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Spring 2003
Volume 39, No. 3
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PCMOnline Editor
Sarah Dolinar

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of births or deaths,
phone: (909) 621-8635
fax: (909) 621-8535
Alumni Records


www.pomona.edu


 

 

Three months before his planned retirement, Pomona College President Peter W. Stanley sat down with PCM’s 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 idea—a deparochializing idea—to see if
Carleton’s take on things was the same as that at other good colleges, including Pomona, Oberlin, and Swarthmore. I met Bob Voelkel, Pomona’s 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 didn’t necessarily have to take it!

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 about that.

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.

In 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 people’s lives crossed. One of the first things people notice about Pomona is that there’s 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 community—between fraternities and others, between drinkers and others, between straights and gays, between the politically correct and others—and 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 people’s 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. I’ve 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 I’m 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 don’t offer that as a working hypothesis to students, it seems to me you’re 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. I’ve 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 I’m pleased that it’s now become a strong, vibrant program. I’ve 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.

  “The greatest legacy of the Stanley years will not be expressed in terms of dollars, square feet, SAT scores, or national rankings. Rather, Peter’s 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 fundamentally is.”
—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 Peter’s 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 administrators—perhaps 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 Peter’s 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 Stern’s postmodern Smith Campus Center responds to Myron Hunt’s 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 Hunt’s
monumental campus plan of 1908–14. 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 Peter’s 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, 2002–03

“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 all.”
—Martha Andresen, Phebe Estelle Spalding Professor of English
What personal challenges have you faced?
Well, I’ll take the long way around the barn to answer that. A couple of times a year—every single year—a 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 didn’t 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 position—getting to know and remember lots of people and understand what they think is important about the College and the world—that was new. But I must say that it has all proven to be very enjoyable. People, especially Pomona’s senior administrators, have been very kind and have helped me learn how to do some of the things that didn’t come naturally or weren’t in my field of experience. Pomona is a very supportive community. While it doesn’t 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?

They’re 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 Verdi’s Don Carlos—now that’s a memory I’ll 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 Pomona’s living alumni graduated during your presidency. What are your thoughts about Pomona students?
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 haven’t 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 we’re here, and they’re also the most fun. Being younger, their emotions are closer to the surface—they’re 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 I’m 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?
That’s an interesting question. The obvious answer has to do with aging. I’m 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 staff—that’s 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 be—they don’t get money for this, and by and large, they don’t get prestige. I foresaw a respectful relationship with trustees but not the sense of real partnership I’ve had. I don’t 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 I’ve been here.

In many ways, you are at the cusp of several different world views—those of trustees, of faculty, of students—and trying to be an arbiter. How tough is that?
Well, the first half of what you say seems exactly right—that a president who’s doing his job well is a player in all those worlds. He’s faculty, staff, trustee, and an honorary alumnus. That’s 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 you’re 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 don’t 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, simultaneously.

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. I’ve 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 diversity—that Pomona would be the standing refutation of the canard that you can’t have both. And I think we’re 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 women’s colleges, which understandably are different. I think that’s terrific. And, the fact that we’ve 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 that’s coming in now with each of the new classes, so to speak, of junior faculty. It’s absolutely breathtaking. In three- and six-year faculty reviews, you see not only their credentials but what they’ve 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 books—I think of Ken Wolf’s on St. Francis, Rena Fraden’s on the Medea Project, David Elliott’s definitive study of a Vietnamese province, and Frances Pohl’s 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 it’s controversial, and it’s 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 programs?
I’d be surprised if the departments go away, atrophy, or significantly weaken. I think the reason departments remain so powerful in collegiate culture is that they’re 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 isn’t quite clear what constitutes good practice. I think the departments will survive for that reason more than any other—because 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 problems—how to review them, how to know if they’re really good at what they do—come into play. I think this is one of the biggest organizational challenges that colleges face. In universities the problem doesn’t 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 very difficult.

What will our most significant challenges be in terms of students and their attitudes?
It’s risky to predict anything about students, but I think the greatest test we’re 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 them—in income, race, whatever. They come to this campus and we try to mix everything up. We say, if you’re 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 don’t come naturally to you. If we believe that what we’re 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 other’s company. There’s a set of assumptions behind that premise that is going to be tested whether we like it or not.

