Pomona College Magazine
Volume 45, No. 3
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Missing the Larger Story
I wonder what’s become of the college I attended in the ’60s. The Winter 2009 issue of what I still call Pomona Today has an article about Michael Hill ’64, a classmate of mine and best man at my wedding to Cheryl Overin ’65 in Kenya in 1965. I am proud that my friend has received the recognition for his work with HIV/AIDS victims in Malawi these last few years, and Pomona College Magazine has helpfully shared that work with a larger group of people. However, the article is only about Michael and his achievements as an individual. I think you missed the larger story—and better article —that would put Mike’s Malawi experience in the context of his relationship with us, his Pomona College age mates.

The article as published makes no mention of Mike’s connections to his classmates or of the rich network of relations that define us all together. His classmates had lost touch with Mike until about five years ago, when word of his work in Malawi spread on our class listserv and some of us began sending money to support his program. In August 2007, 11 of us from the class of ’64 visited Mike in Malawi and reunited with him for the first time since the ’60s. Since that visit, two classmates have helped Mike’s program design a support system for the many preschools that the community organizations in Malawi have established; another is helping a young Malawian develop his movie-making skills; others have helped fund a scholarship for a Malawian college student. The support goes both ways. One classmate in the travel group has become terminally ill, and all of us, Mike included, are caring for her in thought and prayer. We were all changed by going to Pomona and then, together again, by our visit to Malawi. We grew up together, and the trip to Malawi and Kenya re-established the bonds that a Pomona education helped create.

I accepted that the magazine’s editors were serving the College’s best interests and that they knew better than me even after I read the article about Mike, which I of course did before looking at the rest of the magazine. Then I saw what’s in the rest of this issue. The article about Mike is stuck in the back in a column titled “Alumni Voices.” The issue’s three main articles, also about Pomona graduates, are about “getting there.” The articles are about a Pomona grad in Buenos Aires eating out by herself, about another grad who photographs cars by himself, and about one who drives a truck by himself. They, like Mike, are depicted and celebrated for what they have done as individuals. This contradicts one of the most enduring, and endearing, things I learned at Pomona: I am not by myself.

—Ward Heneveld ’64
Enosburg Falls, Vt.

Torn Pages, Teary Eyes
By the time I finished reading the Winter 2009 copy of our daughter’s Pomona College Magazine, half of it was in pieces on the table in front of me. Bats, for my husband’s cousin? Check. Chickens on campus, for my sister who lives on a 600-bird “hobby” farm? Check. Ten favorite drives in America, for all of the confirmed road-trippers in our family? Check. (But Steve Wilkinson apparently hasn’t driven the Seward and Sterling Highways in Alaska, with their oceans, eagles, and steaming volcanoes.) Malawi Peace Corps, for our friends in the Malawi Peace Corps administration? Check. And there were those I didn’t tear out—pretty much every other article in the magazine, but read avidly for both the substance of the tales, and the excellent writing that went into them. We get several different alumni magazines, between the family’s undergrad and graduate schools, and Pomona’s is hands-down the best.
—Teri Carns P ’04
Anchorage, Alaska

I just want to congratulate you and thank you all for another extraordinary issue. My gratitude might be influenced a bit by Steve Gettinger’s wonderful piece about Doug Johnston and other friends, which still sends tears coursing down my cheeks, but each of the articles was focused, interesting, to the point. I am so glad that I was able to share the Pomona experience with so many. As Steve confesses, I know that I learned much more from my mentors, colleagues, friends and lovers than I did from most of my classes (they were good too, except for that 8 a.m. Saturday morning government class—not that it inconvenienced me all that often ...)
—Jim McCallum ’70
Bethesda, Md.

