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Oct. 15, 2010
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"Whitworth's Enduring Commitments to Mind and Heart"
Old Testament Scripture: Micah 6:8 (TNIV)
New Testament Scripture: Matthew 22:34-40 (NIV)
Thank you, Andy, for that warm and generous introduction, and to all of you for that wonderful reception. When I was asked by the inaugural committee whom I would choose to give my formal introduction to my new community here at Whitworth, I didn't hesitate to suggest my great friend and mentor, Samford University President Andy Westmoreland. Andy and his wife, Jeanna (who is also here today), are inspirations to Julie and me as they model great leadership and humble service at Samford. Their wise counsel was invaluable to us as we began to discern our calling to Whitworth earlier this year, and Andy and Jeanna could not have been more supportive of our decision to move to Spokane, even though that meant our departure from the Samford community, a community that my family and I love and respect very deeply. I have been blessed to serve with and under a number of great leaders in higher education, but I can think of none from whom I have learned more, or whom I respect as profoundly as I do Andy Westmoreland. Thank you, Andy, for your friendship, and thank you for all you have done and will continue to do for the cause of Christian higher education in the U.S. and around the world.
There are many others here today who have been instrumental in making this celebration so meaningful. Certainly, our ceremony today, along with all of the other great events of this week, have enriched and enlivened our community in many important ways. My special thanks to the inauguration committee, whose members have worked tirelessly to call our community to a common theme of courageousness and whose thoughtful work could be seen in all aspects of our week-long celebration and especially in this ceremony. My sincere thanks also extend to the participants in today's ceremony, from our international students who marched into the fieldhouse carrying the flags of their home countries, to our student musicians, vocalists, and faculty directors of the Whitworth Wind Symphony and Whitworth Choir, to faculty members Karen Peterson Finch, for her lovely invocation; Larry Burnley, for his powerful reading of scripture; and Laurie Lamon for her poetry, which added beauty, grace, and reverence to our proceedings. Thanks also to those of you who have brought greetings from the university's important and diverse constituencies; your welcome and encouragement mean a great deal to me.
Let me also express my profound gratitude to Whitworth board chair Walt Oliver, to former Whitworth presidents Bob Mounce, Art De Jong, and Bill Robinson, and to former Whitworth professor and interim president Phil Eaton, who now serves as Seattle Pacific University's president. Your presence with us today gives testimony to the important and enduring ways you have served this institution, and to the lasting legacies we inherit and now uphold – legacies that are only stronger because of your faithful stewardship. I humbly stand on your shoulders. And B-Rob, I love you, brother. This community loves you. Thanks to you and Bonnie for all you mean to Julie and me, for the amazing impact you have had on this place, and for the incredible grace with which you have passed the torch of leadership (and the presidential bling, which I must say is much heavier than I would have expected it to be).
Finally, let me offer a special word of welcome and thanks to my family. These are the people who really know me: my dreams and aspirations, my weaknesses and faults, my quirks and idiosyncrasies, and they still love me. I would not be standing here today without them and their investments of time, sacrifice, and love into my life. I'd like to introduce my family and ask them to stand: George and CJ Taylor, from Salado, Texas; Larry and Bonny Dearing, from Monument, Colorado ; Ken Martin and Tom Cole, from Manor, Texas ; Eric and Kelly Dearing, from Boston, Massachusetts; and, though they're not physically with us here today, but are here with us in spirit, Tom and Kim Noone, from Atlanta, Georgia. Please welcome these beloved members of my family. I love and cherish each of you – thanks for being here. And last, but certainly not least, Julie, Zach, Lauren, and Chloe, would you all please stand and let us honor you? Words cannot express my love for each of you and the inspiration you give me each day, nor my gratitude for your courage and faithfulness to follow God's calling on your lives and for our family. I love you dearly. Thanks for being great Whitworth Pirates! And on behalf of my family, let me offer our profound thanks to all of you who have made our transition to Whitworth and to Spokane so affirming and smooth. The warmth and grace with which you have accepted us is truly amazing and speaks volumes about the character of this community. Thank you.
