Provost's Report December 2020


Hope, as Emily Dickinson reminds us, “is the thing with feathers.” A friend just gave me several feathers that had fallen from native Santa Barbara birds, such as the western scrub jay, the red-shafted flicker, and the acorn woodpecker, perhaps the one that hammers daily outside my office. This Advent, with the restraint, distancing, and prolonged uncertainty, it may be even more important to find hope and beauty in the small things, such as the most simple and surprising of gifts. I've enjoyed the arrival of fresh fruits—grapefruit, pears, pomegranates—as well as peach tea and homemade cider donuts. I am looking forward to the small puzzle I can do in less than an hour—a nice change from the usual time-consuming enigmas of the job. 

The break between Christmas and New Year's usually allows for a good book or two, and I now have beautiful hand-painted finger puppets—all of them authors—on my bookcase to help me choose. Dickens, Mantel, Marquez, Morrison, and, yes, Emily Dickinson are currently waiving their arms for my attention. Our Christmas tree has an intricate star woven from straw, the Nativity in earth and sky.  

What this reflection is, in fact, is a thank you for all the things, great and small, that have made my final semester at Westmont memorable, despite the limits and lockdowns. A week ago, when I was in the library, one of our colleagues stopped by to play a Christmas carol on his French horn. He was a bit rusty, he admitted, having just picked up the horn again not long ago after formerly studying it in youth. He offered it as a “parable,” an inspiration for me to revive some former instruments and pursuits in my post-provosting years. That gesture reminded me that Advent is not just about waiting for what is new, but also envisioning what can be restored. It is about resuming the practice of our faith. It can be about the mercy that repairs relationships and revives aspirations. Christ was born to redeem.

My friend asked me to pick any carol for him to play on his horn. I chose one. “Too many sharps,” he conceded. I chose another. “Too many flats.” So we settled on “Joy to the World,” and, with a pillowcase over the horn’s bell to ensure Covid protocols, he moved bravely through a single verse. 

It was the only live Christmas concert I will hear this year and the last live concert that I will hear as provost. And it will be one of the concerts that I will remember best. 

I have enjoyed writing these reports for you. I hope the coming year has tidings of comfort and joy.




Certainly one of fiercest challenges of the year for many faculty has been teaching courses in dual modalities. The faculty who shouldered that burden truly enabled us to sustain the fall semester through so many adjustments. Thanks for that remarkable effort.

If we need any metaphor for the dual modalities, it might have been the closing, triumphal carol of the Christmas festival—"Hark! The Herald Angels Sing." Michael Shasberger, Daniel Gee, and the videographers from Verité Studios made this finale all the more compelling by merging the choir and orchestra, even though they were performing in different locations. 

Although this year's festival had to be remote, the Music faculty and Verité made it both luminous and intimate. Cameras focused attention on specific instruments, notably the harp and cello in the Scottish song "Táladh Chrìosda" as adapted by Matthew Roy and the successive woodwinds in the Irish "Wexford Carol" as led by Michael.  

The theme of the festival—"Ris'n with Healing in His Wings"—was taken from the final carol, and was intended to convey hope in the midst of the pandemic. Felix Mendelssohn adapted the music from one of his earlier cantatas, and the Methodist hymn writer Charles Wesley composed the original words, which were first published in 1739, a year when many churches on the Atlantic seaboard—Anglican, Methodist, and others—faced widespread pandemics of smallpox and measles. Wesley drew some of his words from Malachi 4, where the “wings” might also be translated as the sun’s rays. A sense of that duality actually survives in the lyrics:

Hail the Heav’nly Prince of Peace!  Hail the Sun of Righteousness!

Light and Life to All he brings, Ris’n with Healing in his Wings.

Here, in this beloved carol, the light of the Nativity blends with the wings of flight, the promise of redemption and release. I pray that many in our world who are struggling with ravages of the pandemic will know that healing and luminance.  

May your Christmas be blessed.


