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Finding Common Ground

$100,000 for endowed scholarship for study of international relations

One of the most important lessons Randolph Ortlieb ’83 learned at Pomona College was in philosophy class, but it had nothing to do with Kant and Nietzsche. The professor, Frederick Sontag, eyed Ortlieb’s somewhat dingy shirt disparagingly and asked, “Have you heard of bleach?”

“He basically just called me out and said, ‘You’ve got to have self-respect,’” Ortlieb recalls, chuckling. In addition to sharing his expertise in highly theoretical realms, Sontag offered his students a great deal of practical wisdom, says Ortlieb, who  considered the professor a true mentor.

Of course, Pomona College also teaches its students the analytical and discursive skills one would expect from an elite liberal arts education. Frederick “Fritz” Ortlieb ’84, Randolph’s brother, hails the training he received at Pomona: “It’s just been immensely valuable to me, in terms of navigating the politics, the economic issues, and definitely ethics in practicing law. Every day presents ethical questions.”

Both Ortlieb brothers majored in philosophy at Pomona, and both have become lawyers, Randolph earning his law degree at Washington University in St. Louis, Fritz earning his at the Santa Clara University School of Law. And finally, both have continued the tradition begun by their father, Martin Ortlieb ’50, and given back generously to the institution that provided them with so many life lessons.

Previously the Ortliebs funded work on the Smith Campus Center and a philosophy lecture series at the College; their latest gift, made through the family’s philanthropic arm, the Katherine Baxter Memorial Foundation, establishes a $100,000 endowment to help students who will be studying the cultures of nations that have “strained” relations with the United States, particularly those of the Islamic world.

“We believe that the gift will develop understanding and free-thinking with respect to international relations,” Fritz says. “Those concepts don’t always seem to go consistently together.”

Getting people with opposing viewpoints to reach a consensus is a task that is not unfamiliar to Fritz, who has served as deputy city attorney in San Diego for more than 20 years. “The education I had at Pomona has given me quite an advantage in my ability to interact with other people, to listen critically and understand better,” he says. His area of practice in San Diego is primarily environmental law, dealing with regulations that relate to water quality, waste disposal and energy issues.

Pomona definitely teaches the critical and logical thinking that aids in the decision-making skills he calls upon each day. “That’s one of the reasons why we want to support Pomona, so that others can have that kind of ‘critical thinking’ asset,” Fritz says.