Q&A: Sam Glick, Pomona's New Board of Trustees Chair

Sam Glick PO ’04 became the new chair of Pomona College’s Board of Trustees on July 1, succeeding Jeanne Buckley PO ’65. Glick first joined the board as a Young Alumni Trustee, serving from 2007 to 2011, then came back as a trustee in 2012 and will now serve as chair until 2018. An Economics major and Classics minor, Glick is currently a Partner at Oliver Wyman, an international managing consultant firm, in the company’s Health and Life Sciences practice. After the annual Student-Trustee Retreat on Oct. 2, which featured a design-thinking workshop to introduce the newly established Sontag Center for Collaborative Creativity, Glick sat down with TSL to talk about his new role and the board’s goals for the coming years.

TSL: How do you think tonight went? What kind of discussions did you guys have?

SG: I think tonight was a terrific event. The Trustee-Student Retreat is one of my favorite events of the year. This is a reminder of why we do what we do, and being on the board is a volunteer job, and everybody does it because we're passionate about the mission of Pomona and engaging and developing students. And I think this one was particularly exciting. The trustees are very excited about the Center for Collaborative Creativity and the Rick and Susan Sontag gift, but because it's not a building or a big purchase, it's a program, it's hard for us to experience it, so this was a great opportunity for us to actually come see it in action a little bit.

TSL: Some people have asked about the concrete goals of this center and think that the ideas behind it could be a little abstract. Do you feel that way, or could you see why some people might feel that way?

SG: I think our job is to find a good way to articulate what the value of the center is. I think anyone who experiences it, anyone who's been involved in it, they intrinsically get it. But it is really hard to describe. And I think that to continue to build excitement and enthusiasm beyond campus, we're going to need to find great ways to describe the values that it has. But to me, this is an extension of the value of the liberal arts. This is a modern interpretation of what the liberal arts really mean in many ways. It's about training you to be able to go out in the world and to collaborate and to create and to think rapidly and iteratively.

TSL: Could you tell us a little bit about yourself? What did you major in? What are you doing now?

SG: I was born in Indio in Southern California, just east of Palm Springs. I grew up on a citrus nursery there; my grandparents were citrus farmers. My high school was big, and if you were a good student in high school, you got directed toward the UCs. I had an English teacher whose husband had gone to Pomona, and she said, "don't look just at UC schools, you should go look at this place in Claremont." Until the day I set foot on campus, I thought liberal arts colleges were invented in Claremont. I didn’t know that it was a whole category of schools. So I came to campus, had done a lot of science work in high school so thought I was probably going to be a science major. Ended up being an economics major and a classics minor. I thought I might want to be a professional economist, and so I got a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholarship to go to the University of Warwick in Coventry, England and do a masters program in Economics. So I did the one-year program, decided that maybe wanted to get into the business world a little bit, and applied to consulting jobs and ended up at a firm that was then called Mercer Management Consulting, [now] Oliver Wyman.

TSL: What is the role of a trustee chair? What are your responsibilities?

SG: I think it starts with what's the role of the Board of Trustees. The Board of Trustees holds the college in trust. Pomona is a not-for-profit, so unlike for-profit organizations, we don't have shareholders. But we need people who represent the interests of the college and the communities we serve. And so, the role of the Board of Trustees is to ultimately set policy and make decisions that will ensure that the college will continue to exist in perpetuity. So our job simply is to focus on the future. The day-to-day management of the college is left to the president and his staff and to the faculty and the staff on campus and to student government, in some cases.

Our job is to think about what do we want Pomona to be 10, 20, 30 years from now. How do we ensure that we have enough resources, not just to provide a great experience to anyone regardless of need now, but to do that forever? And how do we make sure that the economy may be good now, but if the economy is bad, we still have those resources, and that our student body and our faculty and staff and board are evolving to look like an increasingly diverse world? We spend a lot of time on those questions. There are some transactional kinds of things we have to do. The board officially approves everyone's degree.

