months before his planned retirement, Pomona College President Peter W.
Stanley sat down with PCMs past editor Don Pattison and current
editor Mark Wood to reminisce and to share...
PCM: What were your early impressions
and expectations of Pomona?
Peter Stanley: I had known about Pomona for a long time.
When I was dean
at Carleton College I thought it was a good ideaa deparochializing
ideato see if
Carletons take on things was the same as that at other good colleges,
including Pomona, Oberlin, and Swarthmore. I met Bob Voelkel, Pomonas
dean, and he was perfect for my purposes as there was never any hesitation
in his view of anything. You could ask him for advice and you got it.
Being 1,500 miles away, however, I didnt necessarily have to take
Over the years I got to know Bob and then David Alexander, and I came
here several times for The Ford Foundation. I remember being taken on
a tour of the campus by Professor David Elliott and hearing a talk by
Sam Yamashita in what was then the brand new Blue Room. That led me to
see Pomona as a first-tier liberal arts college, a beautiful place that
was different from the premier eastern colleges, not just because it was
farther west but because the society of California is different from that
in Massachusetts or Pennsylvania or Minnesota. There was a feeling of
promise, of a place where things were not rigid or confined to an established
track. Possibilities were being discovered, and there was a sense of adventure
I felt it would be really interesting to draw out what was classic about
Pomona and to examine its distinctiveness. Did this have something to
do with California and with the relative youth of the College by New England
standards? And, with a changing, growing, somewhat troubled southern California
environment as well as a location at the edge of the Pacific Rim and Latin
America, I felt there were opportunities here to be creative.
your inaugural address, you talked about the need for a campus center.
How did that come about?
Pomona looked to me like a community that, in significant measure, lacked
a center, a place where peoples lives crossed. One of the first
things people notice about Pomona is that theres no density of foot
traffic compared with most campuses. It looks empty most of the time.
I was particularly conscious of this because of the 1991 report of the
task force on social life that pointed out a number of tensions in the
communitybetween fraternities and others, between drinkers and others,
between straights and gays, between the politically correct and othersand
it seemed to me that the premise of a residential campus was that these
identities/affinities should be tested by contact with other people. If
you went off into a series of culs de sac, you were missing the promise
of residential education. One approach was to develop a physical place
where peoples ideas, tastes, and even prejudices could be tested
by contact with others who felt differently from the way they did.
What other needs did you perceive early on?
All colleges should regularly examine general education, and the 1992
WASC Report pointed out a need to do that here. Ive always thought
that simply asking students to study aspects of knowledge by picking from
prescribed courses in the three divisions was an abdication of intellectual
responsibility. There are many ways to approach general education, and
Im not persuaded that any of them is necessarily better than another,
but I do think we owe students an appreciation of the architecture of
general education: what it is we wish, in retrospect, that we had learned
apart from our major, apart from our career, that contributed to our general
sense of intellectual capacity and resilience. If you dont offer
that as a working hypothesis to students, it seems to me youre in
a kind of intellectual default. I welcomed the advice from the accrediting
commission, and I supported Professors Gary Smith and Tom Moore who took
the lead in fashioning the new general education program. Now that program,
in turn, is up for review.
Another perception, perhaps stemming from a sense of divisiveness in 1991,
was that the campus appeared to me to be curiously joyless, and I thought
that it would be a really good thing if people would lighten up a little
bit and delight in the opportunity to be here, with each other, in such
a stimulating, attractive, and potentially enjoyable place. This was a
hard thing to say on a college campus. On the one hand, the notion that
one should enjoy oneself is a truism, but, on the other, some serious
intellectual folk view this as a sign of superficiality. But I felt that
unless we encouraged a sense of joy, the old serious Pomona would reassert
itself whenever it had a chance.
I also remember thinking that there were real opportunities at the interstices
between the classic departments and in areas where we had special opportunities
to strengthen existing programs. Ive always thought that Asian Studies
and Latin American Studies should be a badge of pride for Pomona. In many
ways, Asian Studies already was, but Latin American Studies barely existed,
and Im pleased that its now become a strong, vibrant program.
Ive always been fascinated with the theoretical end of the field
of linguistics, because it comes as close to a liberal arts approach to
the whole phenomenon of cognition as anything I know. When faculty such
as Jay Atlas and René Coppieters wanted to move in that direction,
I was really pleased to be able to support them.
