Pomona College Associate Professor of English Toni Clark has announced she will retire at the end of the Spring 2011 semester. Clark first came to Pomona in 1983 as the Dean of Women and later served as Chair of the English Department.
Clark said she was initially attracted to the Dean of Women position because it allowed her to “focus on a number of women’s issues while developing The Women’s Union and continuing to teach.”
Clark noted that when she was applying to colleges her mother pushed her to attend Pomona, but she ended up at UC Berkeley instead, and so the notion of finally coming to Pomona as a Dean rather than a student “amused” her.
During her stay at Pomona, Clark taught courses covering a broad range of subjects, from modern, post-modern, and environmental literature to specialized classes on Chaucer, T.S. Eliot, and Virginia Woolf.
As a dean, Clark had a variety of responsibilities. She served as an advisor for students on academic, medical, and personal issues and also worked at the Women’s Union.
“Each day was quite different and often brought surprises,” Clark said.
Reflecting on her 28 years at Pomona, Clark said she loved “working with students on a wide range of issues—except judicial.” While almost all of her memories here are positive, Clark said that organizing memorials for students who died during her time here was “by far the most painful aspect of [her] job.”
“It did not occur to me when I accepted the position that students would die,” Clark said.
Still, Clark said what will really stay with her are the times when students had “emotional and intellectual awakenings” in her office and in the classroom.
“There are many [former students] who constitute a kind of extended family in my memory,” Clark said. “I will never forget them.”
As for life after Pomona, Clark said she welcomes more time to spend “digging in the dirt.” A training program for volunteers at Rancho Santa Ana Botanical Garden has also struck her fancy, and she said she has “stacks of books” that she is “eager to read and discuss with friends.”
Current Chair of the English Department Kevin Dettmar said he met Clark in 2008 when, as chair, she conducted a long-distance interview with him as a candidate to take over her post. Dettmar said that Clark helped him through the transition.
“She handed over the keys and showed me the ropes,” Dettmar said. “It’s like if I bought a house from her and the garden was just a jungle, it’s like no, no—she got it all really pruned and neat, and then I moved in.”
Dettmar explained that Clark’s talents go far beyond the administrative capacities of a department chair or dean.
“She’s very caring,” he said. “When the faculty needed someone to care for them… Toni was there. I think she’s set a pretty high bar.”
Dettmar said that he was struck very early in his time at Pomona by the special kind of relationship Clark forged with her students.
“She formed an intense pedagogical [relationship] with her students,” he said. “Toni’s often flying off to the weddings of former students that she advised, things like that.”
According to Dettmar, the English Department will not need to search for a replacement for Clark since she was not initially hired into the English Department. The school is looking to make a new hire in the English Department, however, which will bring in a professor to teach Diaspora Asian American Literature.
Dettmar described the English Department as the “most grateful home” that Clark has had and added that the impact of her departure will be felt by many. Dettmar also said he will wait a few years before trying to teach a class on Virginia Woolf after Clark leaves.
“They’re big shoes to fill,” he said. “I feel lucky to have come into the job after she’d been here. I hope she won’t go too far away.”
When asked why she decided to leave after all this time, Clark responded, “I’ll never really leave Pomona.”