Provost's Report October 2020


This is the first Provost’s Report since the summer of protests and pandemic, and I do want to accent some of the initiatives faculty are pursuing related to race, justice, and the curriculum. 

During a recent national meeting of the Lilly Fellows Program, theologian Jeremy Wilkins of Boston College linked mercy to the process of discovering when you are wrong. That struck me as an intriguing way to think about scholarship at a Christian liberal arts college. In many respects, our intellectual work is to move beyond the limits of our own specialties and understanding. And it reminds me that the current national conversation about race and justice will require me to reach for knowledge that reshapes many of my assumptions about history, policy, and community. This vision of mercy is rooted in humility and a longing for truth.

This is also the 52nd Provost’s Report since the first one appeared in 2012. I will do a final one at the close of the term. This series will end, therefore, with number 53, an Eisenstein prime, which should make Russ Howell proud.

Over the years I have certainly been proud to showcase the work of my colleagues. Admittedly, the reports have grown a little longer as time has gone by. What was once a couple pages has become a full short story, with nearly as many characters as a Tolstoy novel. I do hope you have found inspiration in these panoramas of our community's aspirations and achievements.

Plenty of articles are written about how to start a provost's job, but few about how to end one. When I came here nine years ago, there was a great deal of compelling scholarly and creative work in motion, and it has been a delight to see so much energy emerge out of the endeavors of the younger colleagues who have recently come aboard. Like the outlaw in the old westerns, I will be jumping off a moving train.

Mark Sargent Signature



When the college adopted Micah 6:8 as a keynote for a new webpage, I was reminded that this oft-cited verse comes from a prophetic book filled with oracles of judgment and cries of lament, entreaties to care for the poor and disadvantaged, and reminders of communal failure and broken covenants. The ancient context helps us see how the passage can provide a compelling theme for this current historical moment. Part of our responsibility, as Christians and academics, is to help explore and discuss how we can address historic and systemic injustices, and to acknowledge our own roles in ignoring or perpetuating them. 

In a statement for the website, I have endeavored to connect Micah to our current context and to describe some of the initiatives that faculty have undertaken this semester. We will be continually updating the summary. At the recommendation of the Academic Senate, we are also asking each department to identify its own efforts to pursue themes of justice, racial equity, and inclusion in their curriculum. 

I want to call attention to one upcoming opportunity. The faculty on the Diversity Committee will be working with Carmel Saad and me to launch a year-long faculty workshop on “Teaching for Racial Equity.” This is an opportunity for a small group of faculty (15-20) to belong to an ongoing discussion group exploring themes about racial equity and collaborating together on syllabi revisions and other curricular projects. The program begins this fall with two sessions (November 9, 5:00 to 7:00, and December 2, 5:00 to 7:00) and will conclude with three sessions in the spring. Both sessions this fall will be remote. Interested faculty should contact Jaron Burdick.  


Mercy Anyika joins Westmont this fall in a one-year appointment as an assistant professor of Chemistry, teaching our lab sections. A native of Kenya, Mercy completed her bachelor of science degree at the University of Nairobi, and then finished her doctorate in organic chemistry at Michigan State University. 

Mercy was a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Kansas, and then taught for four years at Metropolitan Community College in Missouri. At MCC, she established Project SEED, a research program for underrepresented high school students that is funded by the American Chemical Society. She also started a synthetic and medicinal research group for college students who wanted to pursue scholarly work beyond the classroom.


For the past year, Dan Jensen has served as an advisor to us in the development of our engineering curriculum, and I am pleased to announce that he has accepted the position of director of the engineering program and professor of engineering, beginning in July 2021. Currently the owner of Creo Consulting Company, Dan completed all his degrees—his B.S., M.S. and Ph.D. in mechanical engineering—at the University of Colorado. From 1997 to 2018, he served on the engineering faculty of the Air Force Academy, and has taught at the University of the Pacific and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratories. 

Among his many current activities, he is a senior fellow at Singapore University of Technology and MIT International Design Center. He is the author of scores of articles and chapters, and has received numerous grants, including several from the  National Science Foundation’s Division of Undergraduate Education for work with students. Dan brings a passion for “design” as a central feature of an engineering curriculum, which he thinks about in distinctly interdisciplinary ways. He has wide experience with curriculum development and accreditation and will continue to work with us as a consultant until he joins Westmont full-time during the coming summer.


