Michael S. Bassis is the sixteenth president of Westminster College, the only private, comprehensive liberal arts college in Utah. An authority on educational change and an active participant in the national conversation on the future of higher education, Dr. Bassis has had a wide range of experiences as a teacher, scholar, and administrator over his 30-year career in higher education. Upon his appointment at Westminster in July 2002, Dr. Bassis embarked on a comprehensive strategic planning process which resulted in the development of a new, innovative, and ambitious 10 year strategic plan for the college. The plan, endorsed by the faculty and adopted by the Board of Trustees, focuses on bringing Westminster into national prominence as an institution distinguished by its distinctive educational programs, its record of preparing graduates for success in a rapidly changing world, and its commitment to continuous improvement, effectiveness, and value. Now, after almost five years, most of the goals of the plan have been met. Before coming to Westminster College, Dr. Bassis served as the chief academic and administrative officer of New College of Florida, a small, highly selective, and innovative public liberal arts college. There he presided over the college's change in status from a college of the University of South Florida to an independent institution in the State University System. As president of Olivet College in Michigan from 1993 to 1998, Dr. Bassis led a successful effort of institutional transformation and revitalization. At the center of this effort was a collaborative planning process that produced a new institutional vision, a new curriculum, and a campus-wide statement of expectations. Over a period of five years, Olivet was recognized for its successful efforts at institutional renewal by the American Council on Education, the Association of American Colleges and Universities, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the Pew Charitable Trusts, and the John Templeton Foundation. Dr. Bassis's role in the Olivet transformation was chronicled by Stephen R. Covey in his book, Living the Seven Habits. Prior to Olivet, Dr. Bassis served as executive vice president and university provost at Antioch University. Earlier in his career, he held senior administrative positions at Eastern Connecticut State University and the University of Wisconsin-Parkside. Preceding these appointments, Dr. Bassis spent ten years as a faculty member in the department of sociology and anthropology at the University of Rhode Island. He has served as chair of the undergraduate education section of the American Sociological Association, editor of the journal Teaching Sociology, and as a senior fellow with the Project on the Future of Higher Education. In addition, he has served on the Commission on Women and the Commission on Leadership and Change at the American Council on Education, the Board of Directors of the National Society for Experiential Education and the Board of Trustees of Defiance College. A graduate of Brown University, Dr. Bassis holds M.A. and PhD degrees in the Sociology of Education from the University of Chicago. He and his wife, Mary, have four grown children.
Her aspiration from the start was for Westminster to be the first choice for the students and the best choice for the students. In April 1995, fourteen members of Westminster's presidential search committee flanked a large oval table. They were waiting to interview the next candidate. After a steady stream of dark suits, the red dress first caught their attention. Yet something else unwaveringly held their attention as this candidate took over the room for the next two hours. They soon realized they were face-to-face with 100-proof Peggy Stock. "Call me Peggy," she said. The college had finally overcome some bad financial times; by 1995, it had been in the black for 12 years. The board wanted it to stay that way. They were looking for someone who matched the caution of their mood. Instead, the woman in the red dress turned their thoughts to "what could be." Peggy saw the college as a "wonderful jewel that needed polishing." The board soon became convinced that her particular skills set fit the college's need they saw a "can do" president. The vote was unanimous. Peggy was on her way to becoming the fifteenth president of Westminster College and the first female college president in the state of Utah. You don't change anything during your first 90 days so goes the old adage. Yet after six days, Peggy confronted the board at a retreat saying, "We have a number of issues to deal with, and we can take a year to get to know each other or close the door, roll up our sleeves, and start. The board, God bless 'em, said 'close the door.'" In 90 days she and the board changed the bylaws and articles of incorporation for the college. Instead of representational trusteeship, they set criteria of "time, treasure, and talent." "Though this was against the advice of college advisors, it proved very successful," said Executive Vice President Steve Morgan. "The board lined up behind her in a way that they had never done before under any president. They became very focused on what was good for Westminster." But Peggy was doing more than just making changes she was instilling a vision in all at Westminster. Her aspiration from the start was for Westminster to be the first choice for the students and the best choice for the students. A residential village became a large part of that vision. The three residence halls that now surround the green on the south side of campus brought not only residential students to campus, but all the energy and enthusiasm that accompanies 500 resident undergraduates. Raising visibility and creating an identity for Westminster College also became a priority. Peggy's strong personal leadership and energetic advocacy brought about a different perception of Westminster. She became a sought-after speaker whose style informed and entertained her audience. A storyteller, conveyer of a good joke, and master of just the right quotation, her speaking popularity mushroomed the requests poured in. Talking to one audience about making