Former Bernard Field Station (BFS) Manager Stephen Dreher is no longer employed by the Claremont University Consortium (CUC) and will vacate his on-site residence.
CUC, which supervises the BFS, could not confirm that Stephen was fired and could not comment on the reason for his departure as CUC personnel matters are confidential, CUC Vice President for Student Affairs and Chief Administrative Officer John Beckman wrote in an e-mail.
However, student and faculty sources said their understanding was that Stephen was fired by CUC after complaints were brought forward by faculty at Harvey Mudd College that Dreher permitted underage students to consume alcohol on the BFS premises.
Beckman could only confirm that “the CUC initiated an investigation based on reports from faculty to the Academic Deans’ Committee.”
Students for the BFS, a 5C club that works to promote the BFS and raise awareness about its importance as an ecological and educational resource, held regular social gatherings at the field station.
“What one of our professors told us is that Students for the BFS, I think every other week, they’ve been having these sort of get-togethers, parties, whatever you want to call it, up there,” said Bryan Roth PO ’11, a biology major who has been doing his thesis research at the BFS. “At the last one, there was a professor who noticed there was underage drinking going on, and it got reported. Long story short, Stephen ended up getting fired.”
Acacia Hori PZ ’13, Co-President of Students for the BFS, confirmed that the club held socials that involved alcohol, but maintained that the main purpose of those gatherings was to encourage students to come up to the field station and experience the area in person.
“We would have such a hard time garnering student support without that social aspect,” she said, explaining that the goal of the socials was “just to get people up there, get people aware of what resources there are.”
“There have been rumors that take the last social out of context (hundreds of students, loud and raucous drunk people … versus the reality of roughly 35 people sitting on the floor in the outdoor classroom listening to an acoustic performance) and served to exacerbate an already precarious situation,” she added in a later e-mail to The Student Life.
Students and faculty were surprised at how quickly and unilaterally the decision was made.
“Problems have been traditionally solved by the faculty that used to be the advisory board [for the BFS], but that was disbanded in the middle of Keck stuff,” said Pomona biology professor Rachel Levin, referring to the 1997-2001 controversy over a proposal to construct Keck Graduate University buildings on a portion of the BFS, which was never realized. Levin said CUC usually makes decisions about the BFS after consulting a group made up of one biology professor from each of the 5Cs—the vestiges of the dissolved advisory board.
“I’m surprised … that there wasn’t some attempt made, by the people who complained, to deal with [Dreher] or the group of faculty,” she said. “That never happened, and that’s always happened in the 20 years I’ve been here.”
Beckman declined to comment on why the decision was made so quickly.
Hori said she believes the decision to fire Dreher was made with ulterior motives.
Hori became involved with Students for the BFS after doing significant research on the history of the field station, including reading “student thesis papers, voting/city council records, and all the articles from local news outlets I could find back to the early 70s” and learning about “past battles won and lost” from Dreher himself.
“I got involved mostly with the interest to figure out who actually had data on their side, and whether this is just another one of those things that students like to protest about without knowing anything about,” she said.
Hori’s research led her to conclude that CUC’s prior management of the resource revealed ambivalence, if not opposition, toward its preservation.
“I don’t think alcohol was the heart of the issue [in this case]. I think it was definitely a political move … especially with the other things that are going on in upper management,” Hori said. “I think it’s very sneaky. It was just a really convenient thing to happen [for CUC].”
Hori believes that when faculty from Harvey Mudd College brought the alcohol issue forward, CUC saw it as an opportunity to gain more control over the field station.
“The main thing is they want him out of there, because having somebody up there means that there’s someone up there to keep them accountable,” she said. “If CUC decides to fence off the Harvey Mudd property … now there’s no one up there to tell them they can’t do that. If they decide that they don’t want to allow access to someone, they can. And [then] if there’s no one up there, they can easily say, ‘Well this isn’t even being used … so there’s no reason to not build on it.’”
Apart from the political ramifications of losing the BFS manager, students and faculty alike pointed out ecological and educational consequences.
“The least of what the manager does is coordinate the use of different areas and different animals. That requires some know-how and background, but that’s pretty administrative,” said Levin. “The more critical thing the manager does is actually manage the land.”
Levin said Dreher was valuable for his vast knowledge, built up over 10 years of service, of the nuances of caring for the field station.
“Yes, there are notes and stuff, but … it’s more than what’s written down,” she said. “There’s a lot of on the ground—what works, what doesn’t … have we seen the coyotes in that part of the field station before … knowing what deals have been struck with the fire department.”
“A lot of the stuff he does, we never really see,” Roth said. “We just see the field station continuing to survive, and it was his work that helped keep a lot of that going. He helped keep invasive plants out of there, invasive animals.”
Levin said under normal circumstances, such as if Dreher decided to resign because he had completed his graduate program at the Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden, he would likely spend a number of months working on updating a comprehensive manual and training his replacement.
“The Field Station itself is put at risk when the manager is removed instantaneously without transfer of knowledge,” she said.
Levin, Roth, and Hori all expressed concern about the field station’s future under new and uncertain management.
“I think the worry is we are going to get someone in there who is less invested in maintaining the field station and would not be as opposed to development,” said Roth. “I think for myself, and for a fair number of other students, we’re sort of worried about the process to replace him … because one of the deans who’s in charge of it is the dean up at HMC, and HMC has been one of the schools that’s been pushing fairly strongly to eliminate the BFS, or at least a portion of it.”
“Depending on who gets the responsibility of allowing access to the BFS, it could either be just fine or absolutely detrimental,” Hori said. “Right now, my understanding is that they’re trying to pull together faculty who are volunteering to be on a committee, an ad hoc committee, but to me it sounds like the people who are supposedly interested … have other agendas.”
“There are people stepping in who are mostly coordinating usage,” Levin said. “Even if they did want to take care of the station, they don’t know how, and that’s what really worries me.”
Beckman wrote that CUC would ensure that the field station would continue to be taken care of, even while lacking a manager.
“CUC has been working closely with the Chair of the Academic Deans’ Committee (ADC) to develop an interim management process until the position is filled,” Beckman wrote in an e-mail. “Currently, no projects have been interrupted and CUC and the Academic Deans are committed to making sure that continuing and new projects run smoothly.”
CUC has said it will begin looking for a new manager, but no details about the timeline for that search have been revealed.
“I don’t think they’re going to get student input, which is kind of silly because students are supposed to be the ones who are using it,” said Liza Baskir PZ ’11, Co-President of Students for the BFS. “We haven’t tried [to contact them], but I don’t think they’d be very open to it … I don’t think that they really have the students’ best interest at heart.”
Baskir and Hori said Students for the BFS would continue to work to raise students’ awareness about the issue.
“I think it’s unfortunate, what happened, but it doesn’t mean the death of the field station. It doesn’t mean that anybody’s giving up. It just means that we have to choose new ways and new fronts to operate,” Hori said. “I think that the capability is in the hands of the faculty and the students who are interested … I’m confident that we’ll be able to figure something out on our own.”
Jordan Cohen contributed to the reporting for this article.