Westmont’s music program has entered into a partnership with the Santa Barbara Symphony that enables Yvette Devereaux to serve as a "conducting artist and community liaison" at Westmont. A graduate of Chapman University and Peabody Conservatory of Music at Johns Hopkins, Yvette is currently the director of the Santa Barbara Youth Symphony. An accomplished violinist, she has played in numerous orchestras, including the West Coast Chamber Orchestra led by Michael Shasberger

Yvette has extensive experience in the film and television industries as a conductor of musical soundtracks, and has taught at Oakwood School in North Hollywood, Mount St. Mary’s College, Compton Community College, and Chapman. She has also been a guest conductor with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the San Francisco Symphony, and a guest lecturer with the Moscow Conservatory.  


Westmont’s Gaede Institute for the Liberal Arts already had a good track record with the Lilly Endowment (i.e., Trailhead, Frontiers), and the team scored again as the principal authors of a new million-dollar grant on service to congregations. The "Thriving Congregations" project will be a program connecting the resources of the college to Central Coast congregations as they adapt to changes in the context of their ministry: generational transitions, demographic shifts, new cultural dynamics, and—newly urgent—weathering and emerging from lockdown.

The project will be co-directed by campus pastor Scott Lisea and the Gaede Institute’s Aaron Sizer. Lilly awarded the grants to less than 12% of the applicants. President Beebe, Enrico Manlapig (through his Decision Lab), Rachel Winslow and Deborah Dunn (through their Initiative in Public Deliberation and Dialogue), and several other faculty will be major contributors.


The fall athletic seasons have seen some limited action so far—a successful outing for our golf teams and a sweep of a home cross country meet. Yet even as the fields and courts have been relatively quiet, there are still some athletic headlines.

Our women's soccer team was named to College Athletic Advisor's inaugural list of "Programs That Inspire." The list was drawn from all schools outside of NCAA Division I. Westmont finished eighth among the twenty programs selected, and was the highest-ranked of all NAIA schools and all California schools. The rankings were designed to honor those colleges committed to the "holistic development of student-athletes." The criteria include academic achievement, overall college experience for participants, student satisfaction, affordability, and graduation rates. Coach Jenny Jaggard observes, "we are striving to create an environment that prioritizes relationships, while striving for excellence in academics and athletic performance within the context of our faith in Christ."

The Santa Barbara Athletic Round Table named its annual Coach of the Year Award for all sports after John Moore in honor of his long career and community engagement. Gary Cunningham, the former UCLA coach and chair of the Round Table, observed that “people were really excited that we were going to name this after John." According to Gary, John "was overwhelmed that we would even consider him. I told him, 'You came to the Round Table meetings for so many years, and you were always praising other coaches and athletes. . . . You're very deserving.'" 

The NAIA also honored 12 of Westmont’s 2019-2020 athletic teams as "Scholar Teams," with 52 students receiving scholar-athlete status. For the fourth-straight year, women’s cross country had the top GPA (3.55); soccer had the highest average for the men (3.34). Several teams achieved the "Scholar Team" designation for the seventh-straight year (women’s cross country, women’s track and field, volleyball, and women’s soccer). The athletic program at Westmont was also a “Champions of Character Five-Star” winner, scoring 97 out of 100 possible points. Congratulations to Dave Odell and the coaching staff.


Serah Shani has been awarded a $230,300 grant from the John Templeton Foundation for research on a project in East Africa. The project will study the "Cultural Evolution of the Conscience, Virtues, Character Development, and Human Progress" among the Maasai people in Kenya. Serah’s research will explore the moral values and virtues Maasai parents are teaching their children to help them succeed in a competitive market economy. 

Other themes to be explored are the moral enculturation within different socioeconomic groups as well as the effect of religion, geography, markets, and missionary work on moral development. Serah will examine the moral values that are held in common by traditional Maasai and the global influences on them. This will be the first research about the conscience among the Maasai studied with both qualitative and quantitative methods and from interdisciplinary perspectives.


Marilyn McEntyre, who is teaching a course this semester at Westmont in San Francisco on the literature of plagues and pandemics, has a new book Speaking Peace in a Climate of Conflict. Next spring, she will publish several other new books: Where the Eye Alights (40 Lenten Readings); a new edition of Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies; and Dear Doctor (reflections on clinical conversation). 

