After serving as the president of Pitzer College for nearly 13 years, Laura Skandera Trombley will resign from her post effective June 30, 2015. The Dec. 2 announcement comes in the midst of Trombley’s semester-long sabbatical.
Trombley has accepted a job as the president of The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens in San Marino, Calif. She will become the first female in the institution’s 87-year history to hold the position and the third consecutive president of a liberal arts college to take the helm.
“As a humanities scholar, this is a place where I have done a lot of research, and it’s a place that I know well—I even used to go there as a kid—so it really was an irresistible opportunity,” Trombley said in an interview with TSL.
Reflecting on her career, Trombley said she hopes that her work and her actions “created more opportunities for students and bettered the learning environment at Pitzer.”
Stewart Smith PO ’68, the chair of The Huntington’s Board of Trustees and a Pomona trustee, wrote in an email to TSL that Trombley was chosen after a nine-month search that began with 200 candidates.
“Laura is a woman of fierce intellect, a solid leader with tremendous energy and a strong vision for how to continue to build on The Huntington’s substantial strengths,” Stewart wrote. “More broadly, she is a passionate proponent of the humanities who articulates their value and fundamental importance in such a convincing manner that we knew without a doubt she would be the right person to lead The Huntington at this time.”
Trombley will be returning to Pitzer this January to serve one final semester as head of the college before handing the reins to Thomas Poon, who will again take charge as Interim President during the 2015-16 academic school year. Poon is serving as Interim President this semester while Trombley is on sabbatical and intends to continue working closely with the President’s office to ensure a smooth transition.
“Because I am going to be Interim President next year, it makes sense for me to still be involved in administrative deliberations, committees, meetings and other special projects,” Poon said. “One of the most challenging parts of my job this semester was not knowing what happened last year, so I feel this continuity will make for a smoother transition.”
Some have speculated that Poon may himself be a top contender to become Pitzer’s next president, a rumor that he is quick to deny. He believes that given the increasing prestige of the college, which he credits to Trombley, the position will likely attract a number of highly qualified candidates, including from other colleges and universities.
“I fully expect that we are going to see people with tremendous administrative experience applying,” Poon said. “This is going to be one of the top presidential positions at liberal arts colleges next year.”
Pitzer’s Board of Trustees has selected Trustee Donald Gould PO ’79 to head a presidential search committee to find Trombley’s permanent replacement. An important figure at Pitzer, Gould chaired the Climate Change Working Group that formulated Pitzer’s divestment plan.
“I’m sure my fellow Board members would agree that we look to Pitzer’s future with great enthusiasm,” Gould wrote in an e-mail to TSL. “We are excited as we embark upon this next chapter in the college’s history.”
The committee will begin the presidential search process next year. Gould wrote that the board of trustees is just beginning to organize the selection process, which includes deciding how to form the full search committee.
“We will actively seek input from all of Pitzer’s many constituencies as we move forward,” Gould wrote.
Ryan Daly PZ ’16, who serves as Vice Chair of the Pitzer Student Senate, hopes the Board of Trustees will decide to include students in the committee in light of the college’s long tradition of student governance.
“The Student Senate Executive Board will gladly take part in appointing students to that committee, and we hope that students are put in an active role on the committee,” Daly wrote in an email to TSL.
The Huntington President Steven Koblik wrote in an email to TSL that he is “extremely pleased to have a Claremont colleague succeed” him. Koblik was a professor of history at Pomona College from 1968 to 1988 and the Dean of the Faculty at Scripps College from 1989 to 1992. He then served as the president of Reed College until 2001, when he moved to his position at The Huntington. Koblik announced his retirement in February.
Trombley expressed a desire to preserve a strong relationship with the college as she moves on to the next step in her career.
“Pitzer has been part of my life for a long time, and I would very much like to maintain a positive connection with Pitzer for the rest of my life,” she said.
This news marks the second administrative shake-up in recent months, after Vice President of Admissions and Financial Aid Angel Perez announced he would be leaving the college next semester. He has taken a job at Trinity College in Hartford, Conn., according to a Trinity College press release.