The faculty voted to approve a new post-baccalaureate Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree, a partnership with Cottage Hospital. Most of the classes will be offered in the lower two floors of the Westmont Downtown facility on Anapamu Street. The program aims to serve around 48 students a year. Over the course of the next semester the curriculum will be refined and we will pursue the process of approvals from the California Board of Registered Nursing (BRN). The starting date is envisioned for 2022.


Like all accredited programs, the nursing curriculum will need to match the regulatory-based standards of the BRN, though we are also aiming to integrate many aspects of Westmont's liberal arts distinctives. The prevailing theme of the program will be "compassionate care"—a theme that will draw on the knowledge and perspectives of many academic disciplines and will reflect our Christian values and calling. Students entering the program from colleges other than Westmont will need to complete virtually all of our general education requirements, and we have embedded several of these requirements in the nursing courses themselves, which should add a liberal arts dimension to the professional training. For instance, the introductory course in the program—Nursing for Human Flourishing—will include strong philosophical content. The overall program will emphasize qualitative and quantitative research skills, examine the social and political contexts of health care, and explore cross-cultural dimensions of nursing. Two seminars on Nursing and the Liberal Arts will accent interdisciplinary themes, and provide an array of experiential or focused learning opportunities, such as engagements in the Westside, the literature of death and dying, robotic design and health care, and the welfare of inmates and the homeless. Several faculty had important roles shaping the proposal, with Eileen McMahon McQuade leading most of the discussions. We were deeply indebted as well to the advice of Carol Velas, our nursing consultant, who has done so much to help us understand nursing curricula and the regulations of the BRN.

I am hopeful that the program can retain a liberal arts distinctive and provide a uniquely interdisciplinary approach to nursing education. Furthermore, I anticipate that the program will help many of our students contribute meaningfully to serving the health needs of our diverse population in the county and the state.


Brenda Smith

As I finish up my own final semester, I also want to acknowledge the mid-year retirement of Brenda Smith, professor of psychology. A cognitive psychologist interested in learning, memory processes, and moral development, Brenda has served in the department since 1989. She has long taught senior capstone research courses—training students how to develop research studies, read and analyze research literature, perform their own research, and present their research results at the annual Spring Research Symposium. Brenda recently reflected on her Westmont career: "Teaching students from their entry year to their senior year has been incredibly rewarding because they often develop so much in so many ways over that time. I love seeing them ‘get it,’ learn to think carefully about theories and data, and try when they're uncertain and afraid, and then succeed. I also love the work of encouraging my advisees as they identify their life goals and lay out paths to achieve those goals.”

One of her former students, Michelle Hardley, calls Brenda “the best mentor and friend one could have. She was just what I needed as a new graduate 21 years ago when I started as a lab coordinator for the department, and continues to be a wise sounding board on any topic when needed. She also shared my love of tea with cream, which is rare.”

As Ron See observes, “her leadership, wisdom, and passion for teaching Westmont psychology students will be missed.” Brenda has enjoyed many leadership roles at Westmont, including chairing the department and serving as an officer in Phi Kappa Phi.  

Over the years, Michelle has had plenty of opportunities to venture overseas with Brenda, and claims she's “a hoot to travel with. My favorite memories were watching her drive through the Dordogne Valley in a rental car (thank goodness for GPS!), speaking French during our time in France, and hiking the hills (straight up and straight down) of the Cinque Terre in Italy. She loves a good adventure and is a great sport through all kinds of travels." 

I trust there are some wonderful trails ahead.


Porter theatre

The Theatre Arts Department has just announced a dual initiative, building largely on John Blondell’s recent work and seeking to address issues of equity and racial understanding. In the spring of 2022 we will hire a one-semester Artist in Residence for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Theatre Arts. The goal of the residency program is to diversify the teaching faculty and amplify the Theatre Arts Department’s focus on diversity, justice, global engagement, and intercultural competency. The guest faculty member, depending on disciplinary interests, can teach, direct, design, lead workshops, and interact with the Westmont and Santa Barbara communities. This is a three-year venture, with a new artist each year.

