Westmont Magazine A Vision for Westmont
Our ambition as a college is really quite simple: it is to be a quality liberal arts college rooted in Christ. Two things about that statement are worth noting. First, it’s nothing new. It has been our ambition from the very beginning. It’s not Stan’s vision. Nor is it the faculty’s vision. Nor is it something that we have devised to fit the times. Rather, it’s the vision we have inherited from the foundation of this college. And it will be the one that guides us in the days to come.
At the same time, however, I can’t imagine anything more needed in this culture, in these days. Large and growing universities we have in abundance. Indeed, the trend seems to be that colleges and universities want to grow and want to offer more of everything.
Westmont does not. It seeks to do one thing, and to do it well — and faithfully. That one thing is to educate a select number of students, who were well prepared by gifting and background, enabling them to flourish as God intended them to flourish. Deepening their faith. Opening their mind to the wonders of God’s creation. Equipping them with the tools for living. And launching them into a world that badly needs them. We trust that they leave this college not as a privileged few, but a grateful people whose love of God inspires their service.
It’s a very tall order, this ambition of ours. And it will require three things. The first we have already mentioned: a clear understanding of our mandate and an unwillingness to be deterred from pursuing it. That will not be easy, both because of who we are and because of the culture in which we reside. On the one hand, we are fallen people, easily distracted from those things God has put before us. We will need God’s protection as well as His Spirit to lead us if we are to pursue this vision faithfully and successfully.
But we also live in a culture that makes an integrated educational vision extraordinarily difficult. Fragmentation is the norm for us. We grow up thinking of our Christian faith as something we do on Sunday morning, or in a Bible study, or when we pray. But then we go off to school (or work) and do something else. And we learn to separate 90 percent of what we do from following Christ.
But Westmont’s vision assumes Christ is preeminent in all things. That the entirety of our lives and our education is integrated in Him. That the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. And that means that we are swimming upstream. We better be in good shape, or we’ll be swept in quite a different direction.
A second ingredient of this vision is finding those people who are best equipped to fulfill our mandate and take advantage of this education. I’m talking about faculty, staff and students who are prepared for the journey.
Some institutions are about “the many.” We are about “a few.” I think of Jesus, finding 12 disciples to faithfully carry out his work on earth. We are looking for 1,200 students who are not perfect (neither were the disciples), but who are rightly gifted for the task at hand.
Equally critical is finding the right faculty and staff, who are prepared to lead our students in this journey, but to be co-learners as well. We are not seeking teachers who have arrived. We are looking for life-long learners whose joy is having a few others with them on their trek. Equally important, these faculty and staff must have a foundation in Christ on which their living and learning is built. I will tell you honestly, there aren’t a lot of candidates for such a role. And yet, Westmont doesn’t need many. Just a few who are committed to the adventure of a lifetime.
Finally, the college will need to have the resources that will facilitate these learners — students, faculty and staff — in their pursuit of a quality liberal arts education rooted in Christ. Frankly, this is where we lag behind. And in some ways, that’s all right. The resources are the means to a quality education, not the end. You don’t become a good liberal arts college by having buildings or large cash reserves. Nevertheless, one can surely frustrate the ambition without needed resources.
Two examples: How do you find the students who deserve to be at Westmont regardless of financial capability? The answer is endowment. Endowments are the things that provide scholarships, which enable students to be here who could not otherwise afford it. Endowed scholarships allow us to find those students with the required gifts, not the required income. The best liberal arts colleges in the nation are able to meet the full financial need of each incoming student. Westmont does not, and our inability here is primarily related to our small endowment.
A second example: How do you recruit the finest faculty who will put together the highest quality educational program? Few faculty become scholars seeking to become wealthy. It’s not the motive. But they will choose colleges that facilitate their work — providing equipment that enables their research, buildings that are conducive to good education, and salaries that will allow them to be responsible parents and community citizens. A competitive salary does not ensure a good faculty member. But noncompetitive salaries ensure mediocrity.
And mediocre is not our ambition. So we have set before ourselves two primary goals in the area of resources. First, to complete the campus that has been planned for many years now. Among other things, that means completing the academic buildings for the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences. It also involves a new chapel/performing arts center, a new student center and additions to the library and Whittier Science Building. Finally, it means building one more residence hall, which will enable our students to live two to a room (as God intended!).
Secondly, we need to build the endowment, both to support the facility development over the next few years, but also to provide the financial aid our students require. Endowment is the resource backbone of a quality liberal arts college. Our current endowment of $30 million dollars is about one-tenth of the endowment of most liberal arts colleges of equal rank and stature. We have done much with little. It’s time to see what is possible with a little more.
That’s really the exciting thing about this moment in the life of the college. Westmont has been a faithful steward of those things that God has given us. Our ambition remains rather focused and unpretentious. On the whole, we don’t want more, we want better. But better is not defined by the measuring stick of this world. It is God’s measure that we want to keep before us, with faithfulness as our highest ambition. Our college hymn reminds us of God’s great faithfulness to us. We intend to return the favor. What else could a grateful people do?