What personal challenges have
greatest legacy of the Stanley years will not be expressed in terms
of dollars, square feet, SAT scores, or national rankings. Rather,
Peters brilliance has been in requiring us all to view every
College issue from the highest moral plateau, where the essential
question is always: What is the right thing to do? The
result has been a refreshing tone of civility, affability, and ethical
perspective that now pervades the campus and regulates all of our
undertakings, and this tone has become a part of what Pomona College
Stewart Smith 68, Chairman of the Board of Trustees
Peter has an astonishing ability to capture ideas, concerns
and joy in his words. His words have framed our discussions of college
issues including the curriculum, student life and diversity. And his
words have soothed our individual struggles and celebrated our successes.
The brilliance of Peters gift for language is that he articulates
our endeavors as a college, and acknowledges our endeavors as individual
women and men.
Deborah Burke, W.M. Keck Distinguished Service Professor
and Professor of Psychology
Peter is not a hail fellow well met college president;
he is a deeper and more thoughtful type. One of his distinguishing
characteristics is a moral seriousness that means his talk is never
mere gossip. He is utterly reliable; his word is his bond. What makes
this seriousness infinitely more attractive is his wicked sense of
humor; he is incisive about foibles, whether our own or others,
and he is wonderful at the anecdote that illuminates character. He
should write fables for college administratorsperhaps a bestiary
of the types he has encountered here in Claremont, a kind of academic
La Fontaine for the 21st century!
Nancy Y. Bekavac, President of Scripps College
When I view the extraordinarily strong financial status of the
College, the creative new curriculum, the great strength of the faculty
and the enthusiasm of students and alumni alike, it is not hard to
identify Peters legacy. It is all of that and more.
Robert Tranquada 51,
Chairman Emeritus of the Board of Trustees
Under Peter Stanley, the Pomona College campus plan refound
its history. Stand in the middle of Marston Quad and you see how Robert
Sterns postmodern Smith Campus Center responds to Myron Hunts
Spanish Mission Revival façade of Little Bridges and the north
apse of Sumner Hall. We have come full circle at the turn
of the 21st century, to a refoundation of the principles
of Myron Hunts
monumental campus plan of 190814. Peter has reset the standard
of excellence for campus building and planning for our future.
George L. Gorse, Viola Horton Professor of Art
Peter and I both started at Pomona in 1991, and from the beginning
he has always provided a warm, welcoming environment. Living on campus,
I would often run into him on his evening walks and he would always
stop and talk for a few minutes. As a president, Peter has not only
been a leader, but has publicly supported the efforts of many staff
members and encouraged them to take pride in the work they do. Working
with him has been rewarding, and I will forever remember how he challenged
me in my personal and professional life at Pomona.
Frank Bedoya, Associate Dean of Campus Life
Under Peters leadership, the College has grown and evolved
in innumerable exciting and important ways. Peter has ensured that
Pomona continues its leadership role as a premier liberal arts and
sciences college, in which alumni, students, parents and friends can
take great pride. We wish Peter the very best in his future endeavors
and look forward to his continued involvement as an
honorary alumnus of Pomona College.
Andy Agle 91, Alumni Association President, 200203
Peter Stanley has set for us all the highest standards of intelligence,
learning, scholarship, integrity, devotion, service, good will, courage
and eloquence. Peter has not only spoken to us and for us, but he
has moved among us, an enthused and discerning member of our community.
My own understanding of community, and my renewed pleasure
in and commitment to citizenship at Pomona College, have been vastly
enriched during his tenure. How grateful I am; how grateful are we
Martha Andresen, Phebe Estelle Spalding Professor of English
Well, Ill take the long way around the barn to answer that. A couple
of times a yearevery single yeara student shows up in my office
and says, believe it or not, Sir, what should I do to prepare myself
for a career as a college president? And, I always say, Damned
if know, because I never set out to be a college president. It was
one of a set of serendipitous and utterly unforeseeable events in my life.
One of the challenges was that while I presumably brought some useful
credentials and experiences to the table, there was a lot that I didnt
know. I had no training in serious financial planning or management, very
limited experience with supervising large numbers of people other than
faculty and none at all in asking for money. In addition, I think of myself
as, basically, a private person, and so the public aspects of the positiongetting
to know and remember lots of people and understand what they think is
important about the College and the worldthat was new. But I must
say that it has all proven to be very enjoyable. People, especially Pomonas
senior administrators, have been very kind and have helped me learn how
to do some of the things that didnt come naturally or werent
in my field of experience. Pomona is a very supportive community. While
it doesnt wear that as a badge, in truth, when you need people they
support you and make your world work.
