Westminster College inaugurates its 19th — and second female — president

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Bethami Dobkin at her inauguration as Westminster College's 19th president in front of the school's Converse Hall in Salt Lake City, Saturday, Sept. 29, 2018.

The new president of Westminster College vowed to make free speech, social justice and inclusivity the bedrock of her administration as she was inaugurated on Saturday.

Bethami Dobkin, the private college’s 19th — and second female — president, recalled her parents' “commitments to democracy, informed citizenship, justice, equity and inclusion,” vowing those principles will “also inform everything that I do. And, I believe, have guided me to accept and embrace, with deep respect and humility, the presidency at Westminster College.”

She began overseeing the campus of more than 2,000 students in July, succeeding Stephen Morgan, who retired after 37 years at Westminster and three as its president.

Standing on the steps of Converse Hall, Dobkin defended the value of a liberal arts education.

“The freedom to think is a foundation of the liberal arts,” she said. “The value proposition of liberal arts colleges is under attack at the very time it is most needed. Part of the problem is the very word 'liberal,' which “has been drained of substance” in the age of social media.

“Set aside the politics of liberal arts, just for a moment,” Dobkin said. “We need to practice both the liberties and responsibilities of free thinking, which involves discovery of knowledge, breaking disciplinary boundaries, suspending judgment, and respectful engagement in difficult conversations.”

She said Westminster must teach students “enduring values and purpose” and to operate with a “moral compass.” And takes it a step further with the “aptitude to act” — the “leadership capacity to step in and step up.”

“I’m asking for more. I’m asking to become the best private college in preparing students for flexible, adaptive and ethical leadership.”

Dobkin joins a historic roster where, for the first time in the state’s history, five of the colleges and universities in Utah are being led by women. She said before the ceremony that she hopes to raise awareness of programs that make the school accessible to the community and a strong value.

“We have great problems to solve and great possibilities to imagine as we move forward in this rapidly changing world," Dobkin said. "No one can do it alone, but we can do it together. We are Westminster. Let us begin.

She came to Westminster from Saint Mary’s College of California, where she spent 10 years as provost and vice president for academic affairs and professor of communication.