Michael Bassis

President Emeritus, Westminster College, Salt Lake City
Served from 2002-2012

Why an Eportfolio?

First, Some History 
I’m Michael Bassis, President of Westminster College. I didn’t start my career with the intention of becoming a college president. More than 40 years ago, as a newly minted PhD, I began my career as a professor in the department of sociology and anthropology at the University of Rhode Island. Over the next 10 years, in addition to teaching both undergraduate and graduate students, I wrote three books, published articles, edited a journal, and made numerous presentations at national conferences. I was on my way. Click HERE for my CV.

Yes, that's me....long ago

But I didn’t like where things were going. Only a minority of students, studying in my department or in other areas of the university, seemed interested in their classes. They certainly didn’t work very hard and I wasn’t sure how many of them were learning much of anything. This didn’t seem to bother the other faculty or their students, but it sure bothered me. And it bothered me so much that I decided I wanted to help the university become the kind of place where faculty and students were eager to learn with and from one another about issues that matter. That work wasn’t easy, but it soon became my passion. I then discovered that, at least on an issue like this one, I could make more of a difference as a college administrator than as a professor. That insight led me to move, over the next three decades, into a series of progressively responsible administrative positions at a number of colleges and universities.

Gaining Perspective 

Throughout my administrative career, I have been driven by my abiding interest in helping colleges and universities build powerful environments for student learning. I have had my fair share of successes, and a few dismal failures. Now, as I approach retirement, I’m trying to develop some perspective on my career—what worked and what didn’t, what strengths and weaknesses I possessed and what lessons I learned and failed to learn along the way.
What I’m trying to do at the end of my career is quite similar, I think, to what we are asking all undergraduates at Westminster to do as they prepare for their careers. Westminster’s faculty have identified what they have come to call college-wide learning goals—sets of skills and attributes that are critical to success in almost any endeavor students might pursue following graduation. They have provided multiple opportunities for students to develop these skills and attributes within and beyond the classroom.  And finally, they are requiring each student to develop an electronic portfolio where they can display examples of their work and reflect on how that work relates to each of the learning goals. Wouldn’t it be interesting, I thought, if I did what we are asking all of our students to do—to develop a perspective on my work relative to a set of criteria that identify, perhaps as well as any, those skills and attributes necessary for success? So I set out to develop an eportfolio just like the ones we are asking Westminster students to develop.
Life Themes Emerge
I have learned that one of the benefits of developing a portfolio is the opportunity to identify and connect various themes that run through one’s life. Certainly the theme most directly reflected in my portfolio is my lifelong interest in student learning. But there are two other themes I might identify.

We were very good! Ranked #4 in the nation.

One is my competitive drive. When I was much younger, I spent lots of time playing one sport or another—first baseball, football and basketball, and later lacrosse and tennis. I hated to lose and, while I always played by the rules, I was quite determined to win. That continues to be true. For example, my wife, Mary, and I both love to sail, particularly if the seas are calm and the water is warm. Almost every year for the last 25 years (more recently, every other year), we fly to one or another Caribbean island and charter a sailboat for a week or two. We take our time exploring the harbors of one island group or another, looking and finding a great snorkeling spot each day. Often we find ourselves out of sight of any island or any other sailboat. But when we do spot another sailboat traveling in our same direction, no matter how far away they may be, my instant response, much to the amusement of others on board, is to begin to race.
I think I apply that same competitive spirit in my work life. I know the absolute necessity of working collaboratively with members of one’s own team, much like the crew of a racing sailboat must do. But I have this inner voice that tells me to try to get ahead, and stay ahead, of the other team. As Westminster’s president, the other team consists of colleges of our kind across the country and every college and university within the local region.

For me, staying ahead of these schools doesn't necessarily mean having the most academic programs, the winningest athletic teams, and the most high-tech equipment in our science labs. I’m realistic enough to know that that’s not possible or, in many cases, even desirable. Our basketball team won’t beat any Division 1 schools (although some suspect that this year they could). But can’t I expect our team to earn higher GPA’s and to exhibit better sportsmanship than those at Division 1 schools? Our chemistry program won’t have more distinguished faculty or offer a wider range of courses than the research university down the block, but it’s not unreasonable to think that our program could generate higher levels of student satisfaction and student learning. The point, I think, is that competing with other schools and trying to stay ahead of them, relative to criteria that are important and appropriate, sets the bar at the level where a school can (at least in the aspirations of the president) strive to be the very best.

Converse Hall

Another theme that seems to run through my life is the value I place on quality. I’m attracted to things that suggest high quality and I believe that others are as well. I’m turned off by things that appear to be cheap, disorganized, superficial, poorly designed or constructed, unattractive or lack integrity. So I want everything associated with Westminster to suggest high quality. I don’t necessarily equate high quality with expensive. A curriculum focused on issues that matter suggests quality, as does a well written letter or a clean and graffiti-free campus. An athletic program that plays by the rules and puts performance in the classroom before performance on the field suggests quality. So do friendly and professional faculty and staff and an engaged student body. None of these things are expensive to produce, but they are symbols of a college that adheres to a standard of excellence in everything it does. That, I have discovered, is important to me.
Let me mention one more theme, one that has been as important an influence on my work as Westminster’s President as the other themes I have mentioned. To put it in very simple terms - I almost always root for the underdog. I suspect that’s the case for a lot of people. Certainly it’s a long tradition among sports fans. But my affection for the underdog runs far deeper than sports.

I have long maintained a strong egalitarian ethic, grounded, I suspect, in the values I internalized as a child. My instinct is to take the side of those individuals and groups who, for whatever reason, operate at a disadvantage relative to others. That, I’m afraid, casts a wide net. We know that across the globe and certainly in American society as well, one’s opportunities to prosper in life are often a function of one’s race, ethnicity, cultural heritage, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, and disability. My egalitarian ethic, grounded in my belief that all humans are of equal worth and moral status, has led to my deeply held conviction that attributes such as these should have no bearing on the political, social, economic or civil rights of any individual or group. Yet they do, at home and abroad.

My egalitarianism is one that seeks equality of opportunity. I’m more than comfortable with the fact that talent and effort often produce unequal results. What I seek is a level playing field and for ways to level the field without disadvantaging others. This is a complex and often controversial subject and my eportfolio is not the place to fully explicate my position. Suffice it to say that I believe that education is among the most effective ways to promote equality of opportunity.  My belief in the power of education to create a more level playing field is one of the principal reasons I chose to spend my entire career in education, to work in schools like Westminster and, as you will see later in this eportfolio, to promote attention to diversity at the college.

HERE is an illustration of my egalitarian ethic at work.

Michael Bassis, President Westminster College, Utah
Your browser is out-of-date!

You need to update your browser to view Foliotek correctly. Update my browser now