What are some of your favorite memories of your presidency?
Theyre almost all people, as you can imagine. Things or events are
fine, but what stays with you is people. There are so many that I worry
about conjuring up only a few. To my mind, though, Leonard Pronko is one
of the most interesting people on earth, and to run into Leonard, whom
I think of as an intellectual giant and a creative genius, wandering alone
in the hillsides with headphones listening to Verdis Don Carlosnow
thats a memory Ill keep forever. And watching a faculty member
like Karen Kossuth, who came alive over opportunities in the new Linguistics
and Cognitive Science Program, who became the heart of that enterprise,
was an unforgettable experience. With a sparkle in her eye, Karen would
carry me off to the Sagehen Café for two-hour lunches and never
stop talking because she was so excited. I remember that all the more
poignantly because she died shortly thereafter.
About a quarter of Pomonas living alumni
graduated during your presidency. What are your thoughts about Pomona
Somebody said to me when I was new, Why would anybody leave a wonderful
job like the one you had at The Ford Foundation where you gave away 40
million dollars a year and helped good people do good things? I
replied it was because I missed being on a college campus and being around
students. And the person said, Clearly you havent been away
long enough to start missing the faculty. The faculty is the heart
of the place. They shape its character. They assure its continuities.
They are the major capital investment, not the buildings. But students
are the reason were here, and theyre also the most fun. Being
younger, their emotions are closer to the surfacetheyre happier,
sadder, angrier, and the topography of their emotional and intellectual
development stands out in bolder relief. That has been to me a joy, even
when the issues were contentious, even when students were angry at me.
I will miss the students particularly. I hope to find other intelligent
adults to talk to wherever I go, but Im never again going to be
in this kind of a relationship to large numbers of students.
How have you changed while at Pomona?
About 20 pounds heavier and a lot of gray hair...
That is, looking back do you see big changes
or subtle evolution in yourself?
Thats an interesting question. The obvious answer has to do with
aging. Im 12 years older and a lot follows from that. But setting
that aside, I came thinking of myself first and foremost as a faculty
person, then as a staff and student person, and only later in the process
as a trustee or alumni person. All along, however, Mary-Jane and I have
both thought of ourselves as members of the staffthats an
important part of who we are.
Early on, a trustee said to me, You will find that your most enduring
relationships and your closest friendships will ultimately turn out to
be with at least a few trustees because there is no barrier of confidentiality.
You are truly in it together. This has turned out to be true in
my case. The trustees are there for no other reason on earth than to make
the College the best it can bethey dont get money for this,
and by and large, they dont get prestige. I foresaw a respectful
relationship with trustees but not the sense of real partnership Ive
had. I dont think this has come at the expense of other relationships,
but it is something that has changed in me and in my world view while
Ive been here.
In many ways, you are at the cusp of several
different world viewsthose of trustees, of faculty, of studentsand
trying to be an arbiter. How tough is that?
Well, the first half of what you say seems exactly rightthat a president
whos doing his job well is a player in all those worlds. Hes
faculty, staff, trustee, and an honorary alumnus. Thats what makes
the job so interesting, but it is also no place for a person with attention
deficit disorder, because you find yourself pulled in so many directions,
both intellectually and emotionally. There are times when something appears
to be best for one part of this complex, imagined self but not for another
part, and you find yourself resisting the notion that you are an arbiter
because you are also a real player in all those worlds. In a sense youre
finding a way to live that is honest and intellectually sound, making
peace with yourself about the different things you want for this institution,
your friends, the people who depend on you. Arbiter makes
it sound more neutral. I dont think you ever really feel neutral.
Someone once said that one of the things about being a college president
is not that people shoot at you, but that they shoot from all directions,
What changes have you seen in the faculty?
A great many. The most obvious point is the growing gender and racial
diversity of the faculty that has made Pomona a leader in that respect.
Ive always thought that Pomona ought to be the place that demonstrated
that you could have both the highest level of quality and a really broad
and inclusive diversitythat Pomona would be the standing refutation
of the canard that you cant have both. And I think were largely
there. We have the most diverse faculty among our peer institutions with
regard to race and ethnicity, and the most diverse with regard to gender
except for the womens colleges, which understandably are different.