Marilyn spoke last month at the Trinity Forum in Washington, DC, and she will speak soon at the University of Wisconsin’s Upper House. She has been part of the Andrews University’s Waller Lecture series, a podcast by the University of Pittsburgh’s Beatrice Institute last month, and Alberta Health Services’ Spiritual Care Awareness Week this month.


Our public lectures this fall will be offered remotely, but you should consider zooming in for them.

Kya Mangrum will be the speaker at this fall's Phi Kappa Phi lecture on October 29 at 5:30. Her lecture is entitled "Derisive Play: Experiencing Pleasure in Anti-Black Violence." She defines derisive play as "the reading, interpretation, circulation, and adaptation of Black people's stories and visual images in ways that provide both pleasure and a sense of belonging for white viewers." Kya will trace how anti-Black derisive play developed in the media landscapes of the U.S. Civil War. In those landscapes, she observes, "derisive play allowed white viewers . . . to reimagine anti-Black media (and themselves) as innocent of wrongdoing."

This fall we will also be continuing our lecture series downtown, though we won't be meeting at the University Club as usual but will be viewing online. Eric Nelson will lead off the series on October 21 at 5:30 with a presentation on Covid-19 and mental health. Then, at 5:30 on Thursday, November 19, Enrico Manlapig will speak on his research about decision analysis.  


The new book by Charles FarhadianChristianity: A Brief Introduction (Baker Academic), will be released in early November. His text is aimed at those less familiar with the Christian faith, and it explores the shape of Christianity's past, present, and future. The book examines the global reach of the Christian movement, and accounts for the cultural, social, and theological issues that have shaped Christianity worldwide.

Charlie also wrote a review of Making Congregational Music Local (Routledge) for the Journal of World Christianity (Edinburgh University Press) and a review of Jesus in Asia (Harvard University Press) by R.S. Sugirtharajah.


Paul Willis has published a Young Adult time-travel novel, All in a Garden Green, which jumps from the present day to the England of 1578. The story features a young woman who becomes part of a Catholic family’s attempts to entertain the Protestant queen, Elizabeth I. 

The story is set in Hengrave Hall, which served as the base for Westmont’s England Semester program from 1984 to 2004. The novel draws on some of Paul’s own experiences teaching there. The title refers to a famous song from the era, and the story accents how music can provide "a living moment of palpable beauty" that can be reconciling.


Along with Adam Miglio (Wheaton College), Joshua Walton (Capital University), and Ken Way (Biola University), Caryn Reeder has edited a Festschrift in honor of John Walton, professor of Old Testament at Wheaton. The book—entitled For Us, but Not To Us: Essays on Creation, Covenant, and Context—will be released soon from Wipf & Stock. Essays are authored by scholars (and former students) of John Walton, and come out of a variety of disciplines, from Old and New Testament studies to archaeology and theology. 

Caryn also has a chapter, “The Gender of a Christological Metaphor in Luke and Paul,” in the book Jesus the Slave.


Christian Scholar’s Review has created a new interdisciplinary blog and invited some of the top Christian thinkers in various disciplines to contribute 250-to-1500 word blog posts on a once-a-month basis. Their desire is to increase the resources that discuss how “Christ animates learning across a broad range of fields.” 

Russ Howell is one of the sixteen scholars chosen to contribute monthly columns. Additionally, as an outgrowth of work with his research group, Russ published "Zeros of a One-parameter Family of Harmonic Trinomials" in the Proceedings of the American Mathematical Society


Kristi Lazar Cantrell’s research group—a collaboration with scholars at UCSB and elsewhere as well as with several of our own students—recently published three journal articles. The first article “Modulating ALS-Related Amyloidogenic TDP-43307-319 Oligomeric Aggregates with Computationally Derived Therapeutic Molecules” was published in the journal Biochemistry. This article includes the work of Westmont alumna Nicole Marsh.

The second article “Cytotoxicity of a-Helical, Staphylococcus aureus PSMa3 Investigated by Post-Ion-Mobility Dissociation Mass Spectrometry,” was published in the journal ACS Analytical Chemistry. Written in collaboration with researchers from the University of Tennessee, the article involved the work of current Westmont student Grace Schonfeld.

