Pomona College Magazine
Volume 41, No. 1
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Pomona College Magazine is published three times a year by Pomona College
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Online Editor: Laura Tiffany

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Looking Forward
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.

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 goal?

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.

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