I never cease to be amazed at all the activities taking place on a campus like Westmont. Sometimes people ask me about a lecture or recital or special program of some kind and I don’t even know about it.
The energy, creativity and idealism of our 1,200 students is truly impressive. I happen to think this exceeds what is happening on other campuses because of the unique spirit and student-life philosophy at Westmont. We don’t just put on programs for students and seek their participation. We try to relate to them in ways that demonstrate our respect for their leadership and encourage them to initiate programs. Potter’s Clay, and even Spring Sing, are good examples of this.
It certainly is hard to communicate adequately the pulse, the energy, and the excitement of a year on our campus. But my desire is to convey at least a partial sense of our community life this past year; to share with you glimpses of life at Westmont as we continue to grow and develop as a leading liberal arts college and as a community committed to the growth of our personal relationship with Jesus Christ. What a thrill, to combine a passion for learning with a passion for spiritual growth. There are not many colleges or universities in the country that have been able to do this, and yet this is precisely what our society and the church so desperately need.
If we are to accomplish our mission we need to attract not only a very bright and competent group of young men and women, but make certain they have the character and deep desire to be Christian leaders. We are so blessed because these are the kind of students who are enrolling at Westmont.
The academic credentials of our entering students continue to climb, with average high school GPAs exceeding 3.6 and average SAT scores approaching 1200. Meanwhile, evidences of their strong character and concern for others are equally impressive. For example, new student Jaime LaVon Rau participated in Orientation a year ago while her best friend in Minnesota accepted an Acts of Kindness award for Jaime from Governor Jesse Ventura.
I am so pleased by the many indications that these outstanding students are having such a positive experience at Westmont. Our retention rate from spring semester to fall semester of students eligible to return continues to exceed 90 percent, one of several evidences of student satisfaction. In addition, 53 percent of last year’s graduating class expressed appreciation by making gifts to the college.
What a joy it is to work for and with our students. We are delighted that an increasing number of them are participating in student ministry projects, internships, and off- campus programs. Our entire community rejoices with them as they receive a growing amount of national recognition, both in terms of honors, awards and acceptance into the very finest graduate schools in the country.
We are also blessed because of the exceptional and exciting faculty members who have joined us over the past 14 months. Our ability to attract such first-rate teachers, scholars and mentors is the result of many factors.
In addition to the growing national reputation of the college, I believe a major factor has been the wonderful group of homes next to campus dedicated to Westmont faculty. Last year we completed 10 more new homes, making a total of 30 at this point. In two more years we will have the final 11 completed, for a total of 41. What a blessing! Our faculty members purchase these homes for $170,000 and they are worth nearly four times that much on the open market here in Santa Barbara. I don’t know what we would do without this marvelous resource.
One of the most exciting appointments this past year has been our new chaplain, whom we are calling “campus pastor.” Since Bart Tarman chose to minister more broadly throughout the United States and even internationally, we have been looking for someone to replace him. While Bart continues to spend part of his time on campus, for which we are very thankful, we certainly need a full-time person.
So we are delighted that the Rev. Ben Patterson will be joining us this January. His books are well known. But most important, he has the heart, the mind and the marvelous communication skills that will enable him to challenge all of us about developing our faith in Christ.
One of the highlights this past year was the establishment of an endowed chair for the Robert H. Gundry Professor of Biblical Studies. It is named for one of Westmont’s most distinguished faculty members and one of the finest living New Testament scholars in the world. A leadership gift from an anonymous donor as well as other gifts are funding this chair. In a moving ceremony last October, Professor Tremper Longman III, an exceptional Old Testament scholar and teacher, was installed as the first incumbent.
Westmont’s faculty is truly outstanding. They are models of life-long learning, active in research and scholarship and in thinking through the implications of their faith for their disciplines and their living. They are also tremendous teachers, role models, and mentors for our students. Two of the very best retired this past year, to whom we expressed our grateful appreciation for their faithful service: Dr. Robert H. Gundry, who taught for 38 years as professor of New Testament and Greek; and Dr. David Neu, 29 years here as professor of mathematics.
I have room in this article to describe just a few of the many campus activities available to our students outside of the classroom. We bring a constant stream of speakers and programs from outside the college to stimulate the breadth of thinking and perspectives necessary for a first-class education. Student participation in multiple extracurricular programs is an important part of their educational experience, as is their developing time management skills to help them choose among and partake in many fine activities!
This past year, students heard from speakers such as Queen Noor of Jordan; I. K. Gujral, former prime minister of India; U.S. Representative Lois Capps; and Dean Hirsch, Westmont trustee and CEO of World Vision International. They also could choose to participate in such activities as the 10th Annual Gospel Music Workshop and Concert; the Fourth Annual Passion and Civility Intramural Debate Tournament; numerous theater and musical productions; art exhibits; varsity, club, and intramural sports; and over 30 student-run Christian Concerns ministries.
As described elsewhere in this magazine, we are eagerly awaiting the construction of two new campus buildings for the visual arts and the sciences. Meanwhile, we have been able to make significant progress in renovating and improving a number of other areas on campus: technological upgrades in classrooms; extensive renovations in residence halls; the addition of a physiology lab in the psychology department; and the restoration of the fountain on the President’s Patio.
One of the most exciting developments this past year was the acquisition of additional campus property, which we hope to use for our final residence hall. This 3.4 acres is just north of the southern entrance to campus and backs up to Van Kampen Hall. It has been a very high priority for me ever since I arrived at the college for Westmont to acquire this property. And now, with clear evidence of the Lord’s hand at work, we have purchased the property at a fair price. We are so thankful for this addition to the campus, and I am sure the trustees will support a campaign in the very near future to raise funds for constructing a residence hall on this new property.
Our ability to construct new facilities is contingent upon receiving approval from the county of Santa Barbara for an updated campus master plan. This past year, we completed our proposed update and submitted it to county officials for their review. We hope to secure county approval for our new campus master plan within the next year.
Other portions of this annual report summarize the marvelous progress we are making in our comprehensive campaign, both raising the funds to complete the construction of our campus and increasing the percentage of regular giving from our alumni. But I must tell you now how deeply grateful I am for the way in which our constituency has responded to the campaign thus far. We could never have imagined the generosity of trustees, parents, alumni and other friends of the college. Those of us on campus are not the only ones who believe in Westmont!
This past year was a very special one for Helene and me. We are thankful to be at Westmont during these exciting years. We will leave with a profound sense of gratitude.
We have come to understand our partnership with you as a fairly simple one: working together to provide exceptional students with the finest undergraduate educational program possible, with faculty and staff members who are enthusiastic about a personal Christian faith. The result is a truly integrative educational experience, where hearts and minds are stretched simultaneously, whether in the classroom, in faculty homes, during chapel, overseas, or while engaged in student Christian ministry.
The Westmont experience is made up of all of these significant parts, and even more. And we have had the wonderful privilege of seeing its transforming impact on our students, truly making a difference that lasts for a lifetime of influential and effective Christian service.
Thank you for being partners with us in this important and effective ministry.