Westmont Magazine Moral Leadership
College presidents have taken quite a bit of heat of late for their anemic approach to moral issues, or anything of substance. The assumption is, college presidents used to be moral leaders whom we looked to for direction and wisdom. The accusation is, today they are more likely to be found sticking their finger in the wind, seeking direction themselves. Followers, in other words, not opinion-shapers.
I suppose there is some truth in that, if one gauges moral leadership on the basis of who gets covered in the news. Not many college presidents there — nor pastors, nor statesman of any kind. A few months ago I was visiting Florida, and the entire front page of the newspaper was about the resignation of Steve Spurrier, head football coach at the University of Florida. The Gators love Spurrier, and for good reason. But I doubt the resignation of the college’s president would have been covered in quite the same way. Which raises the question, do college presidents have less to say these days, or are we less likely to listen?
About the same time I was pondering this question, I encountered a curious fact: Everywhere I go, people tell me of their enormous respect for my predecessor, David Winter. That occurs on the streets of Santa Barbara. But it also happens at meetings and conferences, in conversations with my peers. And they don’t talk about his position on foreign policy or tax relief, they talk about his character. His humility. And his kind and caring heart. What struck me was that these are not characteristics that make the headlines in the local newspaper, but they are the marks of moral leadership. And they have shaped a generation of people within the Westmont community and beyond. Moral leadership is more than glitz and headlines. It’s being a certain kind of person, acting with consistency and integrity, regardless of the times or circumstances.
The point is, moral leadership requires a moral community to recognize it. It’s not always flashy, and circumstances determine whether it makes the headlines. Nevertheless, it’s always valuable, and whether we have it — in our leaders or in the general public — will shape our future. That’s true in government, in families, in churches, and in colleges. Westmont has been blessed with moral leadership, born of faith and nurtured by a community that both values and teaches wisdom and moral discernment. It is a rare combination, and more precious than diamonds and rubies. That’s something that new presidents should keep in mind. Along with faculty and students, administration and staff, trustees and alumni. And that’s precisely what we intend to do. What a privilege. And what a responsibility, especially in these days.