Whitman College Convocation: Opening Remarks
Friday, August 24

By Lori Bettison-Varga, Provost and Dean of Faculty

Thank you Rhea and Daniel for your wonderful performance.

Good morning, I am Lori Bettison-Varga, and I am honored to serve as Provost and Dean of the Faculty at Whitman College. As many of you know, I am new to the College having arrived only two months ago, and I want to extend my appreciation to faculty and staff for your warm welcome to this community.

I can understand if you’re thinking about what might be keeping me up at night, having moved across the country to take this wonderful position. Am I asking myself things like…

  • how will I be received by my new colleagues?
  • how long will it take to get to know the campus culture?
  • and for those of you who know I am a geologist… will I like the geology curriculum?

Yes, all of those along with many other questions are certainly on my mind. But because I felt immediately at home here, because my colleagues are so distinguished and impressive, because a Whitman education is such a transformative process, and because this is a place of such excellence, there really is only one issue that is causing me great anxiety. It’s the double-u factor.

I came from the town of Wooster to the town of Walla Walla, and from The College of Wooster to Whitman College. There’s the “double-u factor” – Wooster, Walla Walla, Whitman – and I’m scared to death that I’ll say Wooster instead of Whitman at the worst possible times, like today.

Seriously, in making the transition from Wooster, where I had been for 15 years, I have found myself thinking a lot about identity and, in particular, my personal identity… as I have now formally made the move to what many faculty consider ‘the Dark Side’! I suspect you, Class of 2011, will have many questions of your own about Whitman and Walla Walla … your… our… new home. You are embarking on a journey of personal discovery and intellectual challenge and will be guided by an immensely talented faculty who will expect you to adopt alternative critical viewpoints. And, as the College mission statement states: to “develop capacities to analyze, interpret, criticize, communicate and engage” Let’s take a moment to focus on the talented teachers and scholars you will meet. Some are new to the College, others are seasoned veterans. but, I guarantee that no matter how many years they have been teaching, all faculty members await that first day of classes with the same sense of anticipation that you have!

Faculty lives are peppered by milestones – professional accomplishments recognized through tenure and promotion that at Whitman College are based on excellence in teaching, excellence in scholarship, and service to the institution. Please turn to the back page of your program where we recognize today faculty who have achieved important milestones in their careers.

Please join me in congratulating these outstanding faculty on their accomplishments.

In celebration of the faculty as teacher/scholars and the recognition of the centrality of faculty and the curriculum to the mission of Whitman College, it is tradition to choose a faculty member to give the Convocation speech. It is my distinct honor to introduce the 2007 Convocation Speaker – Professor Shampa Biswas, Associate Professor of Politics.

Professor Biswas received her B.A. in Economics from St. Stephen’s College, University of Delhi, her M.A. in Economics from the Delhi School of Economics, University of Delhi, another Masters, in International Relations, from the Maxwell School of Citizenship, Syracuse University, and her Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of Minnesota. She came to Whitman College in 1999 and received the Fluno Award for Distinguished Teaching in the Social Sciences in 2002.

Professor Biswas teaches courses in international politics as well as in international political economy and political theory and courses in Asian Politics, Politics of Development, Gender and International Hierarchy, and Critical approaches to Power.

She has been a consistent presence in Critical and Alternative Voices. Professor Biswas’s teaching is grounded in Whitman’s mission: with students commenting on how well she leads them to examining and analyzing their assumptions using a variety of critical perspectives.

She is, I understand, a human encyclopedia, with as one colleague relays, a stunning breadth of knowledge. Professor Biswas’s extensive scholarship addresses issues such as religious fundamentalism, nuclear proliferation, and globalization.

A colleague comments that the underlying methodology of Professor Biswas’s work is to not take any ideology at face value, consistently challenging accepted wisdom in order to reveal unarticulated power relations. She has participated widely in College service – and many consider her to be an exemplar of the Complete Scholar, having cultivated a “multidimensional sense of the professional self.” Professor Biswas’s talk is entitled “What is at Stake?”

Please join me in welcoming Professor Biswas.