All this is made possible because John has restructured his contract to be free to pursue some international projects, and even in this independent role he will be a Global Ambassador in the Performing Arts for Westmont. Already known for bringing an international dimension to local theatre, John has been invited during recent years to direct in Armenia, Kazakhstan, Macedonia, Russia, China, and Poland, among other places, and he will continue to cultivate these cross-cultural partnerships, some of which might provide opportunities for our own graduates and colleagues.  


Deborah Dunn, Rachel Winslow, and Kayla Petersen made a presentation to the Dialogue Society Conference in London entitled “Learning to Listen and Striving for Space: Deliberating the Housing Crisis.” The Journal of the Dialogue Society is publishing Deborah and Rachel's paper "Learning to Listen Agonistically: Dialogue Encounters on the Eastside." The two will also be hosting a virtual summit entitled "Restoring Community and Strengthening Resilience" on Santa Barbara’s Eastside. Westmont students are facilitating this summit, which will bring neighbors, city leaders, service providers, people experiencing homelessness, and business owners together to talk about how homelessness has impacted the community and hopefully forge good working relationships so that together they might find sustainable solutions for homelessness on the Eastside.


I am pleased that Edd Noell has agreed to succeed Rick Pointer as our representative to the Christian Scholar’s Review. He will serve on an advisory board for the journal, and work to ensure its distribution at the college. Coincidentally, Edd (and our mutual friend Stephen Smith from Hope College) just published the lead article in the latest edition of CSR, entitled “Economics, Theology, and a Case for Economic Growth: An Assessment of Recent Critiques.”

Edd also presented “Why Does Economic Growth Matter? Making the Economic and Moral Case for Economic Growth in Light of the Current Pandemic” to The King’s College Honors Debate Society.


Jeff Schloss

Jeff Schloss keeps up a brisk pace, and our Provost's Report team has at least caught up to his pre-Covid motions. Last year Jeff was honored to give the Gregory Lectures on Science, Religion, and Human Flourishing at the University of Edinburgh and St. Andrews University. The topic of his lecture series was "Does Evolution Lead to Love?: Recent Findings on the Biology of Love & Flourishing." He was also invited to give a research talk at the international workshop on the Social Consequences of Religion hosted by Oxford University, sharing results from recent empirical work on "Religious Worship and Oxytocin-mediated signals of Commitment."

Jeff did a plenary presentation on "Cosmos or Chaos?: Evolution, Theism, and a Good Creation" for the Science Through the Eyes of Faith Conference at Greenville University, and a presentation on "Intelligent Design, Theistic Evolution, and Plantinga's Notion of Augustinian Science" at a Symposium on Evolution at the annual meetings of the Evangelical Philosophical Society. He served on the review committee for the Science and Religion as Meaning-Making Systems Initiative hosted by Oxford, and the advisory and review committee for Beyond the Turing Test /Morality in the Machine Age grant program by the Templeton Foundation. Finally, in conjunction with the BioLogos Foundation and Westmont's Center for Faith, Ethics, and Life Sciences, Jeff co-hosted an international workshop convening Christian biologists, psychologists, anthropologists, sociologists, theologians and philosophers for Conversations on Human Identity and Personhood.  


In October, Lisa DeBoer participated in an ecumenical gathering of scholars of liturgical art, convened by CIVA (Christians in the Visual Arts). The goal was to develop a shared framework for working together across confessional lines, better enabling CIVA as an organization to support and enhance the place of liturgical arts in congregational life.

Lisa was one of seventeen scholars and practitioners from Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant traditions invited to participate. Originally to have been hosted at Seattle University, a Jesuit university, the conversation took place by ZOOM instead, which allowed European participants to join in.


