January 18, 2024

Welcome to the Spring 2024 semester. I hope you found time for rest, rejuvenation, and connection with family and friends over the winter break. 

The calendar tells us it’s a new year, and while some of us may be celebrating the end of 2023, there’s plenty of momentum from our work last year to carry us from now to our commencements on May 10 and 11. They will be here in an instant.

In the meantime, we will see the completion of the new coffee shop in Shaw; new programming for students in and out of the classroom; tailgates, One Westminster Day, alumni awards and additional fundraising activities; student performances on stages, fields, and courts; guest lectures and workshops; and of course, the Student Showcase. There’s too much to list everything here, and more than enough to create energy and engagement across campus for the rest of the academic year.

The engagement you have with students – whether in classrooms, at events, during individual meetings, or when providing services or support — is what keeps students connected to campus and each other, and what makes them know they matter to us. When students persist to graduation, they are positioned for success in their chosen paths. The data being collected by our staff in Career Services helps tell the story of our impact. Graduating seniors from July 2022–June 2023 report that their Westminster degree helped them achieve their professional goals (98%), they are employed or continuing their education (90%), their programs of study were related to their full-time employment (90%), and their liberal arts courses broadened and encouraged their personal and professional development (82%). You are helping ensure these successes and the quality of the education that Westminster provides.

It can be easy to lose sight of our positive impact in the current political environment. This semester will bring another session of the Utah legislature, escalation of presidential campaign activities, continued attention to environmental challenges, and persistent world conflicts. Our work, and that of our students, often contributes to understanding and addressing a range of complex issues. At the same time, popular media narratives and the public figures who promote them often contribute to a caricature of higher education that distorts reality, undermines the solid and essential work of most colleges and universities, and advances public mistrust of and confusion about education. These stories about higher education simply don’t reflect our daily work or core commitments.

Although we are not immune from the broad challenges to higher education, we will continue to serve our students in ways that are consistent with our mission and values. When I use phrases like, “freedom to think,” “wisdom to know,” and “agency to act,” I am reflecting the core of our liberal arts tradition coupled with its application. Our students need the freedom to think broadly and deeply, even (and perhaps particularly) if their ideas subsequently challenge us. Achieving this requires our longstanding practice of and commitment to academic freedom. With wisdom comes understanding the limits of one’s knowledge and the means to discern what might add to that knowledge. It can result in the ability to refrain from taking a stand or choosing a side in every conflict before thorough investigation from multiple perspectives. Our students are more thoughtful than reactive, encouraged to explore and build compassion because of the work that you do and the values we embrace. We also cultivate our students’ agency to act by helping develop their ability to apply what they learn with impact and consequence.

Finally, our values are clear in the ways we strive to affirm our commitment to students and their authentic, individual identities. We know that when people are respected and included, in ways that matter to them, they grow in their capacity to create human connections and work toward a shared humanity. We promote knowledge borne of openness, questioning, discernment, and personal passion, which we see as central to the purpose and value of universities. We give students the support, skills, and challenges to advance their personal and professional growth.

At Westminster, we will continue to provide programs, opportunities, and resources consistent with our understanding of students as complex individuals whose identities, talents, experiences, and passions matter to us. In doing so, we will make 2024 a year worth celebrating.

Beth Dobkin