Provost's Report December 2019

December 2019

I love the many days of Advent, but often regret that the few hours of Thanksgiving rush by so quickly. So I have saved some thoughts for the end of this December report to linger over the November holiday.

Before then, the report lingers over several highlights from the fall term and anticipates events in the spring. In the interlude between semesters, may your days be filled with the wonder of Epiphany—the "manifestation" of the Lord's presence among us. 

Mark Sargent Signature




Thanks to another grant from the Lilly Endowment, the Trailhead program will stay on its steady ascent. With the assistance of Susie Willet, the staff of the Gaede Institute—Chris Hoeckley, Christen Foell, and Aaron Sizer—wrote a successful proposal for nearly $300,000 to support the Trailhead program in the future. The funding supplements Lilly’s initial investment in Trailhead and will help us maintain the program for the next five years. Trailhead provides opportunities for high school students to explore their own ideas of vocation, service, and ministry and to “discern God’s call on their lives.” 

The Lilly Fellows program has also awarded us a smaller grant to enrich our efforts in academic advising. Written by Eileen McMahon McQuade, this grant will allow us to bring together several of our more experienced faculty advisors for a consultation that assesses our strategies and priorities for advising. It will enable us to craft new ways of equipping all faculty, young colleagues as well as veterans, to mentor and guide a fresh generation of students. This “Academic Advisors Ambassadors Program” will encourage us to re-envision the role of advising in the holistic mission of a Christian liberal arts college and respond to the changing demographics of our student body. 


At the end of the regular season our volleyball team was unranked. Despite a strong record of 23-6 and a share of the regular season conference title, Westmont had not secured enough attention from the ratings committee to crack the nation's top 25. But perhaps that lit some competitive fire. When the postseason began, the volleyball team went on an amazing run that took them all the way to the national championship match. Coach Ruth McGolpin finished her very first year as head coach as the national runner-up.

The magic started in the Golden State Athletic Conference (GSAC) tournament. A tough semi-final victory over Vanguard and an overpowering sweep of Menlo in the title game clearly established Westmont as the best team in the conference—and the only GSAC team invited to the national tournament. Once in the tournament, Westmont proved its worth by finishing first in its group during pool play. A victory over Eastern Oregon University led to a quarterfinal match-up with the defending national champion and top seed Park University of Missouri. Westmont's upset victory—including a 15-13 edge in the decisive fifth set—sent the Warriors into the national semi-finals. Their momentum continued with a three-set sweep in the semis, though later that evening Marian University of Indiana (38-2) proved too formidable in the title match.

Senior Cassidy Rea was named to the all-tournament team and became the first volleyball player in school history to appear in four national tournaments. She was joined on the all-tournament team by first-year player Lexi Malone, one of the many outstanding athletes who will return next year.  



Holly Beers has just published a novel that takes us back into the world of a young wife in the port city of Ephesus during the spread of the gospel. In A Week in the Life of a Greco-Roman Woman, Holly recreates the interior life of a pregnant woman, named Anthia, who battles poverty, hunger, and the harsh ways of her husband, even as she encounters a new message of hope. The story brings us into contact with Paul, Priscilla, Aquila, and Timothy, and the book offers historical context with images, sidebars, and a full introduction to the first-century world.

Several scholars have already praised it as an engaging story and “powerful exegetical tool.” Michael Bird, dean of Ridley College in Australia, writes, “Trying to imagine what life would have been like in the Roman empire can be hard enough, it can be harder too if you are trying to imagine what life was like for women, whose voices are mostly muted and marginalized in the annals of history. . . . Anyone interested in New Testament background or Roman antiquity will find here an enthralling and informative narrative about the prominence and plight of women in the ancient world." Kara Lyons-Pardue remarks, “Re-embedding Paul's proclamation of Christ within this fictional—but potentially realistic and certainly based on careful research—context enables modern readers to hear anew both the scandal and the hope that the gospel must have held for its earliest hearers." The book is part of the “Week in the Life” series from InterVarsity Press. It was just named "Best Book for Christmas Break Reading," one of three book awards granted by Cruz Sola NT.


At the November meeting the faculty approved a new four-module certificate in Statistical Analytics and Program Evaluation to be offered at the Westmont in San Francisco program. The program draws upon the expertise and experience of our new director, Bruce Wydick, and will also feature some fine scholars from the Bay Area. 

This new post-baccalaureate certificate program seeks to equip college graduates with the modern statistical and analytical tools that are in demand today in both the non-profit and for-profit sectors. While the skills developed in the program are highly desirable within a wide range of for-profit businesses, the financial sector, and technology firms, courses in the program will emphasize program and policy evaluation in the context of poverty program interventions domestically and in developing countries. One target audience for the program will be those in the development and non-profit organizations who desire to obtain the technical skills needed to become experts in policy and program evaluation. Other audiences are recent college graduates who want to harness statistical and quantitative techniques before entering graduate schools or seeking employment in development work. The modules include studies in basic statistics, econometrics, program analysis, and machine learning.  