When the new semester starts, the Westmont Ridley-Tree Museum of Art will be excited to share highlights from our contemporary art collection. Acquired in the last decade, the works represent the depth and diversity of the art of our day. The exhibit will open on January 14 and extend to March 27, just beyond the one-year anniversary of the Covid-lockdown.

In that respect, it is intriguing that one of the major works in the show is a large painting evoking images of freedom and restraint. Kohn Walker's "The Centre, #2" is a massive 8’x10’ painting that quotes John 10:7: “In truth in very truth I tell you I am the door.” The bright red and dusty white geometric forms can be seen as either obstacles or portals, hinting at a passageway through the dark, textured backdrop. The exhibition will also include works by a number of acclaimed contemporary artists, including Marie Schoeff from our own Art Department.  



Every few years, Westmont participates in the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE), which asks seniors and first-year students to identify how often they participate in "high-impact educational practices" (HIP). The survey allows us to see how influential and memorable our teaching practices are among our students. We are able to compare our results with different cohort groups, such as West Coast Private Institutions (APU, Cal Arts, George Fox, Pepperdine, Whitworth, etc.) and a collection of National Liberal Arts Colleges (Beloit, Denison, Gordon, Harvey Mudd, Wheaton, etc.).

As always, the NSSE reveals some themes that we can pursue for improvement in future discussions, but overall there were several notes of distinction for Westmont. Thanks to Blake Kent, who helped us make an assessment of the results. Let me share some of the high notes for you.

Compared to both cohorts, Westmont was especially strong in collaborative learning and students' discussions with faculty outside of class. Our students also stand out in their attendance at campus events (e.g., lectures, musical performances) and in events that address social, political, and economic issues. Notably, Westmont students are more likely than their peers in the other groups to discuss political differences.    

Westmont also does well with high-impact practices. The six HIP are service learning, learning communities, research with faculty, internships or field work, global study, and a culminating senior experience. Almost three out of five (58%) of our first-year students have participated in at least one HIP (Far West 59%, National Liberal Arts 53%). Nine out of ten seniors (90%) have participated in two or more (Far West 64%, National Liberal Arts 86%).

Other very noteworthy results came in two specialized surveys on advising and global learning (not only study abroad, but also engagement with global issues on campus). On 14 out of 20 factors, we scored significantly higher than the norm on advising, hitting around the median on the other six factors. In general, faculty and non-faculty advisers got high marks from students. On global study, we scored significantly higher on all 20 of the factors. I'm pleased with those results since we have made many intentional efforts in recent years to improve advising, and we have continually sought to enlarge our consideration of global themes and challenges. Thanks to the many colleagues who have contributed to these efforts. I anticipate that faculty will have opportunities to discuss the NSSE results more fully in the spring.


Another lens on the attitudes and experiences of students comes from the CIRP (Cooperative Institutional Research Program) offered out of UCLA since 1966. This survey allows us to compare our own incoming students with those of other cohort groups. For this year, we measured ourselves (W) against the more selective four-year religious institutions in the country (4R). On many measures, our students share similar values and perspectives, but there were a few items where the distinctions are worthy of note.

Winter Hall

As in previous years, our incoming students are slightly more likely to see graduate school in their future than students at other religious institutions do. Nearly three quarters of our first-year students anticipate pursuing degrees beyond the bachelor's. A good percentage anticipate achieving a Ph.D. (W: 11.0%, 4R: 8.7%), an M.D. (W: 13.4, 4R: 12.0%), a J.D. (W: 5.2%, 4R: 4.0%), a professional doctorate, such as an Ed.D or Psy.D. (W: 4.1%, 4R: 4.0%), or a master's degree (W: 37.2%, 4R: 36.7%).  

Compared to our national group, we do have more students indicating interest in majoring in the Humanities and Social Sciences. That includes majors in English (W: 4.5%, 4R: 1.6%), History or Political Science (W: 10.7%, 4R: 5.5%), and Social Science (W: 12.9%, 4R: 9.3%). Business (W: 10.1%, 4R: 12.5%) and Education (W: 3.4%, 4R: 10.5%) run behind our comparison groups in terms of interests expressed among first-year students.

