Students Overreach with Lear Petition

The Student Life would like to take this opportunity to express our respect for the initiative shown by the 17 Pomona College students who recently petitioned President Oxtoby and Dean Conrad in order to create a tenure-track position for Andrew Lear, Visiting Professor of Classics. One of Pomona’s greatest strengths is the significant voice that students are given in personnel decisions and college governance more generally, and it’s encouraging to see a group of students taking full advantage of this, especially given that they feel so strongly about Professor’s Lear’s value to the college. Collecting upwards of 600 signatures is no small feat, and this effort should not go unnoticed.

However, TSL strongly disagrees with the content of the petition in question, specifically the stipulation that the college should create a new faculty line in Classics in order to facilitate the hiring of Lear.

Lear was originally rehired as a temporary replacement for a full-time Classics position that was vacated. During his stay at the college, a search for a permanent replacement was conducted, as is standard practice in situations like these. Lear applied for the permanent position, but ultimately he was not hired.

While we sympathize with the petitioning students' concerns thattheir voices were not heard in the hiring process,the Classics department has made its decision, and this decision should be respected. As we wrote in our March 25 editorial, “[Faculty] should be able to decide which scholars they think will bring the most to the table, which areas of study they think will best contribute to the depth and breadth of their department, and which personalities will be most at home in their intellectual community.”

Although the petitioners seem to understand this, stating that “[they] are not trying to reverse any of the decisions of the Classics Department," the solution they have proposed is just as problematic. According to Daniel Martin PO '14, one of the authors of the petition, the proposed solution is for the college to create a new position for Professor Lear. The Student Life feels strongly that the resources that would be required to create a new tenure-track position could be put to much better use elsewhere.

The creation of a tenure-track position is an incredibly significant expenditure for a college, especially in difficult financial times. It’s a commitment by the college to provide full salary and benefits, as well as resources like office space, to an employee for an indefinite long-term period. Additionally, creating faculty positions is a zero-sum game. The college has limited financial resources with which to create a new position, and it must consider where those resources would be put to the best use.

Does a department that has graduated less than 10 majors in the last five years need a new full-time position, especially considering that they have recently made a tenure-track hire? What’s more, does it need another expert on ancient Greece? Considering the department in the context of the college, it seems clear that greater needs exist elsewhere. Many departments are currently stretching their resources to staff introductory courses, or to advise the senior theses of all their majors. Currently, many must resort to relying on adjunct and visiting professors, as well as over-committed permanent faculty. In many ways, this kind of stretching is inevitable at a small college that wants to provide its students the opportunity to study all the liberal arts. It does, however, create real consequences for academic departments and the students interested in those fields.

The students involved in this issue should consider these problems before moving forward with their petition. Professor Lear may indeed be a great asset to the college and its students, but retaining him will require, at this point, a significant allocation of resources that could be used to alleviate much more pressing curricular needs and enrollment demands.