The final article, “Terminal Capping of an Amyloidogenic Tau Fragment Modulates Its Fibrillation Propensity,” was just published in The Journal of Physical Chemistry B and will appear on the journal’s cover. Developed in collaboration with research groups at UCSB, the article includes the work of Grace Schonfeld and alums Sarah Claud and Benjamin Trapp.


Barbara DeVivo, who served full-time last year on the Economics and Business faculty, has taken a leave of absence this year, yet is teaching one course remotely this fall while she lives in Tennessee. The last year has been a very productive year for her publications on tumor boards. A tumor board is a group of doctors and health care specialists—such as pathologists, surgeons, and radiation oncologists—who meet to discuss cancer cases and determine the best form of treatment and care. Barbara's research considers how social class and other cultural factors shape their medical and ethical decision-making.

The International Journal of Cancer Research & Therapeutics published her article "Sparsity, Discrepancies and Inconclusiveness in our Understanding of Tumor Board Functionality." Her essay "Tumor Boards: The Influence of Social Hierarchy on Cancer Treatment Decision-Making" appeared in the Journal of National Comprehensive Care Network, while a third article, entitled "An Ethnographic Study Illuminating the Effect of Endogenous and Exogenous Uncertainty on Tumor Board Decision-Making" was published by the Journal of the American Society of Clinical Oncology. Barbara also presented a poster at the National Cancer Care Network's annual conference (virtual) in Orlando, and at the Experts Meeting on Cancer Medicine, Radiology & Treatment (also virtual) in Athens, Greece. She has been invited to present as well at the Cancer Research and Drug Development Conference in Baltimore.


After the cancellation of last spring’s senior art show, our museum curator Chris Rupp hung the student works and the museum staff created an online version of the exhibit. We also hosted the online version of “Matter + Spirit,” a major traveling show of Chinese and American artists. “Making a Fine Impression," an exhibit of prints collected by ’62 alums Faith and Dewayne Perry, also opened virtually. The historic prints, mostly from the Renaissance, cover many biblical themes, and include works by Rembrandt, Dürer, Rubens, and others. A few contemporary pieces—such as Tony Askew's "Santa Fe #2" (left)—are also included.

Daniel Gee was one of three musicians featured at the annual meeting of the Lilly Fellows Program National Conference, as he discussed his work with other composers who, like himself, had been Lilly Graduate Fellows. He gave a compelling description of the process of composing a hymn for the Westmont choir, in which he, drawing on medieval traditions, represented the Incarnation through the juxtaposition of A sharp (divine) and E flat (human). The Music Department has been offering a rich program of virtual Friday concerts. The series opened with a piano-and-flute duet by Neil and Andrea DiMaggio, and then featured a world premiere of music by Gary Barnett sung by Michael Shasberger and Nichole DeChaine.

The Theatre program launches its virtual season with a world-premiere digital performance of Small Enchantments, commissioned by the department. It will be directed by John Blondell. This work by Boston-based playwright Lila Rose Kaplan is an immersive theatrical adventure—part play, part art installation, and part apocalyptic fairy tale. Also, this semester will offer a couple original capstone projects written and directed by seniors. Other features essays and poems performed by mixed-race students at Westmont, while Louisa examines the literary success and personal tragedy of Louisa May Alcott, the famous author of Little Women. Both projects can be streamed.


We've now completed the seven weeks of our First-Year Seminar for incoming students.Thirty-four faculty and staff taught the seven-week sessions, focused on "Living Your Stories at Westmont." Students were only required to attend the first four weeks, and about 60% of the students chose to complete the full seven weeks to earn a unit of credit. By most reports, the students' opportunities to speak and write about their own journeys were helpful in making connections with one another during the remote beginning to the semester.

Next fall we are launching the new "Social Impact Analytics" certificate at Westmont in San Francisco. Bruce Wydick, who has returned to the tenured post at the University of San Fransisco, will continue with an adjunct appointment at Westmont in order to oversee the certificate program. We are building a consortium of schools that are interested in sending students to the program.

Rachel Winslow has received a grant to support the program coordinator of the Westmont Initiative for Public Deliberation and Dialogue. On October 22, the WIPDD will examine the competing issues in Proposition 25, a referendum on a law passed to replace the cash bail system.

Provost's Report Archives

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