Lori Bettison-Varga, Provost and Dean of the Faculty

Good morning, I am Lori Bettison-Varga, and I am honored to serve as Provost and Dean of the Faculty at Whitman College. On behalf of the Faculty, the staff of the Penrose Library, the Registrar’s office, Athletics, and our academic building staff, I welcome you to Whitman.

My husband and I recently returned from taking our oldest child to college – his first year of the new life ahead of him is filled with transition. As parents, we are also experiencing transition, obviously of a different sort. – to the parents – perhaps you and I shared a similar experience in the weeks leading up to college orientation – the highly tuned skills of debate and argumentation our children have been practicing seem designed to prepare us for our students’ new-found independence! If your sons and daughters hope to enhance their critical inquiry skills, they have come to the right place – a place that seeks to “develop capacities to analyze, interpret, criticize, communicate and engage” - the very heart of Whitman’s mission – a mission critical to the development of the committed and ethical leadership we need in the future.

The Faculty in front of you will engage your students in the classroom, in one-on-one advising and mentoring sessions, through undergraduate research opportunities, off campus study, and in the casual conversation that often happens in unstructured settings. Whitman’s faculty is an accomplished body of teacher/scholars, who have chosen to combine their love of learning with their commitment and passion for excellence in teaching. On the back page of your program we recognize today faculty who have achieved important milestones in their careers – tenure, promotion, and appointments to endowed professorships and chairs.

Please join me in saluting these outstanding faculty members for their accomplishments.

In celebrating the faculty as teacher/scholars and the recognizing 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 2008 Convocation Speaker – Professor of Geology, Patrick Spencer. Professor Spencer received his B.S. in Geology from the University of Washington, his M.S. in Geology from Western Washington University, and returned to the University of Washington to earn his Ph.D. in geological Sciences. He came to Whitman College in 1983 and received the Lange Award for Distinguished Teaching in the natural sciences in 1988 and was named a Paul Garrett Fellow in 1994. In the world of geology, there is an easy categorization of disciplinary types - those we call the ‘hard rock’ geologists (I am one of these) and those we call ‘soft rock’ geologists. Professor Spencer, a soft rocker and paleontologist by training teaches introductory courses in geology, as upper division courses in his specialty areas. Pat actively engages students in research through summer experiences, and he is much sought after as a thesis adviser. In the words of one colleague, Pat has a teaching style that is open and informal, creating a welcoming environment for student engagement. Another colleague says that “Pat is one of the most genuinely ‘caring’ faculty members at the College. He’s always willing to do his share for the good of the order and is not afraid to say what he thinks.” Indeed, he’s served on every major college committee and recently completed a three-year term as Chair of the Faculty. Pat’s recent research has been on the mid- to late-ice age catastrophic outburst floods from glacial Lake Missoula that affected this region, and through collaborative research with students, he has contributed significantly to that story by unraveling a series of multiple flood events.

On a personal note, for those of you who know Pat, it may not be surprising that he is a bonsai potter – the care and patience he extends to his students in and out of the classroom are well exhibited in this hobby that manifests his connection to nature.

Through his tenure at Whitman, Pat has shown his immense dedication to the students, faculty and staff of the College, through excellence in teaching, continued engagement in scholarship, and his yeoman’s record of service.

Professor Spencer’s talk is entitled “Lessons in Stone.” Please join me in welcoming Professor Spencer.