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A LEGACY OF
STUBBORNNESS
[the good kind]
AND JOY
Bill Robinson offers some final thoughts on his presidency

Whitworth President Bill RobinsonWhitworth Today interviewed Bill Robinson upon his arrival at Whitworth in 1993, at the 10-year point in his presidency (you can read those interviews in our web extras online), and this spring, as he prepared to turn over the reins to Beck Taylor. Herewith, Robinson shares some Bill-esque short answers (which made us laugh) and some thoughtful responses to our more serious questions about his presidency, his feelings about leaving, and his thoughts about his -- and Whitworth's -- future.

Robinson Receives Whitworth's
Highest Award


Read Bill's First Interview   |    Read Bill's 1998-99 Interview   |   Robinson Photo Gallery

WT: IF YOU COULD CHOOSE A QUESTION TO BE ASKED, WHAT WOULD IT BE, AND HOW WOULD YOU ANSWER IT?
WPR: I don't know what the question would be, but if it has anything to do with good stuff, the answer would be my family. If it has anything to do with God, my answer would be grace. If it has anything to do with my feelings about being at Whitworth, my answer would be way blessed. If it has anything to do with leaders, my answer would be Chuck Boppell.

WT: NAME THREE OF YOUR FAVORITE MOMENTS OVER THE PAST 17 YEARS.
WPR: Let me see: Handing degrees to two of our children was pretty cool. And I remember receiving a phone call from a person I adore in which she informed me of her decision to give us a huge gift. It was the gift that made the Ernst F. Lied Center for the Visual Arts possible. And I loved watching our son pass a runner at the finish line of the Northwest Conference cross-country meet, achieving his goal to be all-conference by about a yard. Those were great occasions, but there are thousands of others that were just as big at the time.

WT: WHAT'S YOUR PROUDEST ACCOMPLISHMENT? 
WPR: Our children, although I don't think of them as accomplishments.

The BillBoard
We invite you to post a note to the BillBoard -- a site for alumni and friends to share good wishes, memories, tributes and other comments about Bill Robinson and his service to Whitworth. Go to brobbillboard.blogspot.com.

WT: CAN YOU THINK OF ONE THING YOU COULD HAVE DONE BETTER DURING YOUR PRESIDENCY?
WPR: I failed to bring an eight-figure gift to Whitworth. Over 17 years, I should have been able to make that happen. Initially, I was focused on our most urgent need, which was everything related to enrollment, so I may have missed some opportunities in resource development, especially early on. Our great donors have been incredibly generous, and we have accomplished a ton. But a school of Whitworth's quality should have several huge gifts in its history. That shortcoming is on me. But who knows -- maybe those gifts are simply delayed in arriving.

WT: WHAT ARE YOU FEELING AS YOU PREPARE TO STEP DOWN?
WPR: I don't really feel a sense of loss. Everyone says, "You must be feeling grief and loss." But I don't. Maybe I've just been too busy to think about it, and maybe I will think about it eventually, but it's not as if I'm leaving Whitworth and going to South Carolina or anything like that. Some things about leaving the job are sad, and some things about leaving the job are great. I seem to be fine with that balance.

Here's when it could hit me. This year's freshmen will have graduated, I'll be back on campus -- maybe I'll be going for a run in the Back 40 and I'll stop by the fieldhouse or the tennis courts -- and there'll be students there, and I'll talk to them. The conversation will be totally different, completely different than it is now, and that's when I'll say, "Oh, man. These students don't know and don't care who I am." That could be hard. I've been spoiled. Right now, they let me into their lives, even if we haven't met.

WT: WHAT'S THE FIRST THING YOU'LL DO AFTER YOU PASS THE TORCH?
WPR: Get out of the Taylors' house. After that, I'll do anything I can to support Whitworth and Beck Taylor. We had a great search committee, and I think they found Whitworth just the person it needs -- the person God has blessed with this call.

WT: WHAT THREE PIECES OF ADVICE WOULD YOU OFFER BECK TAYLOR? 
WPR: Love the students, protect the mission, and don't miss French Dip Fridays in Sodexo.

