CMC trustees hold off on Keck withdrawal due to inadequate fundraising, dean says

Giselle Hernandez SC ’22 (left) and Synaida Maiche CM ’22 work on a chemistry lab at Keck Science Department Oct. 18, 2018. Claremont McKenna College announced last fall that it would be withdrawing from Keck, but the school’s board of trustees last week decided to wait on leaving due to inadequate fundraising for a CMC-only science department, according to the Keck dean. (Elinor Aspegren • The Student Life)

Claremont McKenna College hasn’t yet met the fundraising threshold needed to start its formalized three-year withdrawal process from the Keck Science Department, creating uncertainty about the plan’s timeline, Keck dean Ulysses Sofia told TSL Tuesday.

The CMC Board of Trustees last week decided to wait to officially leave the joint science program, which CMC currently shares with Scripps College and Pitzer College, CMC Dean of the Faculty Peter Uvin said via email Tuesday. In October, CMC told the 5C community via email it was planning to leave Keck.

CMC has some financial benchmarks to meet before the college is “willing” to formally withdraw, but the board did vote to begin creation of a CMC-only science department, which is “a strong statement that they are [eventually] going forward” with their departure, Sofia said.

“This is a really expensive endeavor — to start a brand new, large department. They have a lot of money to raise in order to make this work,” he said. “And in a way, it’s not surprising that they haven’t raised as much money as they feel like they need to by this point just because of the total cost of something of this magnitude.”

In February, Pitzer dean of faculty Nigel Boyle said via email that he anticipated CMC “making its formal declaration” to withdraw in April. However, the original email Uvin sent out following the announcement in October did not include a timeline of CMC’s anticipated withdrawal.

CMC also needs to do more planning and evaluation to ensure they’re “fully prepared to complete a transition to a new organizational model,” Uvin said in the Tuesday email.

When asked whether the school’s decision to hold off on withdrawing from Keck was about a lack of fundraising, CMC spokesperson Peter Hong said via email that the school has “set a high threshold for the funding we want in place before we start a timeline.”

More specifically, the board of trustees has “high standards” for the departure process, including covering all construction costs before they’re willing to authorize the formal withdrawal, Uvin said in an email to students and staff Thursday.

But the board did approve “continuous development of architectural and site plans, refinements to our financial model, accelerated fundraising and the search for a founding chair,” Uvin said.

Last semester’s announcement that CMC would be leaving Keck, which has been shared by the three schools since 1964, shocked students and faculty members, who weren’t involved in discussions prior to the announcement.

Despite this, ongoing plans for the expansion of current Keck facilities, which have been in the works since 2006, haven’t slowed. Scripps and Pitzer have forged ahead, raising millions of dollars for their new building, which is scheduled to open in 2022.

In April, CMC faculty overwhelmingly voted to approve the school’s decision to leave Keck and create its own science department. One week later, the board of trustees gave CMC a greenlight to kickstart the new program, Uvin said in the Tuesday email.

However, they also decided CMC isn’t ready for a “binding timeline” or “transition plan” that would start the three-year formalized withdrawal process, Uvin said.

It’s unclear when CMC will formally announce its withdrawal, which Sofia said “does put a little bit of uncertainty into this whole plan.”

But plans for a new $65 million Pitzer-Scripps building will not be impacted, he said.

“We had already been planning for just a Pitzer-Scripps financed building, and really we’re just going to continue to move forward,” he said. “This shouldn’t delay us in any way.”

Mike Segawa, Pitzer’s vice president of student affairs, agreed with Sofia that the delay shouldn’t slow progress on the new Pitzer-Scripps building yet. But, he said, “certainly, if uncertainty comes later in this kind of transition process, that becomes more of a challenge.”

Some had hoped CMC would initiate its departure sooner.

Asked about the board of trustees’ decision, Boyle responded with the “☹️” emoji.

He later added that the move was “very disappointing.”

Keck chemistry professor Mary Hatcher-Skeers said the uncertainty surrounding Keckxit makes it difficult to plan for the future.

“What it means is we’re in limbo still,” she said.

Sofia acknowledged that Scripps and Pitzer would prefer a defined timeline, but said each college has their own interests, which don’t always overlap.

“I think everybody would have preferred if there was a formal withdrawal just to get that sort of uncertainty a little bit out the way,” he said. “But we are going to move forward and that’s what’s important for Keck Science.”

This article was updated April 30 at 11:32 p.m. to clarify CMC’s Board of Trustees’ decision.

This article was updated April 30 at 11:45 p.m. to add information about CMC’s withdrawal timeline.

This article was last updated May 2 at 5:34 p.m. to add quotes from Pitzer’s Mike Segawa and CMC’s Peter Uvin.

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