The Debate Goes On
Not a day goes by without my experiencing deep gratitude for the wonderful education I received at Pomona. I was a history major who pursued the field in graduate school, but it was my four years at Pomona that taught me the importance of critical inquiry, of always seeking to examine primary documents and source materials, to check and double check all data and sources, and to revise a position as new facts are uncovered. I learned to recognize and adjust for bias, to establish an appropriate historical context for understanding, and to weigh hearsay and memory against unequivocal fact. I learned the necessity of adhering to rigid standards, based on intellectual integrity, which are the foundation of any investigation or decision-making process.

The research I conducted last summer on the origin of “Hail, Pomona, Hail” led to an 18-page report establishing the alma mater was in no way associated with any minstrel show. The facts in the report, based on contemporaneous documents, have never been disputed. My report, originally characterized as a “Skeptic’s Report” by the Committee on College Songs, was disregarded by them and was not distributed by the College to be read by students, faculty, staff or trustees. The committee simply chose to sideline my report, thus never having to address the undisputed facts that challenged their position. A conversation with me would have forced them to either present facts to prove their position or to disprove mine. No such “conversation” ever took place.

Instead of the kind of rigorous research that has been the hallmark of Pomona since its founding, the committee chose to exist in a parallel universe where such standards did not obtain. The committee’s final report, submitted to President Oxtoby for his decision in the matter, was riddled with errors of fact and analysis. I am left with one unanswered question: “What happened?”

—Rosemary Oelrich Choate ’63
Pasadena, Calif.

The alma mater debate has been interesting and revealing. As everyone involved will know, the alma mater is very important for most older alums and hopefully many others.

The comment by Cyrus Winston ’10 in “A Time to Sing” (Winter 2009 issue) was very interesting. I can appreciate that “Hail, Pomona, Hail” is "not really a very aesthetic song for someone in my generation.” I don’t imagine the “Star-Spangled Banner” is a very aesthetic song for him either. But that seems to me to be irrelevant to a decision on the status of the alma mater. If he does speak for his generation, they are the poorer for it.

Unfortunately I think Professor Kim Bruce is exactly right—President Oxtoby’s decision effectively leaves Pomona without an alma mater. Perhaps he is craftier than I’d given him credit.
—Jerry Bowman ’61
Brisbane, Australia

When I was a Pomona student from 1958 to 1962, I attended the Plug Ugly shows on the Holmes Hall stage and the Spring Sings held in the Wash. The Plug Ugly was all humor and satire. If anyone asked me now, almost 50 years later, which songs were sung at those shows, I wouldn’t be able to say. The only Plug Ugly line I remember was from a spoof about cafeteria food—“Have you ever had a breaded pear?” I was in the Spring Sing one year, and do remember our “typewriter” skit, but not any of the others. No wonder some people question whether Richard Loucks could remember, nearly 50 years after his only semester at Pomona, which song he had written for which event. He may well have made a mistake.

A hymn such as “Hail, Pomona, Hail” would never have been written for shows like the Plug Ugly or the Spring Sing. I agree with Rosemary Choate that the song written for the baseball uniform fundraiser was probably the spunky “Blue and White,” not the alma mater.

When we were students, it would have been an exciting coup to tip over one of the school’s old sacred cows, especially if a scandal could be pinned to it. That would have really shown those stuffy old alumni. I truly hope that was not the intent when our alma mater’s background was challenged. But if this was all a mistake, it is truly a sad one.
—Bonnie Bennett Home ’62
San Jose, Calif.

The effort of Mark Kendall to explain the complexities of the alma mater controversy in the winter 2009 issue (“A Time To Sing”) was no doubt well-intended. It avoids the emotional rhetoric that often accompanies debates of this kind. Nevertheless, I find it inadequate to the requirement of factual clarity. It takes the conventional version of history as fact. Says Mr. Kendall: “According to his own accounts, Richard Loucks … wrote the song as the finale to a blackface minstrel show held on campus in 1910. …”

By contrast, the patient, diligent and scrupulous research of Rosemary Choate ’63, using documents of the day, including The Student Life, has proven to the satisfaction of many of us that Mr. Loucks’ memory was wrong.

