Faculty 360

Dr. Sally Weaver Sommer
Emeritus vice president and dean of academic affairs

Your father, Dr. J. Richard Weaver, was a long-time chemistry and physics professor on campus. Did you plan to follow in your father’s footsteps at Bluffton?

When I was in elementary school, I thought I would be an elementary school teacher. By the time I started college my expectations changed to my becoming a high school math teacher. Once I got interested in economics, I dropped the intention of becoming a teacher.

After graduating from college, Jon and I spent time in South America and then did two years of Mennonite Voluntary Service. I knew I wanted to go to graduate school because there were questions raised from these experiences that I wanted to answer. I did not enter graduate school with the intention of becoming a college professor and much less with the intention of returning to Bluffton. I thought I would end up working in an organization like Bread for World in New York City or Food First in San Francisco.

When we moved to Bluffton in 1981 to open a natural foods store, our intention was to stay for five years and then move on with our lives. Don Pannabecker contacted me to teach several economics courses as an adjunct professor during the 1982-83 school year, and I just kept going. My long tenure at Bluffton University was quite accidental.

You have held so many different roles at Bluffton—professor of economics, registrar, associate dean, vice president and dean of academic affairs—which position has been your favorite and why?

I have enjoyed all my positions at Bluffton, but perhaps my favorite position was associate dean. In that position I was able to work closely with faculty members in imagining, designing and implementing curriculum.

I met regularly with a team of four faculty members who had release time through Pathways to Mission and Vocation to envision how we could integrate vocational exploration into cross-cultural programing, our general education program, service-learning, and peace and conflict studies. I also worked with faculty on many of our academic committees. In addition, I was able to teach two classes, Economic Growth and the Environment and the Guatemala cross-cultural experience while I was associate dean. The academic dean gave me a lot of autonomy and at the same time we worked closely as a team.

As you retire this academic year with 30 years of service to Bluffton, what are your hopes for the campus community?

I hope the university maintains a deep commitment to its mission and living out the four enduring values. I hope faculty and staff members can maintain a strong sense of community as they work together to address the challenges before us.