Published: Fall 2006 in Feature Story

Professor to Provost to President

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Shirley Mullen Leaves After Nearly 23 Years to Become President of Houghton College

“We have lost a teacher, scholar and administrator of the first order,” says Bob Wennberg, distinguished professor emeritus of philosophy. “Of that there can be no doubt.” He refers, of course, to the departure of Provost Shirley Mullen to be president of Houghton.

Few people know Mullen better than Wennberg. “Having team-taught with Shirley in our world civilization course for 21 years and co-led eight Mayterm Europe trips with her, I can testify to her excellence as a teacher, her strong commitment to students, and her mature vision of a Christ-centered education,” he says.

Noting her role as personal mentor to a large number of students, Wennberg adds that her advice didn’t end at graduation. “I’m not aware of any professor at Westmont who has had more continuing contact with our graduates than Shirley,” he says. “She should have had a course reduction for all the post-graduation mentoring she has done over coffee or via telephone and e-mail. What I suspect is that this will continue even when she is president of Houghton.”

The relationships students developed with the history professor led some to say they were majoring in “Mullen.”

“Shirley has brought to all she has done at Westmont a deep and mature devotional life, thoughtful theological understanding and impressive practical wisdom,” Wennberg says. “This served her well when she became Westmont’s second provost. In that position she was uniquely able to articulate and implement a vision of the Christian liberal arts. She has served the college well and enriched all our lives.”

Mullen’s dedication to her work is legendary; many faculty and staff have received e-mail or voice-mail messages from her at 2 a.m. She is also known for her ability to greet students by name even when they’ve never taken a class from her.

“She is an extraordinary leader,” says Chancellor David K. Winter. “She is bright, enormously productive, and she doesn’t duck tough situations. We will forever be indebted to her for the major contributions she has made to the college. She is not only one of the finest professors I have ever known, but her leadership of our academic program has been superb.”

“It was during my very first semester at Westmont in a world civilization class co-taught by Dr. Mullen and Dr. Wennberg that I began to sense the joys of the intellectual life,” says Shady Hakim ’98. “Her constant encouragement at both the academic and personal levels and her deep sense of faith modeled what it meant to be an academic who was also committed to Christ.

“It has been more than eight years since I graduated from Westmont, and Dr. Mullen has remained a supportive friend, taking a keen interest in my career and vocational goals, providing reference letters, and inviting me back to Westmont to share my experiences. I just started a doctoral program in history at Georgetown University. The inspiration for this began in that classroom 12 years ago.”

“All who know Shirley realize that her first love is teaching, and that it has been a personal sacrifice for her to be in administration,” says Trustee Nini Sieck, who has two sons who attended Westmont.

“Despite her skill in the classroom, the faculty decided that Shirley would make a better provost than any of the candidates interviewed in a national search,” Sieck says. “She reluctantly and graciously agreed to become Westmont’s second provost. As a servant leader Shirley continued to teach by mentoring.”

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“I’ll always be grateful to Shirley for helping me thrive at Westmont,” says Deborah Dunn, associate professor of communication studies and vice chair of the faculty. “As a gardener, I have noticed the difference between a plant that survives and a plant that thrives. I began my teaching at Westmont barely surviving. Under Shirley’s leadership, I thrived. She inspires me. Shirley is one of the most thoughtful people I know. She is genuine.”

“By training, Shirley is an historian,” says Trustee Merlin Call. “Her first doctorate from the University of Minnesota tackled what she describes as the religion of unbelief in 19th century England and gave rise to her book, ‘Organized Freethought: The Religion of Unbelief in Victorian England.’ Her second doctorate from the University of Wales reflected her interest in David Hume, the Scottish philosopher and historian.

“Her interest in the history of philosophical thought has confronted some of the best atheistic and agnostic reasoning of English-speaking thinkers,” Call notes. “She has not sought the cloistered safety of the Christian ghetto but has maintained her Christian convictions and grace in the full glare of non-Christian assault. Shirley is not only an historian and philosopher, but an administrative leader and pastor. Her pastoral care for the faculty is reflected in their anguish at her departure.”

“As chair of the Academic Committee, I have worked closely with her for several years,” Sieck says. “I have learned that she is a woman of integrity and a loving, considerate and gracious friend.”

Shirley exemplifies the value of a Christian liberal arts education. She articulates Westmont’s vision with passion and clarity, upholding the liberal arts tradition while remaining firmly rooted in Christ. She draws on knowledge from a wide variety of disciplines, from theology, political science and the visual and musical arts as well as her areas of specialty, history and philosophy.

One of her many contributions to Westmont was the 1995 long-range plan, which she drafted. The section “What We Want for Our Graduates” spells out clearly her vision — and what she has instilled in her students over the years. It also describes the qualities she possesses.

“It is always hard to say goodbye to a good friend,” says Trustee Bill Kerr. “Shirley Mullen has been one of God’s gifts to Westmont. She served excellently for many years. I know my mother, Ruth Kerr, would heartily and enthusiastically join me in this tribute.”

Career at a Glance
1976 Graduates summa cum laude from Houghton College in New York
1977 Earns a master’s degree in history at the University of Toronto
1984 Joins the history faculty at Westmont
1985 Completes a doctorate in history at the University of Minnesota
1986 Chairs the Academic Planning Committee for three years
1987 Publishes a book, “Organized Freethought: The Religion of Unbelief in Victorian England” (Garland Publishing, 1987)
1987 Voted Teacher of the Year
1988 Begins a 13-year tenure as chair of the history department
1992 Serves on the Faculty Council for three years
1993 Serves a one-year term as chair of the faculty
1993 Voted Teacher of the Year a second time
1994 Chairs the Long-Range Planning Task Force for three years and drafts the 1995 Westmont College Long-Range Plan
1997 Serves for two years as special projects assistant to the provost in the areas of faith/learning and campus ethos
1998 Begins a three-year tenure as chair of the academic senate
1999 Serves as vice provost for curriculum and faculty development for two years
1999 Voted Teacher of the Year a third time
2000 Earns a second doctorate in philosophy at the University of Wales
2000 Serves as primary liaison with WASC, the accrediting agency, for six years
2001 Serves as interim academic dean for a year
2002 Becomes provost at Westmont
2004 Oversees the first revision of the general education requirements in 20 years
2005 Once again chairs the long-range planning process at Westmont
2006 Accepts the third offer to become the first woman president of Houghton College

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