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The festivities surrounding
the inauguration of David W. Oxtoby as the ninth president in the history of Pomona College were a mixture of pomp and revelry.
Inaugural events ranged from the seriously academic—a symposium on “Pomona College and the Pacific Rim”—to the athletic—a 10-mile bicycle ride, led by the new president himself—to the light-hearted—an all-college dinner on Marston Quadrangle, complete with Hollywood-style lights and dancing to live salsa music.
The celebration began on the night of Friday, October 10, with a party thrown by the students in Oxtoby’s honor. In a nod to the new president’s long association with the University of Chicago, entertainment included a showing of the movie Chicago, a Chicago-style jazz band and a “Taste of Chicago” food fair of hot dogs and deep-dish pizza. Performances by student vocal groups kept the festivities going until the wee hours.
Early the next morning, Saturday, October 11, a total of 40 cyclists—including faculty, students, staff and alumni—were up at dawn to join Oxtoby and Dean of the Faculty Gary Kates for a bicycle ride that took them past all seven Claremont colleges, through the Claremont Village and north to Claremont’s Thompson Creek Trail, before returning them to the Pomona campus.
After a change of clothes and scenes, the celebration took an intellectual turn with a symposium titled “Pomona College and the Pacific Rim: A Look to the Future.” Keynote speaker Steven S. Koblik, president of the Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens and former Pomona faculty member, delivered the keynote address, pointing out the importance of California in the world today and urging the College to provide a place of importance in its curriculum to the study of its home state.
The keynote address was followed by breakout sessions on such topics as the environment, the media, education, community outreach and international education, led by a range of distinguished Pomona alumni and trustees, including Nancy S. Dye, president of Oberlin College; Richard T. Schlosberg III, CEO of The David and Lucile Packard Foundation and former publisher of the Los Angeles Times; Alexander Gonzalez ’72, President of California State University, Sacramento; physician W. Benton Boone, M.D. ’62; and William Keller ’70, executive editor of The New York Times.
After lunch, Walter Massey, president of Morehouse College and former director of the National Science Foundation, delivered an address on the role of liberal education in a digital society.
For the inaugural ceremony, a processional of colleges and universiy delegates, representatives from civic, church and educational groups and Pomona College trustees, faculty, alumni and administrators led the way to Bridges Auditorium, where Mary Patterson McPherson, president emeritus of Bryn Mawr College and vice president of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, introduced the new president. Oxtoby’s inaugural address provided a glimpse of some of his emerging presidential priorities, beginning with the importance of continuing to build a diverse and inclusive community.
Also speaking during the proceedings were Professor of Economics Michael Kuehlwein as chair of the Faculty Executive Committee; Ari Greenberg ’04 as president of the Associated Students of Pomona College; Assistant Director of Public Affairs Sarah Dolinar as chair of Staff Council; Juan Matute ’63 as president of the Pomona Colllege Alumni Association; Scripps College President Nancy Bekavac as chair of the Council of Presidents; and Mayor Paul Held, representing the City of Claremont.
Following the ceremony, more than 2,000 people assembled on Marston Quadrangle for an all-campus reception and dinner, lit by the Hollywood glow of colored lighting on the surrounding buildings. The evening ended with salsa dancing to the strains of Ricardo Lemvo and Makina Loca.
President Oxtoby's Inaugural Address
The following excerpts are taken from
the inaugural address of Pomona College’s ninth president, David W. Oxtoby.
What is a liberal arts college today, in 2003?
To begin to answer that question, let me go back 100 years to the eloquent polemic written by W.E.B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk. This monumental work from 1903, which Du Bois introduced with the prophetic words “The problem of the Twentieth Century is the problem of the color-line,” touches on the role of higher education in ways that speak profoundly to us today. In his words, “The function of the university” (and, I would add, the liberal arts college) “is not simply to teach bread-winning, or to furnish teachers for the public schools, or to be a centre of polite society; it is, above all, to be the organ of that fine adjustment between real life and the growing knowledge of life, an adjustment which forms the secret of civilization.”
Let’s explore these words carefully. Note the three functions that Du Bois mentions first, each of which is a desirable goal, and in fact part of the reason why we have a Pomona College today, although each is inadequate by itself to justify our existence. The first of these is “to teach bread-winning.” We want students emerging from Pomona to get good jobs, and we know that the skills taught in our curriculum will equip them well for life in the world outside. But this alone is not the justification for a liberal arts college. Nor is the second function, “to furnish teachers for the public schools,” which in broader terms can be thought of as preparing an engaged citizenry who will use their talents to help society. Desirable as this is, it alone is not enough. Nor is the third function, “to be a centre of polite society.” This suggests a traditional image of an “educated lady or gentleman” who speaks foreign languages, appreciates the arts and can discourse on philosophy and other intellectual subjects. All of these are desirable outcomes of an education, but not the full basis for a college in 1903 or in 2003.