My job is to chair a group of really devoted, experienced, well-meaning and dedicated people. People come and engage and think about the issues of the college, and so my job as chair is to extract the best value out of that group I can, to make sure everybody's voice is heard, to make sure we’re raising the right issues, to make sure we've structured the board in the right way in terms of committees and schedules and agendas, that we’re focusing on the things where we can make a difference.

TSL: What do you think the goals of the board are for the next three years and how do you plan to help them reach their goals?

SG: The college has a strategic plan; it's published. Everyone can see it. And we really do adhere to that. We looked at it as recently as this morning so that we're making decisions with a set of priorities in mind.

So I think they were looking for a chair who could help them advance through those goals that were developed collaboratively [by] trustees, faculty and staff and students, alumni. The continued expansion of access to the college in terms of students of different colors, gender identities, nationalities, interests, socioeconomic backgrounds, region of the country, is a huge priority for the college. Thinking about what the trade-offs that we make in terms of diversity and what kind of statements we're making and what kind of leadership roles we want to take on, is a big priority. As a board we need to examine how we continue to meet our mission of always being need-blind and always providing a 100 percent financial aid.

And then there's long-range planning for the college. We've seen huge growth in STEM fields recently at Pomona, and that in some ways is terrific. But at the same time, we, I think, institutionally believe that there's real value in the humanities, the social sciences, arts, and things like collaborative creativity and athletics. So how do we make sure that that focus on STEM doesn't redirect resources away from things that we think are important to people being well-rounded?

And then I think the board itself is another priority that we talked a lot about. Pomona, unlike other institutions, doesn't have an honorific board. So this isn't a board where you just donate a lot of money and you get on the board. We have people who certainly have significant means and contribute to the college very generously. But we also have people who are here because they have particular talents or life experiences. But there are other things we could do in terms of diversity. We have a pretty white board. We have a little bit of an older board. And so just like we're talking about diversity on campus, as those alumni start to graduate, we should be bringing them into college leadership. So that the leadership of the college looks like the kinds of people who are attracted to the college.

TSL: So last year's Student-Trustee Retreat and Faculty-Trustee Retreat focused on the theme of diversity, and the diversity plan came out last semester. In the plan, it mentions that the trustees should grow to look more like the student body. Are you guys talking about that? Are you coming up with concrete ideas to achieve that goal?

SG: We absolutely are. What we need to do is just like what we do in admissions; we need to be seeking out people who may not have the typical profile of the people on the board, but who are leaders in their own communities. And so, we've started to look at our criteria for how we identify candidates. And having somebody be a trustee is about relationship-building. I think sometimes from the outside it may seem like somebody just becomes a trustee all of a sudden. But people who come on to the board usually have been providing advice informally for a number of years, have been coming to events, have been supporting the college, volunteering at admissions, engaging at the CDO. If we want a more diverse trustee group a few years from now, we need to make sure in all of our alumni efforts we're engaging people early who are more diverse so that some of those people really take on leadership roles.

TSL: Why do you think it's important that the trustees be as diverse as the student body?

SG: Well, I may rephrase that a little bit. What I wouldn't want this to become is some sort of we're-trying-to-match-percentages game. Frankly, the board probably looks more like the student body did 20 or 25 years ago, which is about the time when people are ready to take on that leadership position. But I think it's hard to make decisions about a place that is as diverse as Pomona is if you don't bring that life experience. We heard a great couple of presentations by Pomona faculty that showed the data that diverse teams have more creative tension but make better decisions, take better risks, and ultimately produce better outcomes. And the trustee is the ultimate team, so to speak. It's all about collaborative decision-making. No one trustee can do anything alone, but collectively, we have real influence on the place. So the more voices we can have in the room and more types of experiences we can have and the more identities, the better decisions we're going to make.