The Biological Sciences (14.6%) was the highest general area of interest among our first-year students. Not surprisingly, then, when compared to their peers in the cohort, more of our students expect to be medical doctors (W: 12.6%, 4R: 11.0%) or health professionals (W: 16.0%, 4R: 11.0%). Also, more of our first-year men (53.3%) than our women (48.3%) express a high academic self-concept.

Tim Loomer, who oversees much of our institutional research, will be sharing more of the results in the coming semester.


Sarah Skripsky

Sarah Skripsky, who has long directed the Writers’ Corner, will assume responsibilities as a Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC) coordinator as part of her responsibilities. This initiative grows out of our recent assessment of our Institutional Learning Outcome (ILO) on writing. All told, Westmont students did relatively well in the assessment, though more work is needed on “rhetorical sensitivity and mobility,” or the capacity to write for multiple audiences. Addressing this will help students move from being competent writers to good writers. It is also a vital ability for succeeding in one’s own discipline and vocation, since professionals need to communicate to diverse audiences. The chemist, for instance, will need to write abstracts for scholarly journals, grants for donors and foundations, and talks or newsletters for popular audiences.  

Sarah will work individually with departments on strategies to enhance these skills, as well as sponsor some workshops. Other aspects of her WAC duties will involve harmonizing standards for our writing-intensive courses and determining more accurate and just ways of placing incoming students in composition (English 002). Like all good WAC coordinators, Sarah will help faculty to be better stewards of their time and energy by informing them of the latest research on effective and time-efficient strategies for promoting writing. We can all unlearn a few pedagogical habits so we can both free up our time and improve students’ writing abilities simultaneously.


Thank You:  Since this is my final report, I want to express my deep appreciation to the many people who have helped me put these together. To Jaron Burdick and Manuela Long, who faithfully collected information about faculty achievements and did so much of the formatting and support work. To Jaehee Han for her technical assistance. To Michelle Hardley, Tatiana Nazarenko, and others for suggesting stories. A very special thank you to Eileen McMahon McQuade, who occasionally wrote selections for me, and most certainly to Patti Hunter, who devoted many hours to helping me envision, prepare, and refine the text, largely because she enjoys celebrating her colleagues. I'm grateful.

Best Wishes: I also want to give my best wishes to Rick Ifland as he undertakes the interim provost role. Rick and I both ran track in college, so we are spending some significant time together to make sure that our baton pass is smooth. Rick, you and all of the Provost's Office staff will be in my prayers during the semester ahead. Hebrews 12:1-2.

American Idol: Jonathan Hicks recently assisted the Electrics Department in the lighting for American Idol's Season 4 in Ojai. It was a fantastic learning experience, which will aid the new Film Studies minor in the process of developing equipment resources. He is looking forward to training film students in the craft of lighting for TV & Film as the year continues.

Deciding to Go DowntownEnrico Manlapig and Phil Beccue ('81) delivered a lecture entitled "Decision Analysis and the Common Good" as part of the Westmont Downtown Lecture Series. The lecture was broadcast remotely from Hieronymous Lounge.

Dr. Gee: Congratulations to Daniel Gee, who has completed his D.M.A.—Doctorate of Music Arts–at the University of Southern California's Thornton School of Music. His dissertation is entitled "Osvaldo Golijov's La Pasión según San Marcos: A Theological Commentary." It analyzes Golijov's recent St. Mark Passion from a theological perspective, seeking to demonstrate the importance of theological understanding in the overall analysis of sacred choral works. Daniel's degree requirements included two concert-length choral recitals, one of which involved premiering his own composition based on poetry by Paul Willis. Which leads to my "final word" . . .

Final Word: This is the final word in my last report, and I am delighted to make it about poetry. Congratulations to Paul Willis. His poem "Shakespearean Candidates" has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize by the journal Light.​

2019 - 2020