Many Pomona College alumni are pledging to withhold donations to the college until the dining hall workers and the administration have signed a labor peace agreement.
At press time, more than 150 alumni pledges had been made public. According to Peter Kunhs PO ’98, who has helped raise awareness of this issue among alumni, these responses represent “just the beginning.” He expects the number to swell in upcoming weeks in response to his initiative to organize more alumni this week.
Kuhns suggested there is a disconnect between alumni and the administration.
“There are a lot of alumni that view caring about the college as also caring about the workers,” Kuhns said. “What’s troubling is that the administration doesn’t seem to share that view.”
Leanne Ulvang PO ’72, who has pledged to withhold donations, expressed concern at the approach the administration is taking.
“It looks like there’s been, from almost the get-go, an adversarial kind of a process going on on the part of the administration, and that dismays me,” she said. “When I give money to the college, I do it because I feel like it’s investing in the future. But if the future is going to look like a bunch of people modeling the behavior that this administration is modeling … I just don’t want to participate.”
Ulvang said she has donated to the college ever since she graduated, except in 1999-2000 when the dining hall labor issue was raised under President Peter William Stanley’s administration.
She said the current administration already made an improvement over that era’s by posting their correspondence with the workers, but she suggested the administration’s overall tone is still adversarial this time around.
Pomona College President David Oxtoby said he had spoken with some alumni about the labor issue during an Alumni Weekend session last May, but added he has not talked to alumni about the labor dispute since then.
On Tuesday, Francisco Dueas PO ’99 and alumni board member Vicky Ramos PO ’98 sent out an e-mail to approximately 7,000 Pomona alumni, explaining their decision to join in the withholding of donations and encouraging other alumni to do the same.
“After many months,” Ramos and Dueas wrote, “there has not been any progress between the College and dining hall workers in reaching an agreement on a fair process to determine whether the workers choose to unionize. And as much as we love the College, we are very troubled, frustrated, and disheartened by this situation.”
The letter goes on to explain that Ramos and Dueas discussed their concerns with Oxtoby, “particularly the need for the administration to be neutral during the workers’ union vote.”
The e-mail also offers a link to Pomona College’s review of the issue on the college website, as well as Workers for Justice’s review of the issue, where the alumni pledge is stated in full.
Oxtoby said that their message “does not match a Pomona-quality analysis of the situation” and that it “hasn’t gotten a lot of positive response from the people I’ve talked to.”
“I think the workers really want to run this process themselves,” Oxtoby said. ”I don’t think they want lots of people—whether it’s alumni, students, faculty, anyone—taking it over from them, and that’s fine. Ultimately, the workers are going to have to agree with the administration on some type of process to reach a decision. I don’t think that alumni being involved for or against unionization is going to play that big a role.”
Dining hall worker and organizer Christian Torres disagreed with Oxtoby. After reading Ramos and Dueas’ letter, he said he was pleased that the alumni are organizing and at the fact that “important people are contributing to our cause.”
In expressing her desire for the administration to take up a process “consistent with the values of Pomona,” Ulvang said, “I don’t know how to solve any of the problems. I do know, however, that if you follow the kind of process that I was taught at Pomona it will more likely have a happier resolution.”
Ulvang, who had a career in management after graduating from Pomona in 1972, argued that the college management’s “role has a lot of power and influence and is therefore kind of more responsible for setting the tone.”
The announcement of the first round of pledges corresponded with the Daring Minds Campaign kick-off, said Ulvang, who was emphatic that that she would like to see “bold unconventionality” coming from the administration.
Both Kuhns and President Oxtoby emphasized that it is important for alumni to get fully educated on the issue, but the two had differing views on the withholding of donations.
“If [the alumni] feel that the college is doing the wrong thing,” Oxtoby said, “they can respectfully advise us to do something different, but to me the linking of that to donations is … a form of coercion, that you’re hurting the college that you care about.”
“No one is interested in harming the college,” Kuhns said. “All of us are doing this because we love the college and believe that it can be an even better place.”