Members of the Pomona College Board of Trustees will meet with students today for the 14th annual Trustee-Student Retreat. We hope that students and trustees will both take full advantage of this opportunity for a productive conversation about the future of the college.
Today’s Trustee-Student Retreat will be the first since the trustee-initiated work authorization investigation that led to the firings of 17 Pomona employees. In the wake of the firings, some students complained that trustees seemed detached from the campus and indifferent toward the college’s staff. In response, Pomona established a temporary committee—the Trustee-Student Task Force on Campus Community Communication—to build a closer, more collaborative relationship between students and trustees.
This task force succeeded in convincing the Board of Trustees to add several student positions to trustee committees. Yet it remains to be seen whether the relationship between trustees and students is any less distant than it was in past years. If today’s discussions are substantive and honest, that will be a welcome sign of change.
The topic of this retreat is “Pomona College at 125 years: Who are we? What are our values? What are we known for?” With such broad questions on the agenda, the direction of the conversation will depend almost entirely on the attitudes of the people in the room. Students and trustees could choose to spend four hours rehearsing vague clichés about the importance of community and the value of a liberal arts education. Alternatively, they could hold a rigorous, respectful debate about how Pomona should develop its image in the coming years.
In order to realize the latter possibility, students and trustees must take each other seriously. Students need to realize that the trustees are here to play a vital role in the governance of the college, not just to donate money and provide networking opportunities. Trustees should acknowledge that the board needs student input in order to design more effective policies.