In the 1980s, as the nation shifted toward conservatism, so too did Whitworth. When Robert Mounce was elected Whitworth’s 15th president, in 1981, the board of trustees set him the task of moving the college in a more evangelical direction. He arrived with a wealth of biblical knowledge and an impressive record of scholarship, coming to Spokane after having served as dean at Western Kentucky University, in Bowling Green, for eight years.
Though Whitworth still struggled to find its identity as a Christian college during the 1980s, Mounce’s philosophy of Christian education helped established key touchstones of what sets a Whitworth education apart. Among his cherished principles was the power of discernment. This was important in developing students’ rational judgment, allowing for exposure to an array of ideologies on the journey to developing one’s own faith and worldview. He also pointed to Alfred North Whitehead’s idea of “the habitual vision of greatness,” whereby constant exposure to big ideas leads to the transforming experiences that shape students’ minds and motivate them toward growth. “If an educated person is one who has been molded by the habitual vision of greatness, then the Christian college has the finest conceivable opportunity to educate. Only eyes opened by faith can recognize true greatness as the reflection of God in human achievement,” he said.
Under Mounce’s leadership, Whitworth drafted a new statement of the college’s mission and formed educational goals based on that statement, as well as strategies for fulfilling them. When he retired, in 1987, he helped position Whitworth to launch its first major capital campaign and celebrate its centennial. “My greatest reward is a feeling that the institution as a whole is on track in terms of its basic mission – not a new mission, but a restated one,” he said.