Typically in May the faculty have a week-long seminar on a theme related to faith and learning. Next semester we will get an early start on that seminar and spread the discussion throughout the spring. Our theme will be our liberal arts plank. We will fit some of the discussions in slices of regular meetings, such as one faculty meeting and one Faculty Forum. But there will also be a couple events, in the late afternoon or evening, that allow more time for some longer conversations and explorations. 

The conversations will provide glances at different historical stages of the liberal arts, including the Greek "trivium" and "quadrivium," the synthesis of classical and Christian learning in the medieval era, and the spread of American liberal arts colleges in the nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. We will survey different definitions and categorizations of modern liberal arts schools, such as the criteria to belong to the Annapolis Group (of which Westmont is a member). We will consider how our Christian faith gives distinctive shape and meaning to the ideals of the liberal arts and what parts of our liberal arts heritage we value most, even as we assess how the dynamic nature of liberal arts learning helps us adapt to the contemporary landscape. The schedule of conversations will be announced in January.


This fall Mary Docter once again led the Westmont in Mexico program, and as always she has drawn on her enthusiasm and expertise to ensure that students have a rich range of experiences. To hear something of their life in Mexico, you can listen in to Mary's own report of their semester:

"It’s hard to believe we’re in the homestretch of Westmont in Mexico! I’ve been particularly impressed with how much students have immersed themselves in the local culture in Querétaro. All eighteen live with Mexican families and study at the state university. Besides their own WIM courses, students audited classes with Mexican nationals in huapango (dance), theater, history, and literature. A highlight of the students’ literary translation course was that they actually met with a different author each week, listened to him/her describe the work, and then worked on translating that author's work together. I should add that these authors are first-class—one even won the national book award! Students have recorded their translations with the author in a professional studio and the work will be published online. Some of our students have been guests on Araceli’s Ardón’s television program, which is shot live and shown throughout Mexico.

In their co-curricular life, students have celebrated Mexican independence with the locals and witnessed the Fiesta de la Cruz, where students interviewed the dancer participants to learn more about this three-day religious event. They’ve competed on several university sports teams; our women even took home the bronze medal in swimming! They have been engaged in service opportunities at various non-profits, including the Casa del Migrante, which provides a range of services for migrants coming from Central America as well as Mexico; Gigi’s Playhouse, a non-profit helping children with Downs Syndrome; and at a local sorting and recycling center among others.

A highlight for the group was our trip to the Sierra Gorda biosphere reserve. We rowed through crystal clear waters, hiked through rivers, swam under waterfalls, splashed in caves, jumped off cliffs (carefully!!), and spent time in a Temazcal (a kind of sauna/sweat lodge from pre-Hispanic times used for purification ceremonies). Students prayed and sang worship songs inside the dome, which provided a unique location for a kind of worship experience. We enjoyed learning more about St. Serra’s missions and being immersed in God’s beautiful creation."


The exceptional finish from the volleyball team was just one of several strong performances by our athletic program this fall. Three of our teams claimed at least a share of the Golden State Athletic Conference (GSAC) title. The men’s soccer team, ranked fourth in the nation at the end of the regular season, finished undefeated in the conference for the first time since 1989 and won the regular-season crown. They played in the final 16 of the nation for the first time since 2008, and concluded the year at 13-3-1, one of their finest records ever. The women’s soccer team shared the regular-season title with Vanguard, and played their way into national quarterfinals. Both Dave Wolf and first-year coach Jenny Jaggard were named GSAC Coaches of the Year, and Tim Heiduk and Bri Johnson (photo) were the Players of the Year. 

The women’s cross country team finished second in the conference, and Madden Hundley and Michael Oldbach qualified for the NAIA national finals.  Even in their first year as varsity programs, the golf teams and swimming team reached some milestones. The women’s golf team won the William Jessup Invitation, and the swimming team has qualified all of its relay teams for the national championships. Bailey Lemmon, a first-year student, became the first Warrior to qualify for the nationals as an individual when she swam the 50-yard freestyle in 25.4 seconds.


Several faculty in the fine arts have received some honors and awards from local and regional organizations. The City of Santa Barbara has awarded a Community Arts Grant to Print Power, a group of four artists which includes Meagan Stirling (photo). The grant enables them to offer screen printing workshops during Sexual Assault Awareness Month (April 2020) to survivors of sexual assault and interpersonal violence.

