After serving 25 years as the director of the Marian Miner Cook Athenaeum, Bonnie Snortum will be retiring June 30, when a new director will be instated. Jeff Huang, vice president of student affairs, admissions, and financial aid at Claremont McKenna College, is spearheading the search for
a new director of what is commonly called the Ath, a formal dining venue that hosts speakers at lunch and dinner Monday through Friday while classes are in session.
“There’s nothing ‘ordinary’ about [the] search
for the Director of the Athenaeum,” Huang wrote in an email to TSL. “This
position doesn’t exist at other colleges, and it doesn’t come open very
Huang wrote that the search committee is seeking “someone who gets excited about the possibility of bringing smart, creative, interesting speakers with great ideas to an educational community.”
CMC students emphasized the importance of continuing the Athenaeum’s role as a conversation-starter on campus.
“It is important that the Ath maintain its status as a place for intellectual discourse,” wrote Melissa Becker CM ’14, who is serving on the advisory committee, in an email to TSL. “This discourse includes a variety of speakers that have controversial points of view.”
“I like the direction we are going in, with the LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender] speakers and bringing in people with creative backgrounds like directors and writers instead,” Kayililani Minami CM ’17 wrote. “I would like to see more athletes.”
Becker emphasized Snortum’s range of interests.
“I think it is most important that the new director, like Bonnie, is polymathic,” she wrote. “Bonnie does an excellent job of bringing a wide range of speakers to the Ath.”
Snortum discussed the importance of having a variety of speakers who challenge student ideas.
“We do students a disservice if we do not bring people with differing points of view—listen, debate, and make up one’s own mind,” she wrote in an email to TSL.
Ben Tillotson CM ’15, one of the Athenaeum’s two student fellows who are responsible for helping select speakers and introducing them at dinner talks, hopes that the new director will continue Snortum’s legacy.
“I think the Ath has a really good thing going that Bonnie has established,” Tillotson said. “If the new person has new ideas to make it better that would be fantastic, but as long as they keep up the great work that the Ath is doing currently, I would be happy.”
Responsibilities of the position include inviting and
scheduling distinguished guests to speak or perform at the Athenaeum, supervising
guest accommodations and preparations for each event, monitoring the
Athenaeum’s budget, and maintaining open communication with faculty members and students. The search committee that will interview finalists and make the final decision includes Huang; history professor Lisa Cody, the chair of the
Athenaeum Advisory Committee; and the students, faculty members, and Athenaeum staff members who make up the advisory committee.
Students will be involved in the hiring process in ways beyond serving on the committee, according to Huang.
“When we bring candidates to campus, several students
will meet them on either the Athenaeum Advisory Committee, or during an open
session for students,” he wrote.
Although the Athenaeum is popular on CMC’s campus, not all students are aware that there
is a search for a new director.
“I did not know the Ath was hiring a new director,” Adriana Lopez CM ’17 wrote in an email to TSL.
Despite being previously unaware of the search, Lopez wrote that she hopes that the new director “will not be
afraid to take risks and invite a more diverse range of speakers, even if they
are not what the Ath would typically invite.”