I think thats terrific. And, the fact that weve done it without
any sacrifice of quality is something to be proud of and also an important
lesson for the rest of the world.
Another area of growth is the astonishing talent thats coming in
now with each of the new classes, so to speak, of junior faculty. Its
absolutely breathtaking. In three- and six-year faculty reviews, you see
not only their credentials but what theyve been doing in the classroom
and in their scholarship.
Fortunately, some things are not changing. As always, Pomona faculty remain
astonishingly dedicated to their students. They also continue to write
great booksI think of Ken Wolfs on St. Francis, Rena Fradens
on the Medea Project, David Elliotts definitive study of a Vietnamese
province, and Frances Pohls reconceptualization of American art
history, just in the last year alone.
I think also that, for all the time that they spend in committees, the
faculty is very healthfully engaged in self-governance these days. The
new Faculty Personnel Planning Committee is an example of that. God knows
its controversial, and its still finding its feet, but when
I came, only the president and the dean made a decision about where a
new faculty position might be allocated, and now the collective wisdom
of the faculty is factored in. In the long run, that has to be good, even
if in the short run it causes some difficulties.
Looking ahead 10 years, what changes do you see
in the curriculum, particularly ones concerning departmental vs. interdisciplinary
Id be surprised if the departments go away, atrophy, or significantly
weaken. I think the reason departments remain so powerful in collegiate
culture is that theyre the quality control mechanism. People are
trained in departmental disciplines. We know what constitutes good methodology,
and sound peer-reviewed outcomes within those disciplines, and when you
move outside that domain, it suddenly isnt quite clear what constitutes
good practice. I think the departments will survive for that reason more
than any otherbecause they possess the clear lines of methodology,
of tradition, of peer review that help us orient ourselves.
The question then is how interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary programs
will fit into that department-based world. The jury is out on that, because
if you appoint people into interdisciplinary programs without a departmental
affiliation, all the problemshow to review them, how to know if
theyre really good at what they docome into play. I think
this is one of the biggest organizational challenges that colleges face.
In universities the problem doesnt exist to the same degree because
the numbers are so great that if you want to have an interdisciplinary
program in field X and there are a dozen people teaching in
it you can create your own peer review mechanism, your own critical mass.
If there are just one or two or three of you in a small college it gets
What will our most significant challenges be in terms of students and
Its risky to predict anything about students, but I think the greatest
test were all going to have is figuring out how to capture the advantages
of being in a residential community. As the world around us changes, most
of our students come to us now having had their own room, their own space.
They come out of schools that by and large are filled with students like
themin income, race, whatever. They come to this campus and we try
to mix everything up. We say, if youre a freshman it will be good
for you to have a roommate. We say that it will actually make you a better
and more interesting person if you are surrounded by people who are not
like you. We say that the kind of music you like has to be balanced with
the kind of music somebody else likes, and that you get special rewards
for taking courses and trying things that dont come naturally to
you. If we believe that what were doing makes sense educationally,
then the question becomes how we articulate, broker, interpret this notion
of education and growth to people whose experience has been quite different.
A lot of what lies behind the call for diversity these days is people
saying I want more folks like me, whereas, what we mean by
diversity is a rich mix of people who differ from one another and yet
have made the commitment to learn from one another and in each others
company. Theres a set of assumptions behind that premise that is
going to be tested whether we like it or not.
Lets talk about threats to a college
like Pomona. What shadows do you see in its future?
Peter W. Stanley is inaugurated as the eighth president of
Pomona College, giving an address titled A College that Engages
David Alexander Hall for Administration and Pomonas
renovated athletic facilitiesincluding Merritt Field and the
new Haldeman Poolare dedicated. As part of dedication ceremonies,
Stanley throws the first pitch on the new baseball field to acting
Pitzer President Paul Ranslow. (The pitch, a 40-mile-per-hour
heater, sailed up and away, Stanley later reports, but
Ranslow, who has played serious ball in his time, caught it.)
The Volunteer Center is founded.
A group of students seize Alexander Hall to call for greater
racial diversity in the faculties and student bodies of The Claremont
Colleges. After two days of discussions, the students leave peacefully.
Seen in one light, the experience was, as a senior member
of the faculty put it, a triumph of discourse over confrontation,
Stanley says in his report to the Board.
Sumner Hall undergoes complete renovation.
The Planning Status Report is published, drawing together
the findings of committees of faculty, administrative officers,
students, trustees, alumni and staff examining important issues
facing the College.