The Theatre Department had a clean sweep at the 2019 Santa Barbara Independent awards, with each main Westmont stage production being honored with an Indy Award for outstanding direction. Mitchell Thomas was recognized for his direction of a new adaptation of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, and John Blondell took home the award for his innovative direction of Mozart's The Magic FluteThe Independent also lauded Mitchell's recent production of Nikolai Gogol's The Government Inspector as "painfully relevant and delightfully ridiculous . . . "  

Scott Anderson has just received a Bronze Award from the Society of Illustrators Los Angeles for this cover for the Miami New Times. The cover story describes the conditions in the detention center for migrant children in Homestead, Florida. Public outrage caused the government to shut the facility down at the end of November. The facility had grown rapidly last year—from 1,350 to nearly 3000 beds in a matter of months—and the sponsoring company was shown to have bypassed child welfare background checks during its hiring.  


. . . Patterson, that is. Don was invited to present in a "twitterstorm" hosted by a K-12 advocacy group in New York City and the foundation that maintains the processing program language.

The focus was on infusing ethics into Computer Science curricula rather than isolating such discussions in special ethics courses. The live, one-hour online "conversation" attracted participants from a wide variety of liberal arts schools and has catalyzed an online repository of shared programming assignments that compel students to wrestle with difficult ethical choices in their code. Here's a link to more information. Don was also invited to speak at the MIT Enterprise Forum of the Central Coast on "The Art and Science of Machine Learning." The talk was geared toward non-technical professionals who are trying to understand what machine learning is and how it is affecting business processes, particularly in the non-profit sector.  

Reading about Don's presentations reminded me of conversations prompted at the recent meeting of chief academic officers from the Council of Independent Colleges. For me, the most noteworthy keynote was given by Illah Nourbakhsh of Carnegie Mellon on robotics, artificial intelligence, and their implication for the future curriculum. Nourbakhsh gave a lucid explanation of the ways that technology and AI have enhanced and threatened “human agency” and what the curriculum should do to prepare citizens for this future dominated by “digital labor.” He offered some challenging glimpses of new realities, including a Japanese professor who has created a robot that looks like him and teaches his courses in his absence. He also called attention to the dilemma in China where various provinces were forcing workers to migrate because so many jobs had been lost to robots. Those practices had led to some provincial laws against intranational immigration, a kind of domestic border wall. Most of all, though, he made appeals to cultivate not just "technological literacy" but "technological fluency." He described that as a three-stage process that should be part of the curricular mission: 1) learning to ask questions of data, especially "big data"; 2) learning to use data to create stories and "narrative complexity"; and 3) learning "responsible advocacy," or how to use data and narrative with integrity to make positive changes in a polarized world.


Earlier this semester the Provost's Office completed the annual credit hour/load report study for 2018-2019. The top three faculty members in terms of credit hours taught (number of students in a course times the number of credit hours per course) were Holly Beers (928), David Hunter (796), and Telford Work (772). The top departments were Religious Studies (4950), Kinesiology (3536), Economics and Business (3051), English (2996), and History (2348). The largest class at Westmont? Marty Asher gets that honor with his Principles of Microeconomics course (67 students). Michael Shasberger and the orchestra were close behind (62).

All told, Westmont taught 38,345 credit hours last year during the fall and spring semesters; 31,544 were taught by full-time faculty (82%). If you count the courses taught by other full-timers at the college (e.g., varsity athletics taught by coaches, seminars taught by Student Life professionals or college administrators, Global Education courses taught by full-time directors, etc.), the total goes to 33,428, or 87%. Add in Mayterm and the sum climbs up to 88%.

These statistics certainly contrast national trends. According to the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), only 21% of courses at American colleges and universities are taught by tenured or tenure-track faculty. Nearly half of the teaching faculty are part-timers and at least 14% are graduate assistants.

When reviewing this data, I am grateful for two things. First, I appreciate that one of the features of Westmont is that so many teacher-scholars are committed to teaching all undergraduates, from first-year students to seniors. Second, while only 12% of our credit hours are taught by adjuncts, I know that the list of adjuncts includes so many teachers who are deeply admired by students and who bring special expertise and enrichment to the curriculum.



Kyndal Vogt has joined Westmont’s library staff as our new Electronic Resources and Serials Manager. A graduate of Westmont in 2015, she was a history major who found her studies valuable in her recent work as the Activities Coordinator for Assisted Living and Memory Care at The Samarkand. “Over the two years I worked with the residents,” she observes, “I became the repository for give-or-take 100 persons’ life stories. I was able to give their stories back to them when they couldn't remember who they were.” Kyndal is completing her MLIS degree at the University of Denver.


Westmont has signed an articulation agreement with Denver Seminary that allows our graduates to receive up to 19 credits toward a graduate degree at the seminary.

The Academic Senate has voted to remove the limitation on the overlap between majors and minors.