Bill RobinsonWT: CAN YOU PINPOINT AN ISSUE THAT HAS REFLECTED AND TESTED WHITWORTH'S DUAL COMMITMENTS TO CHRISTIAN CONVICTION AND INTELLECTUAL OPENNESS?
WPR: I think when we grapple with any stressful issue it reminds our community of who we should be. For example, this year we had many conversations about the nature and morality of homosexuality. As a Christian university, we should seek the mind of Christ as revealed in Scripture and in the witness of the Holy Spirit on this and on other issues. We should respect community members who differ from us in their understanding of the Bible. We should welcome all students with the unconditional love of Christ. And as a Christian university, we should foster an atmosphere of exploration and curiosity. We should be reluctant to take institutional stands on issues being studied and debated by faithful Christian scholars. We should protect community members' rights to their points of view. There are few institutions in higher education where this kind of climate exists. On the morality of homosexuality, secular campuses agree with conservative Christian campuses in concluding there isn't much to be discussed (although for totally opposite reasons). But painful conversations, conducted well, can provide healing and understanding. I know that our unwillingness to make an institutional declaration [on homosexuality] upsets many people. But I believe our students have benefited from hearing strong, articulate voices within our community debate this issue. Personally, I have felt a responsibility to protect Whitworth's distinctiveness as a place where the fellowship of the Cross is a stronger basis for our unity than anything that threatens to divide us. And I say that Bill Robinsonholding some very deep convictions on these matters. I love and affirm our Reformed and Evangelical confessions, but as I have defended our refusal to construct a specific doctrinal statement to which all of us must ascribe, I have often thought of the following verse: "For while I was with you, I resolved to know nothing but Jesus Christ, and him crucified" (I Cor. 2:2). Admittedly, the Apostle Paul rather overstates our own resolve, but I hope we're always a community of scholars that holds belief in Christ and the authority of Scripture as our only non-negotiable requirements for membership.

WT: WHO WAS YOUR FAVORITE COMMENCEMENT SPEAKER? WHY? 
WPR: Me. My speech was the shortest.

WT: WHAT'S THE BEST ADVICE YOU RECEIVED DURING YOUR PRESIDENCY?
WPR: I've tried to be charitable. I believe you get what you give. I don't know who told me that. Let's say Bonnie told me that.

WT: HAVE YOU SEEN ANY FUNDAMENTAL CHANGES IN WHITWORTH'S ETHOS DURING YOUR PRESIDENCY?
WPR: I wouldn't say fundamental changes. I don't think we're much different in our essential identity. We're stronger, more joyful and far more unified, but fundamentally, our mission is no different from what it was in 1993.

WT: YOU'VE SAID IT'S IRONIC THAT THE NEW BIOLOGY/CHEMISTRY BUILDING WILL BE NAMED FOR YOU AND BONNIE, GIVEN YOUR SPOTTY ACADEMIC RECORD IN THE SCIENCES. YET YOU SAY IT MAY BE THE MOST IMPORTANT ACADEMIC FACILITY WHITWORTH HAS EVER BUILT. WHY?
WPR: I don't know if it's the most important building, but it will serve the most students, and it might be the most timely. We have a superb faculty, excellent students and remarkable momentum in our growing science division. So it isn't surprising that our current facility becomes less adequate every semester. It's hard to name a top liberal arts university that doesn't have a vibrant, well-resourced science program. When this building opens, every aspect of science at Whitworth will be very strong.

WT: WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE TO BE DOING 10 YEARS FROM NOW?
WPR: Turning 70.

WT: IF ACADEMIA WERE THE WINTER OLYMPICS, WHAT EVENT WOULD WHITWORTH BE?
WPR: Curling. (Editor's note: Don't ask me.)

WT: PLEASE COMMENT ON YOUR EXPERIENCE WRITING OF MIND & HEART 10 TIMES PER YEAR FOR 17 YEARS. WHY DID YOU DO THE NEWSLETTER? WHAT WAS THE MOST CHALLENGING THING ABOUT WRITING IT? THE MOST REWARDING?
WPR: I wrote it so that people would know what was going on at the school they support. It was one of those duties that required discipline to start, but it wasn't bad when I got going. Sometimes the words and ideas showed up to meet me. Most of the time, I had to go looking for them. I remember a few bad words that came to mind as I stared at the monitor, utterly clueless. On these occasions, I'd start writing the sections where people sent me information. Or when I got really stuck, I would just start writing and see what came out. There were a few times when the writing was simply exhilarating. I could feel the word fairy perched on my shoulder, feeding me lines. Hmmm, I like that image -- Tinker Bell helping a Pirate. Arrrrhhh!

WT: WHAT'S YOUR TEAM'S HOOPFEST RECORD SINCE 1993?
WPR: Not as good as I remember it being.

WT: WHAT'S YOUR FAVORITE FOOD IN THE DINING HALL?
WPR: Not counting French dips, bruschetta and the soups.

WT: IF YOU COULD OFFER WHITWORTH'S FRESHMEN SOME INSIDE ADVICE FOR THEIR FIRST SEMESTER, WHAT WOULD IT BE?
WPR: Overachieve academically and underachieve socially.