Fellow Whitworth University trustees; presidents Mounce, De Jong, and Robinson; elected representatives; presidents and dignitaries from other colleges, universities, and academic associations; Whitworth alumni here in Spokane and across the globe; other vital community members; Whitworth faculty, staff, and students; family and dear friends: It is with great excitement and anticipation that I humbly but resolutely accept the call to serve as Whitworth University's 18th president. I pledge to serve tirelessly this institution and its many constituencies and, by God's grace, to uphold its unique mission of providing Whitworth's diverse student body an education of mind and heart as we together seek to honor God, follow Christ, and serve humanity.
Whitworth's enduring mission to provide an education of mind and heart has given life and purpose to this institution since its humble beginnings in the spring of 1890 in Sumner, Washington. Earlier, in 1853, pioneering Presbyterian theologian and preacher George Whitworth traveled from the relative safety and familiarity of the Midwest to the rough and rugged, but promising Pacific Northwest in the hopes of forming a Presbyterian institution of higher education that would pursue "the learning and culture of heart and mind that make the finished scholar." George Whitworth had to wait more than 30 years to realize that dream, but after founding some 20 Presbyterian churches, performing various roles in the Washington territorial government, and serving two terms as president of the newly established University of Washington, Reverend Whitworth finally saw his dream come to life when he established an institution that would be, at once, denominational – in that it served the interests of the Presbyterian church – and intentionally non-sectarian, in that it opened its doors then, as it does so eagerly today, to "all lovers of truth and learning."
George Whitworth and the many faithful leaders who followed him could not have known that Whitworth College would persevere, ever committed to its founding mission, for the next 120 years, through times of both great need and relative prosperity; through moves to Tacoma in 1899, then to Spokane in 1914; through a campus closure due to declining enrollments and the onset of World War I; and through the following decade, during which Whitworth graduated only 76 students. The latter part of the 20th century ushered in social and political changes that challenged Whitworth's – and, indeed, our society's – understandings of justice, poverty, race and gender equality, and human rights. These pressures caused our campus community, like so many others during that time, to ask itself how to live out ever more completely and consistently its noble mission in the service of others.
While remaining faithful to its enduring mind-and-heart mission, Whitworth has changed dramatically in 120 years. Few would have predicted in 1928, when the university boasted only 55 enrolled undergraduate students, that Whitworth would grow to its present size of almost 2,600 undergraduates, and a total population of nearly 3,000 students. And no student in 1891 who enjoyed courses in "elocution" or "railroad curves" would have known that Whitworth students today would be stretched and challenged by courses in women's and gender studies or engineering physics. Those at Whitworth in the 1940s who had the courage to enroll Japanese Americans would surely be heartened to know that at the dawn of the 21st century, nearly 14% of our students come from traditionally underrepresented ethnic populations. How could those who served so diligently on our campus for so many years know that with the formal addition of schools of education and business, evening programs for working adults, and graduate programs in education, business, and theology, Whitworth College would change its name in 2007 to reflect the comprehensive university it had already become? And even graduates from the early part of this present decade marvel at the new facilities and campus improvements that adorn our beautiful grounds -- additions like the Hello Walk, new residential halls like Duvall and Boppell, and of course the new Robinson Science Hall, set to open for the start of the 2011-12 academic year. Indeed, Whitworth College, now Whitworth University, has grown, prospered, and changed to meet the needs of its students, the needs of the community it calls home, and the needs of our global community.
Today, on October 15, 2010, 120 years after its founding, and by God's abundant grace, Whitworth is in a position of great strength – benefitting tremendously from the strong reputations of its faculty and students, the excellence of its academic programs, the beauty and function of its campus facilities, the successes of its graduates, and its financial stability even in the midst of the economic uncertainty that grips our country. All of these attributes are important contributors to Whitworth's endurance in a race that has seen many colleges and universities fall short of the longevity and success that Whitworth now enjoys. I don't want to minimize these, but at the same time I would like to elevate a more transcendent characteristic that is the foundation and animating force behind all of the university's achievements. That transcendent characteristic, which distinguishes Whitworth from other institutions of higher learning, is Whitworth's noble and courageous mission.