The Senate has also approved a new Mayterm in South Africa that will be led by Maryke van der Walt. The program will feature an advanced course in Mathematics co-taught by Maryke and J.A.C. Weideman, a leading scholar in numerical mathematics, from Stellenbosch University. Students will also complete a course on Reconciliation in South Africa, featuring guest speakers from different walks of life in South Africa as well as some preliminary lectures from Meredith Whitnah while the students are still in the United States.

Sarah Perry, a Westmont graduate from 2007, will assume a one-semester role with the Biology Department in the spring. She finished her doctorate at UC Riverside in molecular genetics and has been working in a post-doc at USC.


Steve Rogers and Jesse Covington have recently been promoted to full professors by the Board of Trustees.    


This year the following departments are undergoing their six-year reviews: Theatre Arts, Music, Modern Languages and the Library.

During this academic year we launched two minors—Environmental Studies and Film Studies—and both had robust enrollments. The "Digital Filmmaking" course—the anchor course in the film minor—will be offered this spring and already has a waiting list.

Ed Song, who has directed our Westmont Downtown program this fall, has been appointed to a four-year term on the Study Commission on Doctrine for the Free Methodist Church. The SCOD studies theological and social issues for the church and makes recommendations to the denomination.

This fall's Paul C. Wilt Phi Kappa Phi lecture was delivered by David VanderLaan, who spoke on the topic of "Christian Hope and the End Without End." Telford Work and Stephen Zylstra were respondents.

Sonya Welch organized a celebratory lunch for First-Generation Students to correspond with the National First-Generation Student Day. Approximately 20% of Westmont's incoming class this fall are first-generation students. Jim Taylor, once a first-generation student himself, gave some words of advice and encouragement.

The Professional Development Committee approved two Faculty Reading Groups this fall. Aaron Sizer organized one on race in preparation for the spring Conversation on the Liberal Arts (19 faculty and staff participating). Michael Everest organized one on Active Learning Science Pedagogy (10 faculty).

In September and October there were brown-bag conversations on "Critical Thinking" facilitated by Jim Taylor, who is serving this year as our Lead Assessment Specialist for this area. Jim brought some examples from James Lang’s Small Teaching: Everyday Lessons from the Science of Learning

Don Patterson will be leading a new "Redemptive Entrepreneurship" course in Santa Barbara next semester, all part of the efforts of the WestHub program at Westmont Downtown.

The Gaede Institute will be hosting Andrea Gurney as its keynote speaker during its annual Conversation on Youth and Vocation on January 10. The program serves students, parents, and alums. Andrea will no doubt draw from her research for her recent book Reimagining Your Love Story: Biblical and Psychological Practices for Healthy Relationships.


I never like seeing Christmas trees on sale before Thanksgiving, but I am afraid that is a battle that I will lose. So perhaps we might consider some of the worthy ways in which our holidays overlap.


Our current Thanksgiving began in the midst of the Civil War when Abraham Lincoln set aside the last Thursday of November as a national commemoration. Thanksgiving had long been observed as a regional tradition (frequently by fasting), but scheduled only intermittently as a national event. Then in 1863 Lincoln, buoyed by Union victories, heeded the advice of editor Sarah Josepha Hale and gave the national Thanksgiving an "authoritative fixation."


Admittedly, Lincoln is better known for Thanksgiving than for Christmas. As an Illinois congressman, he voted against making Christmas a statewide holiday. To be fair, he was less concerned with profit than with equity. The full Victorian amplification of Christmas festivities had not yet taken hold, and most Americans still worked on Christmas Day. Lincoln saw no reason then to ask those taxpayers to cover a holiday for state workers. 


Lincoln's official proclamation was actually drafted by William Seward, the Secretary of State, and it underscored many reasons to give thanks—“healthful skies” and abundant coal, to name just two that remind us that this was written in a different century. There are plenty of other themes in the proclamation that also now seem like distant refrains—appeals for “humble penitence” over personal and corporate sins, “harmony” for a divided country, and the “imposition of the Almighty hand to heal the wounds of the nation.”


That’s hardly our public rhetoric today. As I reread the proclamation this year, it struck me that in the midst of its civic platitudes there were ideals and values that echo themes of the Christian liberal arts. At its best, interdisciplinary study requires the humility to admit the limits of our own expertise, and good scholarship and broad inquiry are penitential in their way, requiring us to seek collaborative solutions to social ills, many of those injustices of our own making. And, like Seward and Lincoln, we acknowledge that despite our best endeavors to serve the common good we remain dependent on the mercy of God for our own failures. In that respect, the Thanksgiving Proclamation is a worthy prelude to Advent. It is a call for humility, healing, and gratitude as we prepare to celebrate the “imposition of the Almighty” in the most humble of beginnings.


So, as Christmas nears, now thank we all our God, with heart and hands and voices. Let heaven and nature sing.


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