The Stanley Years

1991

Peter W. Stanley is inaugurated as the eighth president of Pomona College, giving an address titled “A College that Engages Life.”

David Alexander Hall for Administration and Pomona’s renovated athletic facilities—including Merritt Field and the new Haldeman Pool—are 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.”)

1992

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.

1993

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.

1994

A new faculty policy is adopted affirming the College’s goal to achieve significant increases in minorities and women on the faculty.

The PAC system is introduced into the Pomona curriculum, overhauling and refocusing the College’s 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%.

1995

The Board of Trustees endorses plans to launch a major comprehensive campaign.

The College again receives a record number of applications for admission, totaling 3,586.

1996

The College’s endowment tops $500 million for the first time.

1997

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 class.

1998

The Carnegie Building is enlarged and totally renovated.

The Intercollegiate Asian American Studies program is added to the curriculum.

1999

The Smith Campus Center is dedicated in September 1999, fulfilling a commitment made in Stanley’s inaugural address.

The Campaign for Pomona College tops the $100 million mark.

The Pomona College endowment tops $1 billion for the first time.

2000

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.

2001

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 Chemistry.

The Campaign for Pomona College surpasses its goal of $150 million a year early.

2002

The Campaign for Pomona College ends 37% above goal, having raised a total of more than $206 million and met every significant program objective.

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 2002–03 academic year.

2003

Pearsons Hall undergoes renovation.

David Oxtoby is named by the Board to succeed President Stanley as the ninth president of Pomona College.

 
Let’s talk about threats to a college like Pomona. What shadows do you see in its future?
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 education—creating 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. I’m 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 isn’t, 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. There’s every reason to believe that if we can sustain financial aid and meet the needs of our students, then the price of tuition won’t be a problem.

It’s 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. That’s 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 isn’t 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, we’ll all suffer, and I think that’s the great risk in the cohort phenomenon. If, in fact, there aren’t 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? What’s left undone?
I think the biggest challenge facing not just Pomona but other leading colleges like us is the risk of complacency—of 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 it’s 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 isn’t broken, that is, in a way, best of class, it’s 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 didn’t 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 real—the dominance of liberal orthodoxy in public discourse on college campuses and elsewhere. Even now, this very year, there are conservative students on Pomona’s campus who feel in some sense disenfranchised because it’s hard for them to have a voice. It’s not that people won’t let them speak, it’s just that there’s 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 one’s views are privileged. But that’s an educational principle with me and not, I think, a fear that we would otherwise be gripped by political
correctness.

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 you’re 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 institution—or the faculty as an institution—weighs 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, controversy—reasonable 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 I’ve always believed that the College should take a stand only on issues that were of specific educational relevance like need-based financial aid.

I’m in favor of student activism even when it’s 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 of—God help us—demands, 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.

Humorous moment.
When I gave my inaugural address, I said that I hoped we’d 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 there’d 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 President’s House. I really enjoyed that until that generation of students passed.

The Claremont Colleges.
The consortium is one of Pomona’s greatest assets. It’s an enrichment that most other colleges would give their eye-teeth to have. It’s also a challenge because of its asymmetries. There are differences of purpose, mission, and resources. We’re not always in a position to agree about where we’d 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?
I’ve 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 you’re 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 I’ve never been able to pursue—all sorts of books that I want to read that I’ve 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 I’m going to do in retirement is spend time looking at two or three test cases, and at the moment I think it’s 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, I’m 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, that’s fascinating!” Others say, “Could you pass the gravy, please?”

It’s 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, you’re just going to enjoy doing that.” I think that’s the realistic view. If it ever yields anything that can be shared with others I’ll be very happy, but that’s not why I’m 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, it’s 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 can’t do a great deal by himself. We work as a team, and I’ve been especially fortunate in the vice presidents and deans who have served with me. Together, we’ve really done a lot. We have added to the campus itself. We’ve built the financial base so that it ought to be a terrific platform for those who follow. We’ve 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 students—career-planning, more fellowships, Pomona’s 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