What, then, does Du Bois tell us is the real function of a college? It is, to quote him again, “to be the organ of that fine adjustment between real life and the growing knowledge of life.”
This is a plea for a holistic view of education. The aim of a college is to build a lasting connection, for both students and teachers, between what we do in life and what we think about, between our activities and our understandings. For Du Bois, this task “forms the secret of civilization.”
As I think about the future of Pomona College, two complementary images come to mind: the cloister and the crossroads. Each has something to say to us about what our college can and should be at the dawn of the 21st century.
The first image, the cloister, is the more traditional model of a college, bringing to mind a picture of Oxford from the 14th century. It is present in much of our architecture, in the enclosed spaces represented by Lebus Court or the Clark residence halls. Symbolically, it represents the college as a “protected space” for teaching and learning, where students and faculty in classroom, laboratory and library can join together in the discovery of knowledge.
In earlier times, the cloister has been too often a way of excluding certain types of people, using race, religion, or income level as tests for admissibility to a club. We must work consciously to make our own community one that welcomes diverse students, faculty and staff. Only in this way can the dialog within the “cloister” be a meaningful one. One can never permanently achieve true diversity in a world that is constantly changing; rather, it is a target toward which we need to strive continuously through our student admissions and faculty and staff recruitment efforts.
The cloister model of the college brings two very positive values to the fore. The first is that in the protected space represented by a college, students and faculty are freer to take risks. To students, I say: use these four years not for narrow vocational training in a pre-selected field, but rather as an opportunity to explore new subjects that you may never have thought about before setting foot in Claremont. Follow your passions, and you will end up with an education that prepares you for the world outside the cloister.
To faculty, I say: think big in your scholarship. Use your teaching and research to move into new areas, to make new connections with other faculty and with fields that are far from your dissertations and your pasts. That is a special value that is fostered in a liberal arts college. The stretches that you make, both as students and faculty, bring excellence to life in this community.
The second value that is brought by the college-as-cloister is one of freedom of speech. In the protected spaces of our classrooms and residence halls, members of the community should feel able not only to speak openly, but also to listen carefully to the views of others. Freedom of speech is only useful if it frees us to hear different kinds of speech from our own, and to welcome the contributions made by others even if we disagree with them. ...
A second and complementary model for Pomona is the college as crossroads. This image of openness is also reflected in our architecture, in the broad expanse of Marston Quad and the vision of our campus planner, Myron Hunt, which has enabled us to expand over the years and yet still retain our small-college character. An openness to change and to the spaces beyond our borders was very much present in the vision of our fourth president, James Blaisdell, who was bold to establish the Claremont Group Plan, which has led to the creation of four additional colleges and two graduate schools, working cooperatively to share resources, where possible, but also retaining independence and individual missions. I welcome and celebrate this vision, and I pledge in my time as President to fight against the bureaucratic boundaries that have crept back. In every area, whether it is information technology, intramural sports, or the language program, our first question should be “What is right for Pomona College?” but our second question should always be “Can this be enhanced by working together with The Claremont Colleges?”
Pomona College as crossroads needs to be placed squarely in our setting in the Los Angeles metropolitan area, connected more closely with that community than in the past. As Steve Koblik argued persuasively in his speech this morning, California is part of the Pacific Rim just as much as China and Latin America, and it needs to be part of Pomona’s identity, even if we are a college of national and international aspirations. There are extraordinary opportunities right here in Southern California to connect with the leading issues of our day. ... We need to know our region better, and Los Angeles needs to know Pomona better. Some of this may involve simple steps such as organizing more trips for students off campus into the city and surroundings. Other parts involve reexamining our priorities, and may lead to new directions in faculty hiring, new or redesigned courses, or new summer internship programs that place Pomona students in non-profit organizations through the metropolitan area. By strengthening our connections with this region we will not be sacrificing our national reputation; rather, we will be making the theories from our classrooms come to life in a real setting.
Los Angeles is an international city, and we will only understand our region if we see it in its international context. Our students take part in an outstanding range of study-abroad programs, and many report this as one of the most positive parts of their Pomona experience. This is wonderful. But we need to explore together ways of increasing the international dimension of our program right here on campus. Should there be more international students matriculating here in Claremont, bringing a different dimension to our classroom discussions? Are there ways of enhancing language study so that students are better equipped for their experiences in other cultures? How can we revitalize the Oldenborg program to make it a model for the years ahead? I look forward to exploring all these questions with the Pomona community.