The Strategic Planning Task Force is formed.
A new faculty policy is adopted affirming the Colleges
goal to achieve significant increases in minorities and women on
The PAC system is introduced into the Pomona curriculum,
overhauling and refocusing the Colleges general education
requirement around a set of 10 intellectual skill areas in perception,
analysis and communication.
The College receives a record 3,292 applications for admission,
an increase of 8.4%.
The Board of Trustees endorses plans to launch a major comprehensive
The College again receives a record number of applications
for admission, totaling 3,586.
The Colleges endowment tops $500 million for the first
The Hahn Building is dedicated, and the Greek Theatre is
renovated and renamed the Sontag Greek Theatre.
The Campaign for Pomona College is launched, with a goal
of raising $150 million for capital projects, endowment and ongoing
budgetary needs. At its launch, the five-year Campaign has a total
of $54 million already in hand from efforts during its quiet phase.
The Pacific Basin Institute moves from Santa Barbara to the
Pomona College campus, bringing with it a variety of resources,
including an extensive media archive. It will bring to Pomona
a network of Asian contacts and an involvement in international
projects that a liberal arts college probably could not achieve
on its own, Stanley says.
Applications for admission again hit an all-time high (totaling
3,892), as do median SAT scores (710 verbal, 710 math) of the new
The Carnegie Building is enlarged and totally renovated.
The Intercollegiate Asian American Studies program is added
to the curriculum.
The Smith Campus Center is dedicated in September 1999, fulfilling
a commitment made in Stanleys inaugural address.
The Campaign for Pomona College tops the $100 million mark.
The Pomona College endowment tops $1 billion for the first
The new Andrew Science Building for Mathematics, Physics
and Computer Science is dedicated.
A new major in Cognitive Science is added to the curriculum
as part of a Department of Linguistics and Cognitive Science. The
emergence of a cognitive science field at Pomona well positions
the College to introduce its students to critical questions about
the nature of mind and thought ... that will only grow in importance
as our century unfolds, Stanley says.
Locked into an interruptible power agreement
during the severe power shortages that begin in the summer of 2000,
Pomona suffers repeated interruptions of power, leading to the purchase
of environmentally clean generators capable of powering the entire
campus, along with an effective energy-saving campaign.
A full renovation of Bridges Hall of Music is completed,
along with the installation of the new Hill Memorial Organ (C.B.
Fisk Opus 117). Also totally renovated is Seaver Laboratory for
The Campaign for Pomona College surpasses its goal of $150
million a year early.
The Campaign for Pomona College ends 37% above goal, having
raised a total of more than $206 million and met every significant
Applications again hit an all-time high (4,230), as do median
SAT scores for the accepted class (720 verbal, 730 math).
President Stanley announces his intention to retire at the end of
the 200203 academic year.
Hall undergoes renovation.
Oxtoby is named by the Board to succeed President Stanley as the
ninth president of Pomona College.
Some of the threats that looked most powerful a few years ago no longer
appear, in fact, to be threatening. The digital world is one of those.
Ten or 15 years ago, people feared the erosion of their distinct learning
communities by the penetration of computers and e-mail and, more recently,
the Web. Somehow people thought they would depersonalize educationcreating
a kind of market for education in which colleges like Pomona would seem,
in a famous figure of speech, like elegant sloops visible on the horizon
in the age of the supertanker. That turns out to be 180 degrees wrong
because the Web and the digital world, in general, have proven to be one
of the best things that ever happened to liberal arts colleges. Recently,
our real vulnerability was our smallness and our isolation. Web-based
inquiry, however, has made accessible all sorts of things that once involved
extensive travel. Now you can talk with other specialists in the field,
you can access documents and databases, you can tap into conversations.
The Web and the digital world, in general, have suddenly enabled liberal
arts colleges to have it all. It has turned out to be quite wonderful.
Economics are always vulnerable. Colleges like Pomona are fiendishly expensive.
Im thinking not just about tuition, but about what it costs to do
liberal arts education well. At Pomona now, tuition and fees pay for only
about 60% of the actual cost of educating a student. The endowment and
current gifts make up the rest. This is a form of education that is financially
possible because we live in an affluent country, in affluent times. If
we enter a period of austerity, it is unlikely that kind of subsidy will
be sustainable, and if it isnt, liberal arts colleges as we know
them will face a great challenge. But the price paid by students and their
families is not the heart of that challenge. Unlike some other colleges
where tuition has been volatile, Pomona has made it a point to increase
tuition in a measured, predictable way. Theres every reason to believe
that if we can sustain financial aid and meet the needs of our students,
then the price of tuition wont be a problem.
