Ric Townes is in the process of dismantling one office and moving to another, readying himself for his new job. A book on the history of Pomona College sits on the corner of his desk, a testament to the learning he feels he still needs to do, but after a year in an interim position at Pomona, he’s been appointed dean of campus life and he couldn’t be happier about it.
“I’m just ecstatic about being able to stay,” he said. “My wife and daughter love the place. Everything else is gravy.”
Townes grew up in Boston and had a long career at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, but he and his wife had family in California and felt the gentle pull westward for a while.
“People suspected that we were going to be coming here long before we knew we were coming here,” he said. When his oldest daughter decided to attend law school at USC the urge to move got stronger and Townes started looking for jobs in California. He’d worked with Dean of Students Ann Quinley and had been talking to her about his job search. At about the time he was coming to California for another job interview, the interim associate dean of campus life position opened up. She convinced him to visit the campus and Townes liked what he saw.
“I was told by Dean Quinley…‘If you come here you’ll see, you’ll like it, and you’ll think you’ve died and gone to Pomona.” Townes said he’s come to agree with her, and he told her as much recently.
Despite having spent much of his career at a larger public institution, the state of public higher education and the financial difficulties faced by state institutions left Townes wanting a change.
“And it doesn’t get any better than Pomona in terms of small, private college,” he said.
Townes studied psychology at UMass-Amherst, but soon found his way into education. A friend convinced him to work in a program counseling first generation college students and he has never turned back. He has more than two decades of student affairs experience at UMass-Amherst, serving in a wide variety of positions. When he left he was assistant vice chancellor for campus activities, responsible for the campus division that organized programming for 11,600 residential college students and 6,000 off-campus students.
“I spent about 15 years of my career there working on social justice issues for the college,” Townes said. “I’m particularly proud of the work I did over a long period of time with those issues … I always wanted to be involved in situations that brought faculty, students and staff together.”
During his interim year at Pomona, Townes was in charge of organizing events such as Family Weekend and Alcohol Awareness Week. He worked with students to expand the programming of Multicultural Hall, a themed residence hall that addresses diversity issues. He also worked with the Students of Color Alliance, which was created in conjunction with a grant from the Irvine Foundation to create programming to address campus climate.
When asked what he’s planning for next year, he laughs and holds up The History of Pomona College 1887-1969. “I hope this is a continuation of a learning year for me.”
“This place is amazing, and the programs and services they have here for students are, to me, incredible,” he said. One example Townes cites is the residence hall program that pairs a sponsor with a group of first-year students to help them make the adjustment to college life.
When he’s not at work or with his family, Townes often can be found taking photographs. He enjoys all types of photography but with the wealth of natural beauty in Southern California, he’s focusing on nature photography – in particular the snowcapped mountains visible from Claremont. He also loves to play golf and to walk. Like many people at Pomona, Townes sports a pedometer on his waistband.
Now that he knows he’s staying in Claremont, Townes looks forward to doing volunteer work similar to that he’s done in the past. At Amherst, he was involved in the organization 100 Black Men, a group that mentored youth. He also grew up as part of the Boys and Girls Club so has volunteered for that organization and for the YMCA.
His wife, Valerie, is a speech pathologist, and their daughter, Carimah, attends Pomona Catholic High School. His other daughter, Johari, just completed her first year at USC.
“The people at Pomona College have been great,” Townes said. “I really appreciate the warmth and generosity afforded my wife, my daughter and me. I sure would like them to know how grateful we are.”