Task Force on Public Dialogue Final Report and Board Update

Dear Pomona College Community,

Shared governance is at the heart of higher education and, at Pomona College, our quarterly Board of Trustees meetings are an important venue where trustees, joined at times by faculty, students and staff, come together to discuss strategic issues for our community. This past weekend was no exception.

One of my commitments is to communicate about this work so that together we all have an increased understanding of the types of decisions and conversations taking place among the leadership of the College. In addition to regularly scheduled board matters for this time of year, such as approving the bachelor of arts degrees for May 2018 graduates and the 2018-19 operating budget, this meeting also included the delivery of the culminating report from the Board-commissioned Task Force on Public Dialogue.

The board approved a $218 million budget for 2018-19, with a projected $50 million, or 23 percent of total expenses, designated for financial aid. Staff also reported that the new Pomona College Museum of Art project is on schedule and on budget.

Seth Allen, vice president and dean of admissions, reported a record year for applications, with 10,245 candidates applying for a space in the first-year Class of 2022. The enrolled class, which currently stands at 411 new first-year students, represents a diverse cross section of backgrounds, experiences and talents from across the United States and from around the world.

Among the key actions, the board approved the following promotions to full professor:

  • Mark Allen, associate professor of art
  • Andre Cavalcanti, associate professor of biology
  • Vin de Silva, associate professor of mathematics
  • Nina Karnovsky, associate professor of biology
  • Fernando Lozano, associate professor of economics
  • Susan J. McWilliams, associate professor of politics
  • Jennifer Scanlon, associate professor of physical education and women’s soccer coach
  • Yuqing Melanie Wu, associate professor of computer science

In addition, the following appointments to endowed chairs were approved:

  • Lise Abrams, professor of psychology, to the-Peter W Stanley Chair of Linguistics and Cognitive Science
  • Stephan Ramon Garcia, professor of mathematics, to the W M Keck Distinguished Service Professor and professor of mathematics
  • Mercedes Teixido, professor of art, to the Loren Barton Babcock Miller Fine Arts Professorship
  • Peter G. Thielke, professor of philosophy, to the Robert C. Denison Philosophy Professorship

Four new trustees were elected to the board:

  • Laszlo Bock ’93 (former trustee, 2012-16)
  • Thomas J. Minar ’85 (former alumni association board president, 2008-09)
  • Jennifer Wilcox Thomas ’08 (young alumni trustee, 2011-15)
  • Alicia R. Zalesin P ’14, ’17 (co-chair, Parent Leadership Council, 2015-17)

In addition, the Wig Committee shared the 2017-18 Wig Award winners announced at Commencement:

  • Nicholas Ball, assistant professor of chemistry
  • Clarissa Cheney, associate professor of biology
  • Oona Eisenstadt, Fred Krinsky Professor of Jewish Studies and professor of religious studies
  • Janice Hudgings, Seeley W. Mudd Professor of Physics
  • David Menefee-Libey, professor of politics and coordinator of public policy analysis
  • Daniel O’Leary, Carnegie Professor of Chemistry
  • Shahriar Shahriari, William Polk Russell Professor of Mathematics
  • Julie Tannenbaum, chair and associate professor of philosophy

Congratulations to all!

Task Force on Public Dialogue

Last year at this time the Pomona College Board of Trustees established a Task Force on Public Dialogue with the charge of exploring the context surrounding our ability to engage openly with one another on campus, and to recommend concrete steps we might make to ensure Pomona remains a leader in liberal arts education. The task force shared its final report and recommendations with the board last Friday, and I offer my thanks and deep appreciation for this important work. I believe Pomona College is the first small, residential college to hold a mirror to its community to seek an understanding of the context in which clashes over the values of free expression, inclusiveness and rigorous inquiry occur and to explore effective and innovative practices for balancing these three values within a diverse academic community.

I now hold in my hands the results of the task force’s work including the commissioned Gallup Survey. The recommendations call for work in four broad areas: education, campus climate, social media and our culture of inquiry. They also provided specific recommendations that should be addressed collaboratively as well as by distinct groups within the College.

Some sobering findings of the survey related specifically to campus climate. A significant trust gap was identified by students and faculty around addressing discrimination on campus. Only 38 percent of students and 47 percent of faculty strongly agree or agree that Pomona would do what is right, compared to 61 percent in the national Gallup data. Among Pomona students, Black and Hispanic students are less likely than white students to say the racial climate on campus is excellent or good. By comparison, almost two-thirds of Asian and white students say the racial climate on campus is excellent or good. The survey also finds that 30 percent of Black students and almost 20 percent of Hispanic students said that Pomona is not a good place for students who are members of racial and ethnic minorities.

We also learned from the Gallup survey that 88 percent of our students believe the climate on campus prevents them from saying things they believe because others might find them offensive. This finding was an outlier compared with Gallup’s national data in which 54 percent of students said their campus climate caused them to refrain from such speech. There are critical “why” questions that need to be asked going forward to better understand what is behind this choice and how it might best be addressed.

I call on all of us at Pomona to rise to this opportunity. We have done a very good job making Pomona one of the most diverse, if not the most diverse, liberal arts college in the country. We must confront the link between climate and free and open dialogue. It is clear that dialogue cannot be addressed without attention to improving the inclusivity of our community. If the climate on campus is tenuous, speech easily becomes charged. When trust is broken, the call to action is urgent. As your president, I will do everything in my power to help our community come together to rebuild trust. I will count on each and every one of us to bring good faith to this work.

True transformation means looking at causes as well as effects. To build trust, we must live up to our commitment to a culture of respect and dignity for all and to create healthy environments in which individuals feel welcomed, respected, valued, supported, and fully able to achieve and contribute. I remain heartened that we also see lots of evidence of care in our community, and that our students want to speak in ways that do not harm each other. I have noted this tendency toward care at Pomona from the moment I arrived, and it inspires me.

I will be working with senior leadership among faculty, students, staff and the President’s Advisory Committee on Diversity (PACD) in the coming weeks and months to better understand the task force findings and discuss the specific and broad recommendations for action in both the short and long term. We have begun our accreditation process through the Western Association for Schools and Colleges (WASC) and we are soon to embark on a strategic planning process. Both of these initiatives, among other work, will help us explore more significant and structural changes and action steps.

Your ideas and thoughts matter to me and to this community. Please reach out to me directly at president@pomona.edu or during office hours, or to any member of senior staff, faculty leadership and ASPC leadership. We have a collective obligation to include the voices of all in this community as we continue to build Pomona together. Our work is not done. Let’s move forward with purpose.

With best wishes,

G. Gabrielle Starr