Its not that the leading liberal arts colleges are going to go under,
or even compromise the power and the integrity of what they do. However,
one can imagine a world in which a number of weaker liberal arts colleges
vanish or dramatically change their mission, producing a cohort phenomenon
with only 30 or so really good national liberal arts colleges left. If
this happened, their presence in the world of education and policy making
would be so small that things would be defined in ways that are incompatible
with our best interests.
As an example, there is the current vogue in accreditation for finding
measurable ways of determining how much value is added to
students because they went to your college. Thats a perfectly reasonable
question. However, for a liberal arts college, which is not principally
teaching how to read, write, or prepare for a specific job but is trying
to equip people with the intellectual resilience to be citizens and creative
participants in the economy and in their society over time, the answer
is 25 years out. There isnt a good way to measure at graduation
the person (as opposed to the specific knowledge and skills) we helped
create, and if you look 25 years out, the causality is in question. If
policy questions like this are defined in ways that are not sensitive
to the reality of liberal arts colleges, well all suffer, and I
think thats the great risk in the cohort phenomenon. If, in fact,
there arent many liberal arts colleges in the future, even the survivors
would be at risk.
What do you think the biggest challenges facing
your successor will be? Whats left undone?
I think the biggest challenge facing not just Pomona but other leading
colleges like us is the risk of complacencyof believing our own
PR. There are so many things that are right here in terms of the resource
base, the faculty, the campus, the trajectories for things like the quality
of students we admit and the kinds of faculty we hire, that its
possible to think that all we really need to do is move briskly down that
highway doing more of the same. And that, to my mind, would be a mistake.
We should not simply want more of what we already have; we need to be
asking whether there are important respects in which we should be different.
When you have something that isnt broken, that is, in a way, best
of class, its very hard to ask those fundamental questions that
cut across the grain. I think our greatest risk is that we could get very
comfortable with ourselves.
We have a series of topics which we want to
throw out, one by one, for your reaction.
May I throw them back?
You certainly may. Political correctness.
Always overrated. The term was a convenient umbrella under which people
who didnt like some of the trends on American campuses and in American
public life could group their thoughts. Of course, it referred to something
that was real, and remains realthe dominance of liberal orthodoxy
in public discourse on college campuses and elsewhere. Even now, this
very year, there are conservative students on Pomonas campus who
feel in some sense disenfranchised because its hard for them to
have a voice. Its not that people wont let them speak, its
just that theres so little resonance when they do speak. The College
is at its best when it provides a meeting place for ideas and points of
view, and I have I tried to cultivate a sense of public space and public
discourse in which no ones views are privileged. But thats
an educational principle with me and not, I think, a fear that we would
otherwise be gripped by political
Campus activism. That is, what is the appropriate
role for students, faculty and administrators in speaking to issues in
the larger world.
The answer is the more the better. If you ask what students, faculty,
staff, all of us should bring to the table in the debates over issues,
the answer is our best thoughts, our best evidence, our most earnest commitments,
and a reasonable sense of humility. That and the usual requirement that
you should know what youre talking about and be aware of the fact
that people of goodwill can disagree. The real problem comes when people
want the institution to commit itself. Because to the degree the College
as an institutionor the faculty as an institutionweighs in
on controversial public issues, several problematic things occur. The
first is that the institution is not a monolith, so it is fundamentally
repressive to say that the College disagrees with you. Second, a college
like this really depends on debate, disagreement, discourse, controversyreasonable
and informed controversy, one hopes. To the degree that you create orthodoxies
in which you say, all right-thinking people agree with me, you stifle
the very process that creates new knowledge and refines your point of
view. So Ive always believed that the College should take a stand
only on issues that were of specific educational relevance like need-based
Im in favor of student activism even when its inconvenient.
I draw a line when it lacks civility. The fact that students really care
about something and that they take the trouble to inform themselves, to
organize themselves, to present you with even a set ofGod help usdemands,
is a good thing. What I always look for in return is some open mindedness,
some willingness to engage in discourse, because it seems to me that the
good thing becomes a bad thing if all that is involved is hurling slogans
and refusing to enter into a reasoned disagreement. It becomes problematic
where people are really engaged in theatre and the level of moral certitude
snuffs out the possibility of actual engagement.
