Pomona Should Renew Respect for Student Voices

Pomona prides itself on being a college that listens to its students. Pomona students are involved in college governance to a degree unheard of at other schools. There is an atmosphere of mutual respect between administration, faculty, and students; it is understood that each group brings something unique and important to the table in discussions about the direction of the college. Faculty and administration, more often than not, address student concerns with open ears. We are privileged to attend a college where this is the general rule.

Recent exceptions to this rule, however, have created cause for concern. For example, the administration seems unwilling to budge on its insistence on strict access restrictions for the new north campus dorms, despite strong and explicit student opposition. Likewise, strong student opposition to unilateral decisions made by the Office of Campus Life, especially regarding the sponsor program, has fallen on deaf ears.

The most recent example of this kind of disregard for student input, however, comes from the realm of academics. As detailed on the front page of this week’s issue, Classics Professor Andrew Lear will not be rehired by the college after a replacement search in which many students felt that their voices were not heard. Lear was originally hired to temporarily replace a permanent faculty member that left the college. The Classics department’s recent search was conducted in order to find a permanent replacement for that position. Though Lear interviewed for the position, the department was searching specifically for a Greek historian, according to students. In their eyes, Lear did not fit this description. Thus he was not considered as a finalist for the position.

Of course, faculty should have the final say in the direction of their department. They 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. We have no reason to doubt, then, that the Classics department had good reason to hire the candidate that they eventually chose.

Still, in making hiring decisions, departments ignore student input at their own peril. Because it is one of the college’s smaller departments, the Classics department should be especially wary of alienating its students with its personnel decisions. Lear is an immensely popular professor who has cultivated a passion for Classics in students who might not otherwise have explored the discipline. His focus on gender and sexuality in ancient Greece adds a fascinating and unorthodox approach to a subject that is often tackled more traditionally. It is these kind of approaches that excite students and push them to take intellectual risks.

Lear’s students did their best to express this to the search committee in charge of hiring the replacement. Yet they report that, when they were invited to speak to the committee, they were talked at rather than listened to. The Classics department has every right to choose whatever job candidate they wish, but they should not ignore the input of their own students unless they don’t mind losing them.

Cases like these are not as rare as one might hope. The college recently denied tenure to Wig award-winning English Professor Meg Worley, whose course enrollments are as high as any other professor at Pomona. (The English Department is currently reviewing Professor Worley a second time due to “procedural issues in the original review.”)

The Student Life does not wish to express an opinion on the college’s hiring or policy decisions. We would, however, like to ask administration and faculty to reconsider the role that student input plays in these decisions. If we begin to feel like our voices are continually ignored, the college community could suffer irreparable harm.