Keck expansion continues despite CMC withdrawal

The proposed new Keck building has an estimated cost of $65 million. Claremont McKenna College plans to formally withdraw from Keck in April. (Eloise Shields • The Student Life)

Plans to expand the W.M. Keck Science Department have not been slowed by Claremont McKenna College’s unexpected decision last fall to withdraw from the three-college organization and form its own science department, faculty and administrators say.

As CMC waits to formally announce its departure until after its April Board of Trustees meeting, Scripps College and Pitzer College are moving forward with plans to construct a separate Keck building in Scripps’ Revelle parking lot, a long-anticipated addition that will connect with the current structure.

The expansion will cost $65 million, with Scripps and Pitzer paying a roughly equal amount, Pitzer Dean of Faculty Nigel Boyle wrote in an email to TSL. Pitzer plans to use a mix of reserves, donations and a bank loan to cover its portion of the cost, he said.

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Scripps President Lara Tiedens declined to disclose Scripps’ plan to pay for the building. She wrote in an email to Scripps students in January that the school had already secured a $1 million donation from Scripps trustee Jennifer McDonnell and her husband.

“Building for the sciences is expensive, and we are hopeful that other alumnae, trustees and friends of the colleges will help with this project,” Tiedens wrote in an email to TSL.

Construction will likely begin in spring 2020 and the building should be open for teaching by fall 2022, Boyle said.

CMC’s decision to pull out of the joint science department, which it had been a part of since 1964, sent shockwaves rippling through faculty groups and the student body at all three schools. But in the intervening months, some faculty members have come around.

“I think we’ve all come to realize that success of both programs is critical, that the more we can help the CMC program get going, that will only benefit us and our students in the long run,” said Keck biology professor Emily Wiley. She said the two departments will collaborate in some ways.

Wiley is starting a temporary associate dean of curriculum position at CMC in July to help with the transition.

Additionally, two committees have been formed to solicit faculty feedback on the future of the science departments — one for Pitzer-Scripps and another for CMC. Several Keck professors have volunteered to serve on the CMC committee, Wiley said.

Of course, not everyone is ready to let the issue slide.

A letter circulated by Scripps and Pitzer alumni in response to CMC’s withdrawal has been signed by more than 150 people, and encourages alumni to donate only to Keck until several issues are resolved. Specifically, the letter asks Keck to construct an additional building, hire more tenure track professors and add a career adviser to help students applying to graduate school.

Although Keck has struggled with funding since its founding, many of us were able to thrive due to the student-focused atmosphere and the dedication of our professors,” the letter states. “While we know those aspects will never change, we are concerned that Claremont McKenna’s withdrawal from the department will exacerbate the already significant funding problems.”

Nearly 70 percent of the people who signed the letter indicated they wanted their donations to go directly to Keck, according to Michelle Ozaki SC ’16, one of the alumni who crafted the letter. It’s unclear how much money could be raised this way.

The exodus of nearly a third of Keck’s students — which will likely not occur for three years, according to CMC Dean of Faculty Peter Uvin — could benefit those who remain. Pitzer and Scripps hope to reduce the average Keck class size from 28 to 19 students, Boyle said.

Another goal, he said, is to increase the department’s tenure-track-to-visiting-professor ratio. The goal is 5.3 tenure track professors for every one visiting professor. The current ratio is 1.4 to one.

“The reliance on visitors has been the crux of the problem,” Boyle wrote. But Keck needs the new building to open before it can start hiring more tenure track professors, as more tenured faculty will require more labs, he said.

Plans to expand Keck’s physical building aren’t new. The science department first proposed a new building back in July 2006, according to Boyle Ke CM ’99, a 19-year Keck employee.

Those plans fell through. In fall 2014, Keck tried once again to kickstart construction for a new building, but was unsuccessful.

Nigel Boyle, the Pitzer dean, said Keck began working on the current plans for a new building with all three colleges in fall 2016. Last spring, CMC began having “second thoughts.”

The plans are now being crafted with the assumption that CMC will leave Keck, said Keck Dean Ulysses Sofia.

Boyle described the current plan as “concrete,” though Sofia noted that the plans are not yet finalized.

Wiley, the biology professor, is optimistic about the new building, but has been around to long enough to remember previous promises of a new building.

“There are some older faculty like me who remain very skeptical,” said Wiley, who’s been at Keck for 17 years. “But I think we see a sense of urgency that we did not perceive before. It really seems like if not now, then when?”

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Meghan Bobrowsky

Meghan Bobrowsky SC '21 is a politics major from Davis, California. She is currently a managing editor at TSL and previously served as a life & style editor and video editor.

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