WT: THIS IS A NEAR-IMPOSSIBLE REQUEST, BUT CAN YOU SUM UP YOUR WHITWORTH EXPERIENCE?
WPR: I've loved being a part of this community. I'm pretty sure I've loved being a part of it more than I've loved being its president. That's to say, I think I would rather have had any number of jobs at Whitworth than the presidency somewhere else. I think maybe that feeling contributed to whatever effectiveness I've had in the presidency. Most of the time, I didn't feel my position was any more important than anyone else's, although sometimes I knew it absolutely was. I just felt blessed to be a part of the community. I knew my job, and I knew when I had to make decisions. It's not that I was timid or that I didn't know what to do in the role, or that I didn't like the role; it just wasn't the best part of being in the community. Being at Whitworth was the best part of being at Whitworth.

WT: WHAT'S YOUR FONDEST HOPE FOR WHITWORTH'S FUTURE?
WPR: I hope Whitworth will prosper beyond what anyone expects, and that its prosperity will be the product of faithfulness to its mission. I hope Beck Taylor is wildly successful.

WT: WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE YOUR WHITWORTH LEGACY
TO BE?

WPR: A stubborn mission and a joyful campus.

I HAVE BEEN INSPIRED BY BILL'S GENEROSITY OF SPIRIT IN SHARING THE FAITH AND WISDOM THAT GUIDE HIS LIFE. HIS ABILITY TO LEAD WITH THE ATTITUDE OF A SERVANT IS A MODEL FOR MY PERSONAL AND PROFESSIONAL LIFE. I VALUE WHAT I HAVE LEARNED FROM HIS PUBLIC LEADERSHIP AND HIS INTERPERSONAL MANNER.

Scott Hansen, '97, M.D., Evergreen
Hospital Medical Center

WE LIVE IN A TIME WHEN THE QUALITY OF LEADERSHIP, WHILE IT HAS NEVER BEEN MORE NEEDED, HAS NEVER BEEN SO DILUTED. WHEN WE HAVE AMONG US EXAMPLES OF TRUE LEADERSHIP -- PROFILES IN COURAGE, PORTRAITS OF INTEGRITY, PERSONS OF VISION, AND CHARACTERS GUIDED BY PRINCIPLE AND A COMMITMENT TO SOMETHING LARGER THAN THEMSELVES -- WE MARVEL, AND WE ARE MOST FORTUNATE WHEN WE RECOGNIZE THEM IN OUR MIDST. BILL ROBINSON IS THAT KIND OF PERSON.

Ron Thomas, president of the
University of Puget Sound

BILL IS THE EPITOME OF WHAT I WOULD LIKE TO THINK MY CHILDREN WOULD FIND IN THEIR OWN COLLEGE PRESIDENT. HE IS HONORABLE, WITHOUT ANY PRETENSE; GENEROUS AND SINCERE IN DAILY PRACTICE; AND HE WALKS IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF CHRIST BOLDLY AND WITHOUT APOLOGY. HE IS ONE OF MY HEROES, AND HE IS A PRICELESS FRIEND.

Andrew K. Benton, president
of Pepperdine University

With Grace and Truth: The Robinson PresidencyWhitworth University, in collaboration with North by Northwest Productions, has produced a short documentary celebrating Bill's remarkable tenure as president. With Grace and Truth: The Robinson Presidency highlights some of Robinson's most important contributions to Whitworth proclaiming the mission, shaping the culture, engaging the community, sustaining excellence, and building a foundation for the university's bright future. A video stream of the movie is available on the Whitworth website at:
www.whitworth.edu/administration/institutional
advancement/videos/BillRobinson.htm
. The movie also is available on YouTube; it is posted in four installments due to YouTube size limitations.

BILL EXUDES A ZEST FOR SERVING OTHERS, HE SHARES HIS LIFE WITH TRUE TRANSPARENCY, AND HE IS INTENTIONAL AND ACCESSIBLE. THOUSANDS OF STUDENTS HAVE COME THROUGH WHITWORTH RESPECTING AND LOVING BILL FOR THESE REASONS. IT'S BEEN AN HONOR TO WORK WITH A PERSON WHO TREATS CONSTITUENTS WITH THE SAME GRACE AND TRUTH HE PREACHES, AND A BLESSING TO HAVE A LEADER WHO RECOGNIZES THAT HIS OWN ABILITIES ARE A RESULT OF THE GRACE AND TRUTH OF OUR FATHER.

Danika Heatherly, '10, senior class president

MY MOST FORMATIVE MOMENTS AT WHITWORTH CAME FROM MY CONVERSATIONS WITH BILL. HE NOT ONLY TOLD ME TO LEAD, LOVE GOD, AND LEARN FROM OTHERS; HE SHOWED ME HOW TO DO THESE THINGS. THAT IS WHAT TAKES EDUCATION TO THE NEXT LEVEL.