When I gave my inaugural address, I said that I hoped wed all have
fun in the course of doing the other important things we do. Students
immediately began testing my appetite for fun. Once a month thered
be something on the front lawn designed to do this, and sometimes it was
charming. They would borrow silverware from the dining halls and spell
out 47 with knives and forks. One morning, there was an immense piece
of rusting farm machinery on the front lawn that must have weighed several
tons; clearly it had been abandoned and was no longer usable. It had vast
steel wheels and claws and rakes and reaper attachments, and here it was
sitting on the front lawn of the Presidents House. I really enjoyed
that until that generation of students passed.
The Claremont Colleges.
The consortium is one of Pomonas greatest assets. Its an enrichment
that most other colleges would give their eye-teeth to have. Its
also a challenge because of its asymmetries. There are differences of
purpose, mission, and resources. Were not always in a position to
agree about where wed like the common effort to go. We spend an
immense amount of time trying to figure out how to capture the good in
the consortium and minimize the downside.
At the moment, I think the consortium is under greater strain than ever
in my tenure. The aspirations for the consortium rose immensely a few
years ago when we reorganized it, separated it from Claremont Graduate
University, and made it an independent entity within The Claremont Colleges
with its own CEO and board. Our hope at that time, and still, is that
the consortium will guide the individual colleges into some new efforts,
some new economies of scale, and some new possibilities. Right now, however,
these are not good economic times, and the consortium itself is suffering
because the colleges are able to put less into it. At the moment, there
is tension between high aspiration and very real constraints.
What interests do you plan to pursue as you
leave the presidency?
Ive been really, really lucky in my life. I never set out to do
any of the things that have occupied the last 25 years of my professional
life. I set out to teach history and at a certain point I became a dean,
a foundation officer, and a college president. I think of myself as a
walking advertisement for liberal learning. People have asked me, How
do you prepare yourself for one or another of these things? In truth,
if youre well educated and people will give you the benefit of the
doubt, you can learn how to do all sorts of things. What I have now is
a backlog of self-indulgent interests that Ive never been able to
pursueall sorts of books that I want to read that Ive put
aside, and an enduring interest in symphony orchestras as phenomena. I
love the music that symphony orchestras make, I love the way they do it.
And, I always have wondered whether I could figure out more about how
they do it. One of the things Im going to do in retirement is spend
time looking at two or three test cases, and at the moment I think its
likely to be Boston, Cleveland, and possibly Chicago or Philadelphia where
orchestras of surpassingly wonderful music-making ability have come into
being over time by different routes. Some of them have a patrician noblesse
oblige placement in the community. Some of them are expressions of civic
boosterism. And, Im trying to figure out how the history, the institution,
the governance, the finance, the acoustical environment, the sense of
who the audience and the public are, combine with the strictly musical
traditions to affect choice of music directors, choice of repertory, etc.
This turns out to be something of a Rorschach test because when you describe
this project to people, some say, Wow, thats fascinating!
Others say, Could you pass the gravy, please?
Its also funny because people have different assumptions about where
it would lead. When you talk to faculty about it, they say, Who
will publish the book? If I talk to a friend of mine who works for
a newspaper, he says, Could I have that for the arts section?
And, then every once in a while you run into somebody with my own temperament
who says, You know, youre just going to enjoy doing that.
I think thats the realistic view. If it ever yields anything that
can be shared with others Ill be very happy, but thats not
why Im doing it.
What do you think will be the most important
or lasting accomplishments of your presidency? How do you want to be remembered?
Fondly. More than that, its hard to say. One really needs historical
perspective to answer such a question. A president in a place like this
can help focus and empower other people, but he cant do a great
deal by himself. We work as a team, and Ive been especially fortunate
in the vice presidents and deans who have served with me. Together, weve
really done a lot. We have added to the campus itself. Weve built
the financial base so that it ought to be a terrific platform for those
who follow. Weve hired many wonderful faculty and staff, and for
the next 30 or so years those people are going to be the heart and soul
of the educational enterprise. We have enhanced some things that have
to do with studentscareer-planning, more fellowships, Pomonas
engagement with its community. I think we are more fully a part of Southern
California and the Pacific world than ever before. But if I had to say
how I would like my time here to be remembered, it would be for a level
of civility and good feeling toward one another in the purposeful pursuit
of something larger than ourselves.
Don Pattison and Mark Wood