Many of you heard me speak several weeks ago at our opening convocation about Whitworth's courageous mission, and about my understanding of our mission's impact upon all that we do on this campus. That mission – one that in many ways seems paradoxical – elevates ideals that the world often pits against one another as being mutually exclusive: mind and heart; curiosity and conviction; grace and truth; responsibility and compassion. Whitworth's commitment, as Bill Robinson has so eloquently framed it, to walk the "narrow ridge" between these seemingly competing ideas is what has defined our purpose and community since 1890, what gives form and expression to our educational activities today, and what will ensure Whitworth's vital place in the landscape of American higher education in the future.
Whitworth walks a ridge that separates, on one side, those faith-based institutions that stifle some questions and conversations (perhaps in an effort to protect truth), and on the other side, institutions that see no place for faith in the pursuit of truth. Navigating this precarious ridge creates a palpable tension on our campus, in our community, and among our diverse constituencies. The tension that arises when ideas are challenged, assumptions are questioned and critical thinking is elevated can make us uncomfortable at times (and can cause a new president to lose his hair; you should have seen my golden locks back in June!). However, my observation is that it is within this creative and unsettling tension that the best and most fruitful learning can occur. We subscribe to the Reformed theological view that all truth is God's truth, and that we should honor that truth, whether it is revealed to us through an act of human discovery, or through divine revelation. We search boldly for truth wherever that journey may take us, even to the limits of our understanding of God, because we are confident that God will meet us there.
Our New Testament lesson, familiar to many of us, can be understood in a fresh way in light of Whitworth's mission and theological heritage. In this passage from Matthew, Jesus admonishes the Pharisees, who are so close-minded and hard-hearted, that they are, in fact, failing to keep the law that they have elevated above all else – including the love of God. Jesus instructs the Pharisees, and us, that loving God requires the full, unfettered devotion of our hearts, our souls and our minds. He goes on to say that in loving God in this way – with our whole beings, hearts and minds – we shall love our neighbors as ourselves. This was a challenging statement for Jesus to make to the Pharisees in his day. It's just as challenging today as we ask ourselves, "Who is my neighbor?" In the events of this Inauguration Week, we've been called to see our neighbor among the poor and homeless of Spokane, among the albatross chicks choking to death by the hundreds of thousands on the plastic detritus of our consumer society, in the citizens and elected officials who hold political views opposed to our own, and among those we might erroneously and shamefully think might be excluded from God's divine grace. It's a radical call that echoes the radical call of Christ on our lives. What does the Lord require of us? Micah 6:8 makes it plain: "to do justice, to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God."
I believe that calling is captured beautifully in Whitworth's mission to equip our students to honor God, follow Christ and serve humanity. Lest you think that this mission is merely a theoretical construct – or all hat and no cattle, as they might say down south – let me assure you that even during the short three months that I have served as president, I have seen our mission in action. I witnessed and participated in last month's Community Building Day, which saw more than 1,200 Whitworth students, faculty and staff volunteers spend a morning serving the Spokane community – in shelters, retirement homes, and community centers – to reach people in need. What was even more remarkable about this event was the student leadership; senior Trista Van Berkum led a team of students who organized and coordinated all of our efforts. Madam Mayor, the message of the day was that as citizens of Whitworth, our students are also citizens of Spokane, and our students' time here should be spent, in part, investing in the life of this great city we all call home.
The opportunity to elevate our mission and to follow good student leadership was also evident in the last two weeks as our campus was informed that protesters from the Westboro Baptist Church, in Topeka, Kansas, would be making an uninvited visit to our campus, bringing their distortions of the Gospel and messages of hate directed primarily at America's gay community. After hearing the voices of students at an organized campus forum, voices that called for moderation, forgiveness, love, justice, and appropriate action, I made the decision to organize our institutional response around recommendations from student government. I wasn't disappointed; the activities and general response that our student leaders have articulated for Whitworth couldn't be better. I've never been more proud to be a Whitworthian.
