By Meghan Bobrowsky and Samuel Breslow
Claremont McKenna College has decided to withdraw from the W.M. Keck Science Department to create its own science department, according to a Pitzer College administrator and multiple professors present at faculty meetings where the decision was announced Wednesday.
Scripps College and Pitzer will continue to have a joint science program, but it’s unclear whether it will still be called “Keck,” said Mike Segawa, Pitzer’s vice president for student affairs.
CMC’s separation won’t happen until at least 2022, said Mary Hatcher-Skeers, a professor of chemistry who was at Keck’s faculty meeting. But, Segawa said the school has plans to start developing its new science department in the near future.
The individual colleges have yet to release an official announcement to the 7C community about the reasoning for the decision.
“What I heard [from the administrators at the meeting], was that the visions of each college became too separate and there were just points that they couldn’t agree on, and so the solution was for CMC to become independent,” said Melissa Coleman, an associate biology professor at Keck.
Professors speculated that the reason for withdrawal was because CMC wishes to fund the sciences at a level that Scripps and Pitzer cannot afford.
CMC’s endowment exceeds $780 million, whereas Scripps and Pitzer have significantly smaller endowments of around $340 million and $140 million, respectively, according to the colleges’ financial statements.
The decision outraged many Keck professors, who have complained for years that the department has been under-resourced.
“Keck is sort of always the ‘other,’ and we’ve always been promised more and not gotten it,” Coleman said. “My initial reaction is not pleasant words for CMC.”
CMC plans to construct a new building to house its science department. According to Segawa, there are plans for a lead gift to begin the fundraising campaign in order to fund the new building. But, faculty have yet to be informed of further details.
“They haven’t found their location [for the new building], or they haven’t decided, or they haven’t told us,” Hatcher-Skeers said.
For many Keck professors, the announcement also came as a shock, since faculty members said they were not fully involved in the decision.
“I think all of us would have liked to have been more a part of these conversations and these decisions instead of having them dropped on us,” Hatcher-Skeers, the chemistry professor, said.
Coleman expressed disappointment that CMC did not step up to provide more funding to Keck.
“We’ve been under-resourced for a long time and needed new faculty and were trying to figure out how to do that, and the solution is for CMC to not give us money but to form their own science department,” Coleman said.
According to CMC spokesperson Peter Hong, the college “will not comment until all of the faculty meetings have taken place.” CMC President Hiram E. Chodosh also declined to comment.
TSL reached out to members of both Scripps’ and Pitzer’s Board of Trustees, but they either declined to comment or did not respond. Keck Dean Ulysses J. Sofia, Pitzer Dean of Faculty Nigel Boyle, and Scripps Dean of Faculty Amy Marcus-Newhall wrote in emails to TSL that they would not comment until Thursday evening.
About 3,200 students take classes at Keck annually — up from 2,100 students 15 years ago, according to Keck’s website.
“Science enrollments have grown faster than overall enrollments at the three sponsor colleges, indicating a sharp increase in interest among Claremont McKenna, Pitzer, and Scripps students in studying science,” Keck’s website states.
Over the past two years, Keck’s enrollment has consisted of about 40 percent Scripps students, 32 percent CMC students, and 26 percent Pitzer students, with the remaining enrollment coming from Harvey Mudd College and Pomona College, according to the website.
Regardless of the final outcome, many professors predicted the transition is likely to involve some turmoil. Hatcher-Skeers said she hoped it would be a seamless transition for students but acknowledged there might be some obstacles.
“One of the most poignant comments in the meeting was, ‘How are we going to ensure we continue to give the best to our students and that nobody falls through the cracks here?,’” she said.
Currently, all three colleges contribute funding to Keck, but Coleman said Keck faculty receive the same benefits as CMC faculty. After CMC leaves Keck, they will receive the same benefits as Scripps faculty.
“There are some tradeoffs,” Coleman said. For example, she said their housing assistance will decrease, but they will receive more retirement benefits.
Hatcher-Skeers said many professors were frustrated because they’ve been trying to expand and develop Keck for years.
“So faculty are exhausted of building plans that never turn into anything,” she said. “But maybe this, because it’s such a dramatic change, will promote forward progress.”
CMC, Scripps, and Pitzer publicly announced CMC’s planned withdrawal from the Keck Science Department in a joint email to the colleges’ students Thursday afternoon.
CMC Dean of the Faculty Peter Uvin also detailed the rationale behind the decision in a lengthy email to CMC faculty Thursday evening, which was forwarded to TSL by Hong and is embedded below.
Pitzer Dean of Faculty Nigel Boyle wrote in an email to TSL that “although this outcome is not what we wanted or expected I want to be clear that this is going to be a good outcome for Pitzer and Scripps and, most importantly, for our students.”
He emphasized that Scripps and Pitzer plan to expand their science facilities.
“We love our science department, Scripps loves it, and we together want to invest in it,” he wrote.
This article was last updated at 4:01 a.m. Oct. 19.