difficult decisions, she quoted Robert Orben who said, "I know deep down that the whole world is not against me. Some of the smaller countries are actually neutral." In her first two years alone, she delivered 69 speeches. During that whirlwind speaking circuit, she convinced many that Westminster was a jewel in their midst that they failed to recognize. And it was not just external constituencies. "Her greatest accomplishment was having the whole college community realize what a great college we are," said Ginger Giovale, chair of the Westminster College Board of Trustees. "Peggy convinced everyone, and this affected all aspects of the college. The successful fund-raising couldn't have happened without this transformation of attitude." But perception and visibility were not the only shifting priorities under Peggy's tenure. In 2001, Utah Business Magazine named Westminster College one of the top five companies to work for in Utah. "I think a lot of the credit goes to Peggy. She felt very strongly about benefits and equity in salaries. She conducted salary surveys with peer colleges and slated $976,379 over five years to ensure equity," said Morgan. "I think the most satisfying accomplishment for me, internally, is the salary adjustments. I know it made a difference in faculty's and staff's lives," said Peggy. "Their salaries are better, their benefits are better, and the facilities are better. I feel good about that." In June 2001 Peggy reluctantly announced her retirement. She cited nagging health problems and a desire to spend more time with her husband, Bob, and her family. A year's notice not only gave the college enough time to find a new president it also offered Peggy an opportunity to adjust to the change. "I have lots of energy and my mind doesn't stop. I wonder what I will do with my mind. I have never learned to live life. I have always worked life. I guess I have some new lessons to learn," said Peggy, who admits that while she may slow down, she will still serve on some boards and perhaps do some volunteer work. "Most presidents fall in love with their first college. I fell in love with my last one. This is a wonderful place to close my career. We've worked hard. We've laughed hard. It is very difficult to leave these wonderful people," she said.
Dr. Dick was an educator, administrator, and fundraiser. He had been president of Centenary College in New Jersey and vice president at Cornell University Medical Center. He graduated from the University of Kansas, earned a Masters from California State University and PhD in marketing and management from Northwestern. Also an avid flutist, jogger and dog-lover, Charles Dick and his wife Barbara won many friends for the college.
James E. ("Pete") Petersen, Kennecott Copper Company's industrial relations manager served the college twice as president, once for 8 months in 1979 and again from 1982 to 1985. A businessman with no college degree, he saw the college through the brink of bankruptcy and a reorganization that put the college on the road to its current success. The Petersen House, a building off campus, is currently used for student housing.
C. David Cornell was college president from 1979 to January 1982. He had previously served as vice president of colleges in New York, Ohio and North Carolina. The Cornell Duplex, named in his honor, is currently used for student housing.
Helmut P. Hofmann was college president from 1976 to January of 1979. He had a PhD from Heidelberg University and had been the Academic vice president at Weber State in Ogden, Utah and Westminster before being chosen as president in 1976. Notably, the award-winning Nunemaker Place was built during his term. The Hofmann House, named in his honor, is currently used for student housing.
President Shaw was a Westminster graduate and earned degrees from Yale and the University of Utah. He was also a college trustee. His term saw a much needed Union Building and Malouf Hall added to campus. The student union was then named in his honor, and houses a cafeteria, bookstore, career resource center, and much more. For more information on the Shaw center.
W. Fred Arbogast was college president from 1963 to 1968. Arbogast was a Westminster alumnus and the former principal of East High and Highland High School. He held graduate degrees from the University of Denver and University of Utah. His term included the addition of the first free-standing library on campus, Nightingale Hall. He died in July, 1984. Now the Arbogast house, named in his honor, is used for student housing
Frank E. Duddy was college president from 1956 to 1963. Dr. Duddy was the school's first nonministerial president. He earned a PhD from Harvard and had taught 10 years at the U.S. Naval Academy. During his term, such key additions as Carleson and Hogle Halls were added to the College. The Duddy Duplex, named in his honor, is currently used for student housing.
Burton Wheatlake and his sisters, Lois and Joy, practically grew up on the Westminster College campus. Their father, B. C. J. Wheatlake, was on the Westminster Board of Trustees from 1927 until his death in 1964. He was interim president of the college in 1952-53.
Robert D. Steele was the fifth president of Westminster College, and he is most famous for transforming the college into a four-year institution.
Herbert W. Reherd was the college's 4th president, but first residential president. He served Westminster for over 25 years. During his term, the "Cushman Cottage" was built on the east side of 13th East as the president's house along with such campus improvements as the F.R. Payne Gymnasium and Foster Hall. The Reherd house, named in his honor, is currently used for student housing.
Reverend Robert M. Stevenson was Westminster's president for six years, though absentee doing fund-raising much of the time. He graduated from Wabash College and Princeton Theological Seminary, was a Presbyterian minister and became the vice president of Bellevue College near Omaha, Nebraska before coming to Westminster. The Stevenson House, named in his honor, is currently used for student housing.
During this time, Westminster was still under the name of Sheldon Jackson College.