TSL: What do you think the goal of the Student-Trustee Retreat is, from the perspective of a trustee?

SG: It’s probably twofold. One, it's to reconnect and reground ourselves with why we do the work we do. Being a trustee is ultimately about serving students, so this is just a reminder of how really phenomenal everybody on this campus is. I mean not just in intellect but in values and dedication, willingness to engage and thoughtfulness about the world. My hope is also that we learned something. We don't have a student trustee. And so it is important for us to take input back. In the unique position of having been to these retreats both as a student when they first started and now as a trustee, I can say now as a trustee we will talk about the things that we heard all year long. Frankly, Pomona students are really insightful. I mean, this isn't kind of politicking. This isn't just, well, 'I want to hear what the populace thinks.' This is a room full of some of the brightest minds of the nation. We should take advantage of it.

TSL: At the last Student-Trustee Retreat, some students were sitting at a table with a certain trustee who said that he saw enough diversity on images online and that it seemed like we were doing a good enough job already. What do you think about what the trustee said? Do you think this was an anomaly?

SG: First, I can't speak to any one individual trustee. What I would say is actually, first of all, it's great that trustees and students were engaging that candidly. The board has a diversity of opinions. We have vigorous debates about topics and that helps us produce better outcomes. I think, as a matter of policy, we continue to emphasize diversity, and the policy on diversity that came out last year, we support as trustees. I would reframe that statement personally. I don't know that diversity is an initiative. I'm not sure that the phrase 'enough diversity' really means something. Diversity should be a value just as much as we value somebody's academic abilities, and just as much as we value somebody's moral compass or somebody's values. So would I happen to agree with that individual trustee? Personally, I wouldn't state it that way. I think it's the wrong measure. I think we as an institution need to have diversity as a background for every conversation we have, and as the world changes, then we need to change.

TSL: One last issue I wanted to bring up was that sexual assault and policy have been a huge debate point at the college since the end of last semester. Has the board been talking about that issue and are the trustees trying to do anything to contribute?

SG: It's been a topic of a large amount of discussion. We're very aware. President Oxtoby, Dean Feldblum, all sorts of people have been engaging with us and educating us. I think it's unfortunate that two things get conflated sometimes. I would separate what our values say about sexual assault and the changes in process and procedure that are coming about as the result of the new interpretation of Title IX. On the former on sexual assault, unequivocally, sexual assault is not acceptable on this campus or anywhere on this planet. And the board without exception, we shouldn't tolerate such behavior. Now, the devil's in the details on that. We get into these questions about well, what does that mean, how do we define it, and what should our judicial or quasi-judicial process be, and what should we go through. Have we gotten it right yet? I'm not sure. I'm not sure that we're ever going to get it right in a way that satisfies everybody. But I think as a board, we are immensely proud, particularly of what Dean Feldblum and her staff have been doing, to try and make Pomona a national leader on this issue.

TSL: So you're going to be chair for three years, and three years isn't a short amount of time. What do you think your personal goals are for the next three years?

SG: I am standing on the shoulders of giants. Pomona has been a well-run place for well over a century now. I've become chair in a year when Pomona was named by Forbes the number one college in the country, it's been getting incredible attention, has had the most applications on record, the most selective admissions year we've ever had, has gotten national and international acclaim, we're the most diverse student body we've had in a long time, one of the most accomplished faculties we've had in a long time, and great new initiatives including the Sontag Center and the new Millikan. Boy, what a terrific place to show up and build upon! One part is to say, continue that momentum. And then it's my job as chair to say, so how do we take that to the next level? Some of that's going to be about board effectiveness, and some of that's going to be long-term planning. The board fundamentally exists to support the good work that happens on campus by the administration, faculty, staff, students, parents, and alumni. My goal is to continue to extract and highlight the very best of what everybody can do here and I think that's proven well for my predecessors, and I don't think I'm going to mess with that formula.

Editor's Note: This article was edited for clarity and length.