Perhaps our campus was targeted by the members of Westboro because Whitworth and its students have always engaged the important issues facing society and the church, elevating grace and truth in the process. That work continues. Two weeks after our unwelcome guests from Westboro depart, Whitworth will host author and pastor Andrew Marin, whose life took an unexpected turn that inspired him to establish a groundbreaking, incarnational ministry to the gay community – a community that arguably has been marginalized in the Christian church like none other in today's society. Marin's approach moves beyond the seemingly intractable positions that so quickly divide the Christian church and focuses on the person of Jesus Christ. In his book, Love is an Orientation, published by Intervarsity Press, Marin writes that too often "the GLBT community is left to search for God without the body of Christ to assist them, encourage them and validate their human existence as children of God." What a travesty. Marin's visit highlights Whitworth's ongoing commitment to engage challenging issues that cause pain and discord within our community, the larger society, and Christ's church. It also tests our corporate commitment to avoid taking institutional positions on controversial issues over which thoughtful Christians disagree, and, therefore, to sustain an environment where our students can authentically grapple with their convictions in the context of Christian community, love, and support. Whether we are discussing poverty, other forms of social injustice, environmental stewardship, or issues of vocation, ministry, ethics, or professional education, Whitworth will stand boldly in the gap, creating a safe and constructive venue in which our students can learn, express their ideas, and become equipped to serve a world and a church characterized by increasing divisiveness, pluralism, and need.
At Whitworth University, students are surrounded by dedicated faculty and staff who are committed to the integration of Christian faith into all aspects of life and learning. At Whitworth University, students hear a broad range of voices, ideas and perspectives – both from within the community and from visiting speakers and artists – and they learn the importance of critical thinking and civil discourse. At Whitworth University, students receive the best possible education to prepare them to enter a pluralistic society that will challenge their deepest values and beliefs. This is the Whitworth University of George Whitworth's dreams. This is the Whitworth University that has been faithfully nurtured and sustained for 120 years. This is the Whitworth University I love and feel called to lead. And this is the Whitworth University I pledge to serve with courage and conviction.
At this point in my address, I am reminded of Whitworth's 8th president, Arthur Beatie, who served for only 10 months, spanning the years 1919 and 1920. Whitworth historian Dale Soden informs me that he was run out of the presidency not only because of some controversial decisions he made, but, more instructively for me today, because he preached sermons that were too long. Let me close by drawing us to think about the future of Whitworth University. I have said before that, as president, I inherit a tremendous legacy from my predecessors in Whitworth's well-articulated and broadly shared mission. That sturdy foundation gives me the luxury of working with our community to cast a bold and courageous vision for the institution. That vision, which must be shared among all of Whitworth's stakeholders, will inform decisions regarding critical issues that face the institution today – like managing enrollment growth, strategic investment in academic programs, the appropriate mix of traditional undergraduate and graduate/non-traditional programs, and how best to expand opportunities for the type of international education experiences offered at Whitworth's new Costa Rica campus. This vision also will chart an exciting path for the university that will inspire the support of all of Whitworth's constituencies, but especially that of our great benefactors, who have so generously equipped the university in the past, and from whom we will boldly ask for unprecedented levels of support to ensure that our shared vision is realized.
As I have traveled throughout the country in my first 100 days as Whitworth's president, meeting with university alumni, trustees, parents, and friends, I have communicated two basic messages: Whitworth will not change. And Whitworth must change. This intentional non sequitur is meant to highlight the importance of upholding Whitworth's enduring mission of mind and heart, but the wordplay is also meant to draw our community to the realization that Whitworth's mission is, and always has been, responsive to the changing needs of our students, to academic and pedagogical developments, to the church, to the larger society that we serve, and to the dynamic market and economic realities of higher education. To stand still in the face of these and other forces that will shape our future is to become increasingly irrelevant. And it is to shirk our sacred responsibility to ensure future generations of students not only the benefits of a Whitworth education that generations before them have experienced, but dare I say it, the promise of much, much more.
I want to briefly draw our attention to three areas that present the greatest challenges and the most promising opportunities for our community in the next 20 years: challenges and opportunities that must be addressed, in my opinion, for Whitworth to excel in serving future generations of students.
