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The College and the Pandemic

The year 2020 will be remembered at Pomona, as everywhere else in the world, as the year of COVID-19. In early spring, Pomona was confronted with a rapidly escalating pandemic that led with startling speed from monitoring the situation in February to a few cautious policy changes announced on March 5—involving mostly travel restrictions—to the cancelation of all public events on March 9, followed just two days later by the decision to evacuate all students from campus. Students were asked to leave by March 18, with the College footing much of the unexpected costs. However, the College allowed a group of students who, for various reasons, could not reasonably be expected to return home, to remain on campus until they could make other arrangements.

After California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a sweeping stay-at-home order on March 19, all Pomona employees whose work responsibilities did not require them to be on campus also shifted to working from home. Almost all of them continued to do so for the remainder of the year. Employees who were unable to do their jobs at all, either on-site or remotely, were kept on payroll through the remainder of spring and summer, in hopes of a fall return to campus. When that turned out to be impossible, a combination of full and partial furloughs was announced for those employees beginning Oct. 1, with the College providing fully paid health care for all furloughed employees.

After an extended spring break, the College transitioned to remote learning. As the Information Technology Services (ITS) staff provided intensive training for faculty in the use of Zoom and other web-based tools, teaching and programming of all kinds moved entirely online. Classes resumed in virtual form in late March. In May, a planned tuition increase for the 2020-21 academic year was rolled back due to the financial hardship many families were facing during the pandemic. As the semester wound down, the usual paid research offerings of the Summer Undergraduate Research Program (SURP) were replaced by those of the Remote Alternative Independent Summer Experience Program (RAISE).

It became clear in July that the pandemic was still spreading and that remote education would need to continue through the fall semester. In preparation for that eventuality, faculty, with the support of ITS, had spent much of the summer in a concerted effort to redesign courses to make the best use of online tools and media. Fall classes began a week earlier than usual, on Aug. 24, and concluded prior to the Thanksgiving holiday.

Commencement for the Class of 2020, initially postponed in hopes an in-person celebration could be held in fall, were shifted to a virtual commencement exercise held on Dec. 19.


Dean of the College

Professor of Geology Robert Gaines was named in January to serve as vice president for academic affairs and dean of the college for a term extending through June 2022. He had been serving as dean on an interim basis since July 2019. He retained his faculty title as the Edwin F. and Martha Hahn Professor. Gaines, a two-time Wig Award winner, was known for his groundbreaking international research.

Strategic Planning

Despite the pandemic, a final version of the newly developed “Strategic Vision for Pomona College” was announced at the end of May, featuring intertwined themes of transformative knowledge and creativity, equity and access and flourishing and inclusion. In the months that followed, teams for each area began laying the groundwork for putting that vision into action during the years to come. 

Campus Climate

The College contracted with Rankin and Associates to conduct a campus climate assessment to take a deeper look at the living, learning and working environment on campus for all members of our community. The goals of the project was to: 1) identify successful initiatives, 2) uncover any challenges facing members of our community and 3) develop strategic initiatives to build on the successes and address the challenges.


Nobel Laureate

In October, Jennifer Doudna ’85 was awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry for her groundbreaking work in discovering and developing the gene-editing tool known as CRISPR-Cas9, becoming the first Pomona graduate to become a Nobel Laureate.


  • A newly discovered coronavirus causing a new disease named COVID-19 engulfed the world in the greatest and most prolonged pandemic in a century, killing millions, sparking worldwide lockdowns and causing a global recession.
  • The first impeachment trial of President Donald Trump in January concluded with an acquittal vote along party lines.
  • In October, NASA's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft briefly touched down on Bennu, becoming the agency's first probe to retrieve samples from an asteroid, with its cargo due for return to Earth in 2023.