A look back: Lara Tiedens’ legacy after five years at Scripps College

A woman with short brown hair and large hoop earrings wearing a white shirt and blue blazer stands in front of white columns and smiles.
Scripps College President Lara Tiedens steps down April 15 after 5 years of working at the college. (Courtesy: Scripps College)

Lara Tiedens’ short term as president of Scripps College came to an end April 15, 2021, a position she began at the start of the 2016-2017 academic year. She will continue her career in New York as executive director of the Schwarzman Scholars program, according to an email she sent last year. 

“Throughout my time here, I’ve kept close to my mind the Ellen Browning Scripps quotation engraved on Honnold Gate. Scripps is meant to be a place that generates confidence, courage and hope, and everything I’ve worked hard on here was oriented towards promoting and producing institutional confidence, courage and hope,” Tiedens said in an email to TSL. 

One of her most prominent accomplishments came recently when the Presidential Scholarship Initiative — which she began in 2017 to financially assist the college’s lowest-income students — reached its goal of $10 million. 

Looking back at her presidency, Tiedens said she is also proud of the college’s collaboration with the Keck Science Department as it transitions from a three-college department to a two-college department with just Scripps and Pitzer College. 

“The most memorable part of my term has been the superb people I have met at Scripps — from students, to faculty, to staff, to alums, to trustees, to members of the consortium — I have met people who inspire me and with whom I will be lifelong friends,” Tiedens said. 

Although short, Tiedens’ presidency has not gone without struggles and missteps. 

In Tiedens’ first year as president, Scripps’ residential advisors went on strike April 2017 following what RAs at the time called an inadequate and unsupportive administrative response to the death of fellow classmate and RA Tatissa Zunguze SC ’18. A list of demands hand-delivered to Tiedens April 13 called for the resignation of Charlotte Johnson, current dean of students and vice president of student affairs, as well as increased transparency from the college about financial aid. 

The start of the 2017-2018 academic year further mired Tiedens’ reputation with her student body when the student housing crisis displaced 38 first-year students due to over-enrollment that year. Disgruntled students were relocated to off-campus housing at Claremont Graduate University and primarily relied on Scripps’ irregular shuttle bus service to commute to campus daily. 

Amanda Martinez SC ’20 was not surprised at Tiedens’ exit from Scripps after just five years.  

“This school cycles presidents out quite a bit,” Martinez said. “I would like to see a president who cares about the students more, or at least stay in this industry more.”

Martinez feels that Scripps could allocate their finances much better than they already do, criticizing in particular the college’s decision to furlough nearly 60 staff amid the pandemic August 2020. 

“I get alum emails all the time asking for donations. Student activists have taken a look at the Scripps budget several times and called the school out for not prioritizing the right things. Hopefully the next president will try to improve relationships with the students and recent alums; maybe then we’d be more willing to donate or say better things about how they are running Scripps,” she said. 

When TSL asked a Scripps spokesperson for comment, TSL received a statement from Lynne Thompson SC ’72, chair of the board of trustees.

Throughout her presidency, President Tiedens and her senior team responded to student activists individually and collectively in meetings and written communications, and incorporated student activists’ perspectives in policy and program development,” Thompson said.

“President Tiedens led [Scripps] with distinction, and the college flourished academically, reputationally and financially during her tenure,” Thompson said. 

She also cited that the average tenure of college presidents is six and a half years as of 2016. She also stated that Tiedens’ five-year tenure “has remained in line with this national trend,” although previous presidents have served for six and 17 years respectively, Thompson said. 

Tiedens acknowledged that the COVID-19 pandemic has been “an intense and complicated year,” the negative effects of which will take a long time to recover from. She also noted that the college faces “long-standing challenges creating the equitable and inclusive environment we strive for.”

However, Tiedens is optimistic for what the future of Scripps looks like. 

“Scripps is in an incredibly strong position. Every year, Scripps gets better on many important metrics, including student profile, academic quality, financial strength and institutional reputation,” she said. 

According to Thompson, Scripps was “one of the very few institutions able to keep its workforce completely intact with no layoffs” and “worked to ensure that all employees whose hours were reduced received state funds to replace lost wages.” 

“The college is looking forward to beginning its financial recovery next academic year and one of the first priorities is to restore hours for employees who were most negatively impacted and to increase compensation and benefits for all employees,” Thompson said. 

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