Pomona College faculty and trustees will spend this weekend discussing the state of the college at the Trustee-Faculty Retreat at Terranea Resort in Rancho Palos Verdes.
This year’s retreat is the first in three years and the 35th overall in a tradition begun by trustee Rudolph J. Wig in 1951. Wig’s endowment continues to fund the event.
It is likely to be the largest in recent history, with roughly 30 trustees, 110 faculty members and 10 administrators, wrote Director of Donor Relations Donald Pattison in an e-mail.
“This year’s retreat focuses on three related things,” said Politics Professor David Menefee-Libey, one of the primary organizers. “First, the evolving nature of education at the college; second, the role of research in the college; and third, what the college does to prepare students for their time after Pomona.”
“There’s all these criticisms of higher education that are out there in the popular press,” said Philosophy Professor Peter Kung, who serves on the Retreat Planning Committee with Menefee-Libey and Math Professor Gizem Karaali. “We’re interested in whether any of these criticisms apply to Pomona and, if they do, what we should do about it.”
“We’re interested in discussing the role of research that faculty do themselves that informs [both] our scholarly work and our teaching,” Menefee-Libey said.
“[Pomona] wants people who are outstanding teachers and completely devoted to that. And we want top researchers, people who are known in their field,” Kung said. “I think one of the problems is that we haven’t decided as an institution. We haven’t prioritized, we think both of these are really important.”
The third agenda item is less contentious, Kung said.
“Having a liberal education is not actually in tension with a practical education,” Kung said. “I think it’s a matter of us as an institution getting clear as to how those things can fit together, how to do the career planning that’s consistent with the way we think about the value of a liberal arts education.”
The retreat is the first since the December firings of 17 Pomona dining hall workers who could not produce immigration documents by a specified deadline.
“There have been some tensions between some trustees and some faculty over the recent events,” Menefee-Libey said. “I think that sits in the background of the weekend that we’re about to begin.”
“There’s definitely a segment of the faculty that are really unhappy because of some recent cases, the firings being one of them,” Kung said.
Kung will moderate a question-and-answer discussion with a panel of trustees Friday evening.
“The way we were conceiving this panel was as a way for faculty to ask the trustees about the kind of principles they use for governing the college,” he said.
Details of the recent firings, however, are not likely to be discussed.
“There’s a committee of trustees which is looking into what happened,” Menfee-Libey said. “They’re in the middle of that investigation and they are not at a point where they can have a conversation about what they found yet.”
“Even if we’re not talking about that case specifically, we can raise questions that will have implications for that case,” Kung said. “There’s various aspects of that case that will be discussed not explicitly, but in general terms.”
“Things are a little tense right now, so people are apprehensive about spending the weekend together,” Menefee-Libey said. “But I’m optimistic it will be valuable and productive.”
“It’s a lot more charged—hopefully that’ll be a positive charge,” Kung said. “Going into past retreats, I have felt in some sizable segment of the faculty real excitement about the college. I’m not getting a huge sense of that right now.”
Menefee-Libey said the retreat will be an opportunity for communication, through structured discussions as well as casual conversation.
“That’s kind of the thing that Wig was trying to set up,” he said. “Get everybody in the same place for two or three days and just talk about what’s on their mind.”