“Blue and White” was written in 1910 and “Hail, Pomona, Hail” was written in 1911, a year after the minstrel show. In the report of the Committee on College Songs, her research is respectfully acknowledged, but acknowledged only as an opinion that may be counterbalanced by another opinion. The counterbalancing opinion appears in Mr. Kendall’s quotation from Professor Kim Bruce, chair of the Committee on College Songs: “The question is whether or not we trust Loucks’ own account.” That seems to me the wrong question. The better question is whether we trust Loucks’ memories from the 1950s or the historical evidence from 1910-1911.

If we may simply put aside for the moment the lesser issue of the quality and usefulness of “Hail, Pomona, Hail,” what concerns me deeply is that a college which is presumably dedicated to the pursuit of truth should appear to be so casual in that pursuit.
—Lee C. McDonald ’48
Emeritus Professor of Government
Claremont, Calif.

College Costs
A few years ago, my wife and I (both class of ’73) found a letter to her father detailing her sophomore year expenses. In 1970, tuition, fees, room and board totaled $3,350 or 86 times the consumer price index. In 2008, the same costs have risen to $47,538 or 217 times the CPI, a relative increase of 2.5 fold. In annualized percentage terms, the CPI rose 4.6 percent a year, while Pomona costs went up 7.2 percent—an average yearly premium of 2.6 percent over inflation for 38 years.

I don’t dispute that costs have risen comparably at other private colleges, or that our facilities and equipment are greatly improved, or that Pomona’s endowment has performed enviably, allowing exceptional levels of scholarship support. However, the current economic crisis seems an apt time to ask how long any college can expect to continue raising costs at a rate substantially above inflation.

Several questions come to mind. Are indefinite increases in college costs relative to inflation possible? Necessary? Right? What fraction of U.S. families can afford a Pomona education today versus in 1970? Has the economic return on a private college education (measured as the expected increase in lifetime income) kept pace with the 2.5 fold relative increase in costs since 1970? In the last 38 years, were there years in which the cost of Pomona increased less than inflation, and what can we learn from those years? Questions like these need to be answered. It would make me proud if Pomona took a leading and visible role in addressing them.
—Dave Ring ’73
Palo Alto, Calif.

Response from President Oxtoby:
Thank you for your letter concerning the rising cost of higher education in general, and of Pomona College in particular. This is an issue that is very much on my mind as we explore ways of reducing our costs in the light of the financial downturn experienced by our endowment and by the entire country and world.

Why has the cost risen much faster than the Consumer Price Index? The primary answer is that the education that a student receives now is very different from that of 35 years ago. For example, in the past a chemistry faculty member might have had a modest research program of his own in a small lab next to his office; now our students expect to take part in active research in collaboration with that faculty member. The space and equipment needs have expanded considerably. Far fewer classes now are taught as large lectures; most are discussion classes of 15–20 students; the faculty resources to teach in such a way are costly. So the “product” of higher education is a very different one; one can of course ask if it is “worth” it. There are many larger comprehensive universities that offer a much less expensive education, but also, in my view, one that prepares students less well for an uncertain future.

Another significant change has been in the amount of financial aid that is provided. The “sticker price” of higher education has gone up roughly in tandem with the income of those families who are paying full cost. The big change is that a much larger fraction of the population is eligible for financial aid, and for a much larger fraction of the college costs. This is a considerable factor in considering the affordability of education today.

I do not mean to say that the issues you raise do not concern me. We cannot keep raising costs at the rate we have in the past, if only because families at every income level are seeing their earnings slow or decrease. That is why we are taking a tough look at our expenses and seeing how we can reduce them in the future. —David Oxtoby

Alumni and friends are invited to send us their letters by email to pcm@pomona.edu or by mail to Pomona College Magazine, 550 North College Avenue, Claremont, CA 91711. Letters are selected for publication based on relevance and interest to our readers and may be edited for length, style and clarity.

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by Pomona College
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