The first great challenge that our community must address is the unsustainable increases in the costs of higher education. The greatest challenge facing our students and families today is access. I've often described higher education as an "arms race" – colleges and universities are vigorously competing for the best students, the best academic programs, the best faculty, and the best facilities; our survival depends on our success. But this is a very expensive competition. And as an institution that depends heavily upon tuition revenue, Whitworth has seen its costs rise more than we would like and more than many prospective students can afford. Tuition at Whitworth in 1890 was $24 per year. Sixty years later, in 1950, the annual cost of tuition had grown by a factor of 12 to about $300. Fast forward another 60 years to 2010, and the cost of tuition has increased 100-fold, to $30,000 per year. Even taking inflation into account, the price tag for Whitworth students and their families has grown exponentially. This is as much an indictment of higher education as it is of Whitworth – for, you see, even amidst the rising costs for our students, the cost of a Whitworth education, compared to the costs of many of our peers, remains quite competitive. This was confirmed most recently when Whitworth was named, for the 11th straight year, a top-10 value in the West by US News & World Report. Although demand for a Whitworth education has never been stronger, our students are working many more hours and are graduating with much higher levels of debt than ever before. And many of our families are hanging on by a thread. While maintaining Whitworth's commitments to excellence, we absolutely must explore ways to rein in the costs that put upward pressure on tuition while we find more student-aid resources to keep a Whitworth education in financial reach of all students.
Second, one of Whitworth's greatest opportunities lies in the academic area, where I see opportunities for Whitworth to build upon many of its current strengths to focus more intently on applied and interdisciplinary scholarship and education. The most promising discoveries and academic programs exist today at the intersection of multiple academic disciplines. In my opinion, this is where the exciting action is, because 21st-century challenges in economics, engineering, and biomedical sciences, for instance, require new and innovative solutions. Our wonderful Whitworth faculty must lead this charge so that our students and leaders of tomorrow have access to this new thinking and can contribute to these important conversations. My own research and writing explores the intersections of economics with child developmental psychology. This scholarship leads me to believe that, although interdisciplinary work is difficult, such work can yield fresh and exciting insights that can inform policymakers. Whitworth already has several great examples of applied and interdisciplinary scholarship. For example, Professor of Education and Lindaman Chair Betty Williams, a nationally recognized expert in autism spectrum disorder, is working with computer science professor Susan Mabry to create a highly specialized analytical software application that will screen for autism, helping doctors to make referral decisions and track patients' progress. We can and we will explore more areas where our outstanding faculty can work together, across disciplines, to prepare our students to meet the challenges they will face after graduation.
Finally, for Whitworth to address both the ever-changing and increasing needs of our students and the exciting educational opportunities before us, we must elevate and then celebrate a renewed culture of philanthropy within the Whitworth community. We would not be enjoying Whitworth's glorious success in fulfilling George Whitworth's dream of providing a rigorous education of mind and heart were it not for our generous benefactors through the decades. Among those donors are individuals whose gifts have built classroom buildings and residence halls, library expansions and art buildings, fitness centers and science buildings. A number of them are trustees or long-time supporters of Whitworth seated directly in front of me. Many people here also give generously each year to The Whitworth Fund and to other causes on our campus, including student ministries, scholarships, student life, athletics, and academic programs. But Whitworth faces a challenge. As a private, faith-based institution of higher learning, we cannot depend upon state funding, and, increasingly, private charitable foundations are excluding institutions like Whitworth from their support because of our Christ-centered approach to education. More and more, Whitworth relies upon the financial giving of its own alumni and an increasing circle of friends who choose to make Whitworth their university. Friends, Whitworth's mission is noble, just, courageous, and absolutely necessary. So I will not hesitate to ask, with confidence and conviction, for your generous financial support. Let us all commit ourselves today, on this important occasion as we launch the next chapter in Whitworth's story, to support her cause and to ensure that students, 20, 50 and 100 years from now are equipped to love God and their neighbors with the full, unfettered devotion of their hearts, souls and minds.
Whitworth University, I am honored and humbled to be called to lead this incredible institution at this exciting moment in its history. You have my sacred pledge that I will, to the best of my ability and by God's grace, preserve, protect, and champion Whitworth's noble mission, and trumpet Whitworth's exciting vision, so that future generations of Whitworthians will experience an education of mind and heart that equips them to serve the world, to bring honor to their Creator, and to lift up the name of Christ, for his Kingdom's sake. Amen.