Westmont Magazine Judgement Day

The U.S. News & World Report college rankings are out again. And I’m not entirely sure what to think. On the one hand, Westmont jumped into the second tier of national liberal arts colleges. Only one other Christian liberal arts college in the CCCU is ranked that high (Wheaton), and so we should feel pretty good. Right? One of the two best Christian liberal arts colleges in the nation, my ego-infested mind wants to say.

On the other hand, my heart and soul know better. Such rankings have marginal value, at best. For one thing, they measure everything but the quality of education and its impact upon a student’s life. The core of a student’s experience is nowhere to be found. But for another, they clearly discriminate against colleges that are lean on resources but rich in the things that matter. Reputation, not substance, rules the day.

So, it doesn’t matter much, from an eternal perspective. Still, I do have to tell you that one part of the story sounds pretty good to me. Interestingly enough, it’s the part about Wheaton, our competitor from the Midwest. It’s probably something that college presidents aren’t supposed to talk about, but I’m still pretty new — and a little slow, as presidents go. Besides, yesterday I met with a number of new faculty and staff, and about half of them graduated from Westmont, and the others were from Wheaton. That’s not typical, of course. We choose the best people out there, regardless of where they come from. But I doubt it was a pure accident either. Because these two schools are sending out some pretty impressive people, and have been for some time now.

Westmont and Wheaton are different institutions, of course. We have a somewhat different niche in the world of higher education, for one thing. And students go to Wheaton or Westmont for different reasons. And yet, we’re also alike. Anyone who has read the history of Westmont, for example, knows that — in its formative years — Westmont’s story was intervwoven with Wheaton’s. Our first president, Dr. Wallace Emerson, had been a dean at Wheaton, and it was his desire to build a Christian liberal arts college in California similar to the one near Chicago. President Roger Voskuyl also came from Wheaton, where he was the academic dean and an accomplished scholar. Moreover, both institutions have a rather singular ambition: to be the highest quality liberal arts college they can be, fully Christian and fully committed to living out the implications of that Christian commitment in the world of higher education.

As I said, there are differences. Westmont is in Santa Barbara, for example. And Wheaton is in . . . well, Wheaton. That’s not a low blow (entirely), since I’m a fan of Chicago. The campuses also have a different ethos about them. And Wheaton’s reputation as the Jerusalem of American evangelicalism is probably well deserved. Wheaton came on the scene nearly a century before Westmont, and age has its privileges. Nevertheless, Westmont and Wheaton are partners in a common cause. And it’s all Kingdom work.

The point is, I’m grateful for Wheaton. And I’m grateful for Gordon, and Calvin, and Houghton, as well, and a great many other Christian liberal arts colleges who are aspiring to transform lives for Kingdom purposes. One of the worst things about the U.S. News & World Report is that it inspires competition among colleges and universities on relatively trivial grounds. One of the best things about being at a Kingdom college, however, is that we know it doesn’t matter. Doesn’t matter.

Lay not up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust corrupt, says Jesus. But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven. We’re banking on that at both Westmont and Wheaton. And for that reason, we’re looking forward to the future. Together. Thanks be to God.