So far, I’ve spoken mostly of the “curriculum”: the analytical and thinking skills taught in classrooms, laboratories, libraries, and, increasingly, over the Worldwide Web. In the next few minutes, I’d like to turn my attention to several areas that fall between the curricular and extracurricular sides of Pomona. Our challenge here is to integrate these further types of activities into a Pomona education, breaking down artificial barriers that now exist between the curricular and the extracurricular.
The first of these is the creative arts, encompassing art, music, theater and dance. To see the world around us not just through words and books, but through the eye and the ear, and to integrate analysis and criticism with creation and performance: this is one of the goals of a Pomona education. We are not a conservatory, nor a professional art school, but we declare that the creative arts are a vital component of a liberal education. Certain obligations are then thrust upon us. First, we need to develop facilities for the creation and display of art that are comparable in quality to the well-designed and flexible Seaver Theatre and to the restored gem of Bridges Hall of Music. Second, we need to bring to campus creative artists and performers, both on our own faculty and from the outside, to provide examples to our students and to work with them to raise their sights and improve their skills. And finally, we need to establish a culture on campus that celebrates and recognizes the arts.
If I have spoken up to now about the development of the mind and of the senses, it is time to turn to the third side: the body. I welcome the new, broader emphasis that Pomona College has been placing on “wellness,” including educating the entire community about substance abuse and encouraging a lifelong commitment to fitness. I’m delighted that the new Claremont Consortium Wellness Center will by 2006 provide a state-of-the-art facility for health services, counseling and wellness education. Matching this is a commitment from Pomona College to physical education and athletics. This starts with our varsity teams, where we must provide excellent coaching and first-class facilities so that our athletes have the opportunity to compete successfully with counterpart schools, keeping firmly in mind the ideal of the student-athlete that Pomona has preserved since its founding, in a period where increased professionalism threatens our values. But our commitment has to extend to our physical education classes, intramural and club sports as well. I’d like to see an increase in participation in all of these areas. In particular, I’d like to challenge all of the Claremont Colleges to work together to provide the playing space and facilities for a top-notch intramural program involving far larger numbers of our students.
Third and finally, let me turn to a subject that I know is on all of your minds: having fun.
As many of you know, Pomona slipped from its first-place position a couple of years ago as the most “fun” campus in the country to number two. How can we regain our proper place? First, I’d like to celebrate the steps taken over the last decade under Peter Stanley’s leadership to remake the campus as a center for student life, starting with our wonderful Smith Campus Center and moving beyond to the wide range of activities that come right here to campus every day and every night of the week. The next step to move forward, in my view, is to encourage students to break out of what they refer to as The Claremont Colleges “bubble”: the delightful but somewhat artificial world that seems to confine them to our campuses 24 hours a day and seven days a week. To this end, I am announcing here the creation of my first presidential-level task-force, a committee to prepare a list of the 47 things that every Sagehen should do in the Los Angeles area during his or her four years on campus. I’m delighted that David Menefee-Libey has agreed to chair this committee, which will bring together students, faculty and staff in an effort to assemble the best suggestions and prepare a definitive list. I hope all of you will contribute to it.
In my remarks today, I have tried to lay out some areas for growth and change at Pomona College, and to identify some challenges that we will be working together to meet. In the end, though, our success will not be marked by quantitative measures such as buildings built and funds raised, or even by our standing in national surveys. Rather, it will rest on the passion for learning stirred up in the hearts of each of the members of our community: this is the ultimate goal of education.
Here on the Pomona College campus stands a graphic image of this passion: the fresco painted in Frary Dining Hall by José Clemente Orozco of Prometheus stealing fire from the gods and giving it to humanity. If you haven’t seen it before, go and look at it this afternoon; if you have seen it many times, take another look, and go to the Art Museum to see the artist’s sketches for this masterpiece. The precious gift of fire represents knowledge, which transforms human experience; that is the reason Orozco chose this theme for Pomona College as an educational institution. ...
When I had lunch recently in Frary, I was struck by the incongruity of munching brownies in a dining hall in front of this dramatic mural. It felt a bit uncomfortable, as I am sure it has to some of you. I realized, though, that this is exactly the point. The conversations we have in the dining halls, banal or profound, are part of the Pomona education, and so it is fitting that this dramatic image of fire coming down from heaven is not locked up in a museum, but is right in the middle of our everyday life. It symbolizes the passions that break through into our daily activities. It reminds us that education is not always easy, but that it can be life-transforming. That is what we celebrate today; that is what we will work for in the years ahead.
Photos by Kevin Burke