Scott Donnell, '08, business development, Nativis, Inc., and former ASWU president

I HAVE HAD THE HONOR OF BEING BILL'S CLOSE FRIEND SINCE WE WERE STUDENTS TOGETHER IN COLLEGE. I KNEW WHEN HE WAS JUST 20 YEARS OLD THAT HE WOULD BECOME AN OUTSTANDING LEADER ONE DAY. SURE ENOUGH, AS PRESIDENT OF WHITWORTH UNIVERSITY, HE HAS ABSOLUTELY EMBODIED THAT ROLE. I KNOW OF NO UNIVERSITY PRESIDENT BETTER SUITED TO HIS CALLING!

Wess Stafford, president and CEO of Compassion International

I SO APPRECIATE THE CLIMATE BILL SET FORTH FOR THE TRUSTEES TO HAVE THE FREEDOM TO EXPRESS A RANGE OF OPINIONS. HE DIDN'T NEED US TO NECESSARILY AGREE WITH ONE ANOTHER OR WITH HIM. THIS WAS ALWAYS ENCOURAGING, AS I KNEW THE SAME TYPE OF INTERACTIONS WERE BEING REPEATED IN WHITWORTH'S CLASSROOMS.

Anne Storm, '74, Whitworth trustee and co-chair of the Presidential Search Committee

BILL HAS ENLARGED WHITWORTH'S ORGANIZATIONAL CULTURE TO WELCOME OTHER VOICES AND PERSPECTIVES, AND HE HAS GIVEN US MORE CLARITY. IF YOU WORK AT WHITWORTH TODAY, YOU KNOW WHY YOU ARE HERE. AND TO KNOW WHY YOU COME TO WORK EACH DAY AND POUR YOUR HEART AND SOUL INTO A PLACE AND AN IDEA IS A SOURCE OF SUSTAINING JOY.

Randy Michaelis, '74, professor of education and chair of the undergraduate teacher-education program

I ADMIRE BILL'S ABILITY TO GIVE PEOPLE WITH DIFFERENT POINTS OF VIEW A SAFE ENVIRONMENT IN WHICH TO DIALOGUE AND TO FEEL LOVED BY HIM. HIS ABILITY TO COMMUNICATE THE APPROPRIATE LEADERSHIP MESSAGE, IN BOTH TENSE AND RELAXED TIMES, IS ANOTHER ADMIRABLE QUALITY I ATTEMPT TO EMULATE AS A BUSINESS EXECUTIVE WHOSE JOB IS TO TEACH LEADERS IN LARGE CORPORATIONS.

Walt Oliver, '67, chair of Whitworth's board of trustees and senior vice president of human resources and administration for General Dynamics

BILL ROBINSON HAS BEEN A DEAR FRIEND AND COLLEAGUE, AND A STRONG LEADER FOR PRIVATE HIGHER EDUCATION IN THE REGION AND FOR CHRISTIAN HIGHER EDUCATION NATIONALLY. BILL AND BONNIE ARE SUCH STRONG MODELS OF WHAT CHRISTIAN LEADERSHIP OUGHT TO BE, AND WHITWORTH IS CERTAINLY A STRONGER INSTITUTION TODAY BECAUSE OF THEIR FAITHFUL, TIRELESS AND EXCEPTIONAL COMMITMENT TO THE PEOPLE AND PURPOSE OF THIS GREAT UNIVERSITY.

Philip Eaton, '64, president of Seattle Pacific University

Bill Robinson

BILL HAS BEEN A LEGENDARY CHAMPION OF STUDENTS, BUT HE'S ALSO BEEN A THOROUGH CHAMPION OF FACULTY. ANYONE WITH A COMPLAINT LIKES TO GO TO THE TOP -- "YOUR ENGLISH DEPARTMENT SHOULDN'T BE ASSIGNING SECULAR NOVELS" -- AND BILL HAS TAKEN UNBELIEVABLE AMOUNTS OF TIME TO RESPOND THOUGHTFULLY AND PERSUASIVELY ABOUT WHITWORTH'S EDUCATIONAL MISSION AND TO EXPRESS HIS FAITH IN THE INTEGRITY OF THE FACULTY.

Tammy Reid, '60, former vice president for academic affairs and dean of the faculty

THANK YOU FOR YOUR MANY YEARS OF DEDICATION TO A PLACE WE LOVE -- YOUR COMMITMENT TO AUTHENTICITY IS INSPIRING AND HAS INFLUENCED EVERY AREA OF CAMPUS AND BEYOND.

Josh Armstrong, '95, director of the Comprehensive Leadership Program at Gonzaga University

BILL ROBINSON AS A LEADER AND A PERSON -- IT DOESN'T GET ANY BETTER THAN THAT.

Betsy Cowles, chairwoman of Cowles Publishing Company

Bill Robinson

 

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