Westminster College, a private institution tucked in the foothills of Salt Lake City, will inaugurate its 19th — and second female — president Saturday morning.
Bethami Dobkin will take over the post after spending the past 10 years as provost and vice president for academic affairs and professor of communication at Saint Mary’s College of California. She is replacing Stephen Morgan, who retired after 37 years at Westminster and three as its president.
“It’s a really exciting place to be,” Dobkin said in an interview this week. “I can’t imagine a better place to have landed.”
She began overseeing the small, 27-acre campus of more than 2,000 students in July. Her formal inauguration will take place Saturday at 10 a.m. at the school’s Richer Commons, 1840 S. 1300 East, Salt Lake City.
The biggest challenge Westminster faces, Dobkin said, is that many in the community brush it off as too expensive or too out of reach. The school has the highest tuition — $33,000 with fees for a full year — in the state.
“We’re in a particularly interesting time for higher education where the idea of liberal arts is being seen as inaccessible, which is unfortunate,” she said.
She plans to “counter that mindset” by improving and better promoting the school’s financial aid program, which annually awards more than $57 million in scholarships, grants, loans and work-study offers. And she wants to find more community donors to contribute to the college.
She’ll also continue a partnership with Salt Lake Community College started under her predecessor, which encourages students to get their associate degree at SLCC and then transfer to Westminster for their bachelor’s degree.
“Even for private institutions, Westminster is an exceptional value,” she said.
The school, founded in 1875, has seen modest growth in enrollment numbers in recent years, growing about 10 percent — but it also doesn’t have much physical space to expand in the Sugar House neighborhood where it’s nestled. Dobkin said there are not any plans for new buildings, but that doesn’t mean that the school will sacrifice its low student-to-faculty ratio, which is currently 9:1.
She said the school may hire more professors and will put a growing emphasis on hybrid classes, which meet in-person and online. What she wants overall is for Utah parents and student to see what a liberal arts college has to offer.
“The sooner we come to appreciate its power and potential,” she said, “the greater impact we’ll have.”
Before working at Saint Mary’s College, a Catholic institution, Dobkin was an associate provost and professor of communication studies at the University of San Diego. She has also directed the public debate program at the University of Massachusetts and taught at Hartford University, the University of Connecticut and the College of Our Lady of the Elms.
She earned her doctorate and master’s degree from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and her bachelor’s degree in speech communication from Humboldt State University.
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.