Welcome to the start of another academic year—Westmont’s 76th. Before the first class begins, perhaps there's still time to finish one more selection on your summer reading list.

There will be plenty to read this fall, as the Provost’s Office will sponsor some book groups. Patti Hunter has planned some new professional development opportunities which will be discussed at the Faculty Retreat. I'm also starting something called "cBooks"—dinner conversations for faculty and staff about books and articles written by our "colleagues" (see below).

With so many people anticipating major upheaval for liberal arts colleges, President Beebe and I would also value the opportunity to discuss with you some recent books and articles on the future of higher education—and to weigh their implications for Westmont. My final reflections in this report (“Reading the Rapids”) introduce that project and the issues we will explore together.

Best wishes for a successful start of a new term, as we once again come together to prepare our students and ourselves for service to Christ.

Mark Sargent

Updates

Sue Savage

ENCOUNTERING THE SACRED

For the first show of the fall semester, the Westmont Ridley-Tree Museum of Art is sponsoring an exhibit entitled “Invisible Realms: Encountering the Sacred.” While the exhibit features work from artists from many religious traditions, the show was conceived in part as a way of recognizing the work of Sue Savage, who will be retiring in May 2014 after fifteen years of teaching at Westmont. Some of Sue’s paintings will be on display during the show, as will work by adjunct professer Marie Schoeff, among others. The opening reception will be held from 4:30-6 p.m. on August 29.

Telford Work

PROVOST’S FORUM ON SEPTEMBER 10: CUPA

Twice a year I am endeavoring to hold forums for co-curricular staff, each focusing on a particular educational challenge and theme. On September 10 (10:30 a.m.-12 p.m. in Porter Theatre) our first forum of the new academic year will focus on some of the results of last year’s assessment of “Christian Understanding, Practices and Affections,” or CUPA. We will examine students’ biblical literacy, religious values and activities, and consider how best to shape our spiritual development programs. Telford Work, our lead assessment specialist from last year, will offer perspectives. Tatiana Nazarenko will join Tim Wilson and me in helping consider the implications of the research for Westmont. There will be lunch, prizes, and some fun along the way. All staff are welcome (with supervisor’s permission), but space is limited and you must RSVP with Barb Kennedy.

WASC

WASC SELF-STUDY

It's time to get started planning for our next reaccreditation visit from the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC). Here's a quick glance at the trail before us (known colloquially as the IRP, for "Institutional Review Process").

First, I am pleased that Chris Call has agreed to join me as the co-chair of the WASC self-study committee. We will be organizing the committee early this fall. Our self-study is due early in 2015, three months before an off-site review by the WASC evaluation team in April of 2015. This one-day off-site review (which may include video conferences with college officials) will identify any issues for fuller review during the formal three-day site visit in the spring of 2016.

WASC has recently updated its standards for accreditation. Once again, there is strong emphasis on assessment and "learning outcomes." We must also show how we have responded to previous reviews. Additionally, the new IRP now stresses an institution's retention and graduation rates, as collegiate attrition has emerged as a prominent refrain in the public soul searching about American higher education.

books

cBOOKS

Throughout this academic year my wife Arlyne and I will be hosting some dinners at our home for small groups of faculty and staff who would like to read and discuss one or more books written by our colleagues. We will provide the books and the meals, if you will do the reading and come to enjoy conversation. Upcoming cBook events will be announced throughout the fall and spring, but for the immediate future we have chosen two evenings to launch the series: a discussion of Heather Keaney's Discovering Islamic Historiography (see sidebar column) and a joint session on Helen Rhee's Loving the Poor, Saving the Rich: Wealth, Poverty and Early Christian Formation and Edd Noell's Economic Growth: Unleashing the Potential of Human Flourishing. Space is limited to about 6-7 per group and offered on a first-come, first-served basis. If interested in either group, please sign up with Barb Kennedy. If any faculty authors would be interested in having us sponsor a discussion around one of their books, please let me know.

CELEBRATION OF SUMMER RESEARCH—AND ALLAN NISHIMURA'S 100TH

On September 5 we will once again gather for a "Celebration of Summer Research" to commemorate the scholarship done by our students during the last several months.The occasion also gives us an opportunity to celebrate a milestone: Allan Nishimura has just completed his 100th article for publication, many of them written with students. The event will take place from 3:30 to 5:00 in Winter Hall. Prior to the formal program you can examine the students' posters and discuss their projects with them. During the program (which begins at 4:15) a handful of students will share more specifically about their work. Please plan to come by to interact with the students and to share a slice of the "100" cake with Allan.

READING THE RAPIDS

Mark Twain

Last May, on a drive from New York City to Boston, our family swung through Hartford to visit the home of Samuel Clemens, better known as Mark Twain. It’s easy to forget that this former Confederate solider spent his most productive literary years as a Connecticut Yankee. With Lydia Clemens’s money, the couple built a Gothic Revival home in Hartford, notable for the third-floor billiard room where Twain smoked and wrote. Here, just a mile from the shores of the Connecticut, Twain composed his most famous books about the Mississippi.

At the end of our visit I picked up a copy of Life on the Mississippi and sank into its nostalgia. Twain fills the narrative with anecdotes from his days as a young riverboat pilot before the Civil War, most of the tales rather tall, or what Huck Finn calls “stretchers.” A few of the more elegant vignettes describe how he learned to read each bend and bank in the river. By the early 1880s, when Twain wrote this memoir, the railroads had all but crushed the riverboat trade, and his recollections are a wistful tribute to a fading industry and a way of life that helped him come of age.

In recent years a growing number of educators and editorialists have forecast a future for the liberal arts college that is as bright as that of the steamboat industry. We arrived in Hartford fresh from a visit to Columbia, where the dean warned against academic nostalgia as the scholar's dead end. In the era of the internet and the neuroscientist, he argued, inquiry and identity were less likely to be seen as a collegian's subjective quest and more likely to be understood through our social networks, computer algorithms, and the electrical exchanges in our synapses. Scores of intellectuals who came of age in the nation's best liberal arts colleges now proclaim that many liberal arts institutions will not survive in the new wired economy. You can hardly open a newspaper (or, more likely, click on a news link) without someone predicting the end of college as we know it. Quite often they have places like Westmont in mind—residential, traditional liberal arts colleges poised between the highly endowed and highly entrepreneurial.

This year the Provost's Office will sponsor a reading group or two in order to explore some of the books caught in the current whirlwind of predictions and anxieties about higher education. I welcome faculty and staff who would be interested in joining me for about four sessions during the year . . . [continue reading...]