Westminster celebrates inauguration of new president

Published: Friday, Oct. 19 2012 6:05 p.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — Westminster College will celebrate a milestone in the school's history Saturday with the inauguration of its 17th president.

The event marks the ceremonial beginning of Brian Levin-Stankevich's presidency, though he officially succeeded Michael Bassis as president in July. Prior to coming to Westminster, Levin-Stankevich served as chancellor of the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.

Levin-Stankevich said he has long admired the work being done at Westminster, where the classical tradition of a liberal arts college is combined with comprehensive coursework in academic areas such as business, nursing, aviation, arts, science and education.

"Those are not typically found at traditional liberal arts colleges," he said. "We use the pedagogy of the liberal arts, the Socratic method of questioning, the whole idea of inquiry, to really assist learning and to obligate students to question what they know, what they think they know."

During Bassis' 10 years as president, the college saw a 44 percent increase in enrollment and a marked jump in graduate students. Between 2002 and 2011, the number of graduate students more than doubled, going from 438 to 919, and total enrollment increased from 2,353 to 3,381, according to college officials.

Because of Westminster's location in Sugar House, Levin-Stankevich says the college is limited in terms of physical expansion. But he said a focus of his administration will be the further use of technology, distance education and other teaching models to continue the school's growth.

Westminster is also scheduled to receive an official accreditation visit this academic year, Levin-Stankevich said, which gives the administration a chance to review and update the college's strategic plan.

"That will be an opportunity for us, as a campus community, to come to consensus around our goals, our aspirations," he said. "I think some of the issues will be around how do we use new evolving techniques of learning effectively while still maintaining an allegiance to the core principles that we hold and to the outcomes we try to achieve with our students."

Levin-Stankevich said the most notable difference between Westminster and other educational institutions he has been involved with is that he mostly comes from a background in the public sector. He said there is a value to being able to formulate strategies and policies around the needs of his students, without the concerns of a statewide system and funding model.

"We have the opportunity to really develop practices and behaviors that fit this college and this environment with our students and our faculty and our history," he said. "That's a significant difference, and a very enjoyable one, because it really allows me to focus on Westminster College."

Steve Morgan, vice president of Institutional Advancement at Westminster, echoed that sentiment, saying that at a private college, the buck stops with the president. Morgan has worked under six presidents during his 31 years at Westminster. Each one left their mark on the school, he said, and he has no doubt Levin-Stankevich will be another positive contribution to the college's history.

"Presidents at a school like Westminster can have a large impact on where an institution goes," Morgan said. "They're like a conductor of an orchestra. They create the music."

In the three-month period since Levin-Stankevich has joined the school, he has gained a reputation for his involvement and interaction with students. Morgan described him as a "24/7" president, saying Levin-Stankevich sets time aside to attend campus events and plans to teach a class next semester.

Levin-Stankevich, a first-generation college student, also has made it clear to administrators that a priority of his administration will be keeping tuition as affordable as possible, Morgan said.

"He's lived the dream, and he wants to make sure other students have that opportunity," he said.

Levin-Stankevich said keeping costs for students low is particularly important in today's economic climate, where the value of education — particularly liberal arts — has come under fire.

Tuition at Westminster is higher than at the state's public colleges and universities, but Levin-Stankevich said nearly 90 percent of students receive some form of financial aid, which contributes to graduate indebtedness being comparable to other Utah schools.

He also said he was encouraged by the number of speakers at Gov. Gary Herbert's Education Summit last week who talked about the strengths and advantages of liberal arts, as well as the general commitment to investing in education through the Prosperity 2020 initiative.

The vision at Westminster, Levin-Stankevich said, is to stress learning more than teaching and focus on outcomes. Preparing students to work in a particular field is only part of a comprehensive education, he said.

"So much of the national dialogue these days has focused on one aspect of college and that's preparing you for a career," Levin-Stankevich said. "It shouldn't just prepare you for a job. It should prepare you for a lifetime of jobs that are going to change and to which you're going to need to adapt."

E-mail: benwood@desnews.com

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