Samford University President Andrew Westmoreland, speaking during his inauguration Nov. 2 as the school's 18th president, shared his vision for Samford and affirmed that he would do his best to lead the Baptist school with "a commitment to that excellence that honors God."
The new leader stressed that Samford should build on its strengths through strategic planning and increasing its endowment, and should constantly be mindful of the needs of students. He added that the University should keep "good faith" with the depth and breadth of its Baptist constituency by always subscribing to the eternal truths of the Bible.
"I believe our Christianity is no excuse for a lack of scholarship," he said. "Instead, our faith should move us to the highest standards for excellence. And in that search for excellence, we do not fear the discovery of any truth, because all truth is God's truth."
Dr. Westmoreland, 49, succeeded retiring President Thomas E. Corts last June 1, coming to Samford after eight years as president of Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia, Ark. At his formal investiture on a crisp, sunny fall day, an academic procession of more than 450 people marched across campus to open the program. Included were representatives of 67 other universities and colleges, Samford trustees and faculty members, and 117 students bearing the flags of nations represented in the Samford student and alumni bodies.
Samford Board of Trustees chairman William J. Stevens administered the oath of office for the new president as his wife, Dr. Jeanna Westmoreland, and 16–year old daughter, Riley, joined him on stage. Afterward, Westmoreland addressed an audience of about 1,500 in Samford's Wright Center.
Regarding endowment, he said, "Probably not in the immediate future, but on the horizon, we ought to be looking toward an endowment for this institution that will exceed one billion dollars. I cannot imagine a vision for Samford's future that would neglect the importance of getting this done." Samford's current endowment is about $298 million.
Westmoreland noted that Samford's diverse institutional profile "is not easily adapted to a standard rubric." He referred to an academic program that combines the liberal arts and various graduate and professional offerings; a teaching–centered approach with growing interest in research; and a student body from 49 states and 27 nations.
"My vision for our future is that we ought to embrace this somewhat peculiar arrangement, that we ought to celebrate the opportunities these programs afford us, and that–in every case–we ought to make them as strong and challenging and as deep as we can-at all levels of the university."
Quoting former president Harwell Davis as saying "it is largely the student body that makes the spirit of an institution," Westmoreland said, "That spirit soars at Samford."
His vision for student life, he said, "is that we would preserve, nurture, and build a community in which relationships are cherished, ideas are encountered and debated, athletic competition promotes student development, citizens are prepared for engagement, men and women are strengthened in their values, faith becomes real and life meets meaning."
He reminded his audience that students "are our great prize." He added, "we ought to look at the ways in which our physical campus either inhibits or promotes the kind of community that we aspire to build (and) seek to limit the inhibiting factors and expand the opportunities."
He paid homage to the past, noting that it was almost 165 years ago, on Nov. 15, 1841, that Baptists gathered in Talladega to authorize a plan leading to the establishment of Howard College, Samford's predecessor institution. "A proud heritage calls us to a bright future," he said, noting that he would "be a friend to Alabama Baptists and believers throughout the world as we aim to be Christ-centered."
"Great tasks, requiring great commitment, lie ahead of us," Westmoreland said. "We may be encouraged in the knowledge that our predecessors faced even greater tasks, and that their efforts met with success."
Inauguration guests joined the Westmorelands outside on the campus lawn for an informal reception after the program. In keeping with a "Sweet Home Alabama" theme for the new president and his family, guests were served moon pies and iced tea.
Inauguration Day culminated with Samford's first-ever inaugural ball, hosted by the Student Government Association. Seibert Hall was transferred from an athletics facility into a futuristic-looking room, complete with seating areas, special lighting, food stations and a very popular chocolate fountain prepared by Samford's Campus Dining and two band stages. President and Mrs. Westmoreland entered the hall to the strains of "Stars Fell on Alabama" and the cheers of about 2,000 students, faculty, staff, alumni and other friends of the university.