New President David W. Oxtoby's Inaugural Address Center of a Weekend of Celebration
Moments after his ceremonial installation on Saturday, October 11, as Pomona College’s ninth president, David Oxtoby began his inaugural address with a quote from 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,” Oxtoby told more than 1,000 people who assembled to witness his inauguration as Pomona’s ninth president. “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.’”
In exploring this theme, Oxtoby suggested two complementary views – the College as “cloister” and the College as “crossroads,” both of which, he noted, are expressed in the College’s architecture.
The cloister model, he noted, brings to the fore the concept of a protected space where it is possible to take risks and speak freely. He added, however, that the cloister has also at times been associated with exclusivity. “We must work consciously to make our own community one that welcomes diverse students, faculty and staff,” he added. “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.”
As an intellectual crossroads, he suggested, the College should be placed more meaningfully in the setting of the Los Angeles area, with its extraordinary range of opportunities to connect with the issues of the day, from the environment to modern culture.
Hinting at some of the areas of emphasis for his years as president, Oxtoby also made a number of concrete suggestions. These included an exploration of ways to increase the international dimension of the Pomona experience; state-of-the-art facilities for the creation and display of the visual arts; the development of a top-notch program in intramural sports to broaden student participation in athletics; and efforts to engage Pomona students more rewardingly with the myriad offerings and opportunities of the Los Angeles area.
Enlarging on this final point -- which he described as helping students break out of the “Claremont Colleges ‘bubble’” -- Oxtoby announced the creation of his first presidential-level task force, “a committee to prepare a list of the 47 things every Sagehen should do in the Los Angeles area during his or her four years on campus.” The group will be chaired by David Menefee-Libey, associate professor of politics.
Oxtoby closed his remarks with a reminder of the significance of the mural of Prometheus painted by José Clemente Orozco in Pomona’s Frary Dining Hall.
“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,” he noted. “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.”
Oxtoby’s inaugural address was the centerpiece of a weekend of both light and serious events as Pomona celebrated his inauguration with a mix of pomp and revelry.
The festivities began Friday night with a party in the Smith Campus Center. In a nod to the Oxtoby’s former title of dean of physical sciences at the University of Chicago, the movie “Chicago” was shown, followed by a welcoming party, thrown for Oxtoby by Pomona students, that featured 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 entertainment going until 1 a.m.
At 7 a.m. on Saturday, Oxtoby led a 10-mile bicycle ride with Dean of Faculty Gary Kates to start the festivities. A total of 40 cyclists – including faculty, students, staff and alumni – joined in the ride, which took them past all seven Claremont Consortium colleges, through Claremont Village, and then north to Claremont’s Thompson Creek Trail before returning them to the Pomona campus.
At 10 a.m., 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, 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 California and the American West.
The keynote address was followed by concurrent 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; W. Benton Boone, M.D. ’62; and William Keller ’70, Executive Editor of The New York Times.
Symposium attendees reunited for lunch and an address by Walter Massey, president of Morehouse College and former director of the National Science Foundation, titled “Liberal Education for a Digital Society: An Oxymoron?”
In the meantime, a number of people gathered at the Coop Fountain to hear a broadcast of a football game between Pomona-Pitzer and the University of Chicago, a contest that Pomona-Pitzer won in a 38-21 rout.
For the inaugural ceremony, a processional of more than 75 delegates from colleges and universities across the nation, representatives from civic, church and educational groups and Pomona College trustees, faculty, alumni and administrators gathered at Bridges Auditorium. Mary Patterson McPherson, president emeritus of Bryn Mawr College and vice president of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, addressed the crowded auditorium, followed by the inaugural address from Oxtoby.
After the ceremony, the College community gathered for an all-campus reception on Marston Quadrangle. More than 1,500 people assembled on the lush lawn, dotted with tables, for the dinner, lit by the Hollywood glow of colored lighting on all the surrounding buildings. The evening ended with salsa dancing to the strains of Ricardo Lemvo and Makina Loca.
On Sunday, the inauguration festivities wound down with a single, fitting event in the afternoon -- a faculty recital in Bridges Hall of Music. Members of the Music Department faculty gave the audience a taste of the talent on the campus that Oxtoby now oversees with performances of works by J.S. Bach, de Murcia, Schubert, Turina and Pomona Music Professor Tom Flaherty.