t. He does. And He does it through the faithful work of good stewards — faculty and staff, students and parents, friends and alumni — conjoined together to make this place possible. Thanks be to God.