New Board of Trustees Chair Paul Efron í76 and former
Chair Stewart Smith í68 discuss issues facing the College.
Interview by Mary Marvin / Photos by Jeanine Hill
Paul Efron í76 recently was elected chair of the Pomona College
Board of Trustees, succeeding Stewart Smith í68, who held the post
for nine years. Smith will chair the comprehensive fundraising
campaign the College is scheduled to launch in fall 2010. The pair
talked to PCMís Mary Marvin about issues facing the College.
PCM: Paul, youíve had a close association for many years with
Pomona, as a student, parent, board member and chair. How
would you describe where the College stands today?
Efron: This is not a static sort of endeavor. Pomona continues
to grow and evolve. Weíre blessed with outstanding faculty and
students, by our sun-drenched, very diverse, Asia-facing location,
and by being part of The Claremont Colleges. I believe
that we have an opportunity to provide what is widely regarded
as the best liberal arts education in the country.
PCM: The economic downturn is on a lot of peopleís minds
right now. What are some of the challenges facing Pomona?
Smith: The endowment is down substantially, and we can
anticipate that it will be awhile before it approaches the $1.9 billion
we had at the end of the 2008 fiscal year. There have been
some difficult adjustments that were necessary for the long-term
well-being of the College. Our goals are to make sure that the
budget is the right size relative to our resources and to grow
our endowment over time, which weíve been doing for decades.
Weíre also going to have to revisit our investment policies to
assure theyíre appropriate.
Efron: The reason we are focused on the budget right now is
not because we have an immediate crisis, but because we recognize
that the returns weíve had over the last 10 years may not be
there in the future, and that itís prudent to take action in
advance so we donít get into problems down the road.
PCM: What about the long-term picture?
Efron: We have a strategic plan with important academic and
financial goals that weíre sticking to. Realistically, though, some
of the longer-term plans may be delayed while we focus on
more immediate priorities.
Smith: Itís a matter of timing. Everything in the strategic
plan is still a valid aspiration for the College. I have stepped
down as board chair, but will be chairing the upcoming comprehensive
campaign. Iím very aware of the difficulties weíre taking
on right now in this environment, but the needs expressed in
the Strategic Plan are just as real as when the plan was approved
and more so in many areas that are impacted by the budgetary
issues. Itís our job to bring those needs to the attention of the
Pomona community to see how they can help.
PCM: What are your goals for the campaign, and why is it
important to the College?
Efron: The campaign is a tremendously important initiative
for Pomona College. Not only do we have pressing needs for
long-standing programs such as financial aid, especially given the
current economic environment, but also goals for other areas,
most notably in the arts. We believe that we have to be constantly
improving our programs if we are to remain a leading
liberal arts college.
Smith: Campaigns at Pomona have always been about more
than funding the needs of the moment. Since its founding, perhaps
the Collegeís most distinguishing characteristic has been an
exceptional capacity for continual self-renewal and regeneration,
thanks to the willingness of many generations to do all that was
necessary to push the College toward the very highest of aspirations.
The upcoming campaign, which resulted from two years
of strategic planning among trustees, faculty, alumni, students,
staff and administrators, will seek financial support for initiatives
directed at improving teaching and learning, accessibility for talented
students from all walks of life, faculty scholarship, and
broad and meaningful student experiences.
PCM: Sustainability has become an important issue, especially
for the students. It was also the focus of the last faculty/trustee
retreat. In light of the financial problems, is it still an important
Efron: Notwithstanding the budgetary problems, I think itís
an issue that we will continue to view as a very high priority.
There is a dual aspect to sustainability at Pomona. The first is
that itís incumbent for us, as an institution, to think about our
own use of resources in the most efficient manner. It also is vital
to the students and an important aspect to their learning experience
to understand problems like greenhouse gas emissions and
other environmental issues.
Smith: As with many issues, this is probably a case where we
wonít be able to move as quickly or as far in the near term as we
would like. But we have committees and task forces addressing
this issue, and a president who puts it at the very highest of his
priorities, so this is going to happen. Itís just a question of how
it will be financed.
Efron: It is inconceivable to me that we would build a building
without thinking about how we would minimize the energy
footprint. Even though there may be some up-front costs to
doing that, we think itís the right thing to do.
PCM: The new residence halls are not only good examples of
sustainability but also student involvement in the planning.
Have students become more involved in the life of the College?
Smith: Over the last decade there has been an increase in
terms of student input being sought by the administration and
the Board of Trustees on things like new buildings. Part of the
reason for that is, while a terrific project, the Smith Campus
Center didnít get it entirely right the first time in terms of what
students needed. We had to come back and replan and, in the
process, we learned that itís going to be better, cheaper and
quicker to get student input up front.
Efron: Another example is our annual student/trustee retreat
where we cover a number of issues. Itís very valuable for the
trustees to get an opportunity to hear what students think about
a number of important issues.
Smith: The meetings with students can be extremely informative
when we go about making decisions. It isnít that we try to
implement every studentís suggestion; itís more nuanced than
that. At our last retreat, it was pointed out that the college experience
for students on full scholarship might be very much
impacted by their limited financial means, and in ways that have
nothing to do with their educations. It may be the cost of a club
team or going to a movie on Saturday night. Weíve started to
think about how we can do more to address that reality.
Efron: One of the benefits of the small size of Pomona is that
the board does have these opportunities to interact with the students
and the faculty. The faculty/trustee retreat, which is held
every two to three years, is another tremendously valuable
opportunity for trustees to hear about their concerns.
Smith: The board has tried over the years to create ways
where it can stay in touch with the inner world of Pomona
College. This is a working board and trustees are selected based
to a large part on their willingness to be actively involved, which
is what helps us stay close to the Pomona community. The overall
objective is to provide an outstanding academic experience
for every student. As board members, we focus on the strategic
allocation of resources to make that happen, and we also seek to
assure that the best governance processes and the most talented
administrators are in place to oversee the day-to-day college
activities. And then our role is to get out of the way.