Before officially leaving Pitzer College on June 30, President Laura Trombley wrote an op-ed for the Chronicle of Higher Education published April 6. In it, she writes, “‘Please don’t let me be the one to…’ Fill in the blank: melt down, ruin the college, get a vote of no confidence, underperform, embarrass myself.”
One of Trombley's fears came true when the Pitzer faculty voted no confidence on her position as president during a June 22 faculty meeting, eight days before her final day at the college, signifying that they had lost confidence in her ability to carry out her position.
According to Pitzer history professor Andre Wakefield, faculty wanted to send a message to prospective presidential candidates that Pitzer takes issues of shared governance seriously, a system in which the president and the board of trustees share decision-making with faculty, students and staff.
“It wasn't a no confidence vote because we thought she ran the college badly in every respect,” Wakefield said. “It was a no confidence vote based on ignoring the principles of shared governance. There's an ongoing presidential search process; you want to send a message, to the extent possible, about what we expect our president to do, which is to share governance with the faculty.”
According to the minutes of the June 22 Faculty Executive Committee (FEC) meeting, faculty members also expressed concerns about “the president’s decision to stop attending regular FEC Friday meetings, while designating Thomas Poon to attend in her stead; the decision to replace the Redford Center Director, without consulting FEC; the decision to appoint Tom Poon as interim president, without consulting FEC; and the decision to terminate Dean Poston, without consulting FEC.”
During the meeting, the faculty also passed a motion to reinstate Muriel Poston, who was dismissed from the position last year, as dean of faculty. The motion was brought to the Board of Trustees, who offered no response.
Anthropology professor Dan Segal said that Trombley notified Poston of her dismissal abruptly and without offering an explanation to the faculty. The decision was made confidentially between the president and the board of trustees, without input from the FEC.
Poston said that she found the involvement of the board of trustees “very distressing and disturbing.”
According to Poston, she received positive evaluations during her first two years as dean of faculty. During her third year, she received no evaluation and was informed by the Board of Trustees and the college's lawyer that she would not be reappointed for the coming academic year.
Chance Kawar PZ ’17 said that he believes the termination of Dean Poston to be “one of many instances where President Trombley maybe fell short on her responsibility to make sure she's including all voices on campus.”
Following the termination of Muriel Poston as dean of faculty, the board of trustees moved to instate Keck professor Katie Purvis-Roberts, now the associate dean of faculty, as the interim dean of faculty. Purvis-Roberts’ candidacy was denied by the FEC, who recommended Nigel Boyle instead. Boyle, interim dean of faculty, declined to comment for this article.
Segal said that the decision-making process about an academic figure like the dean of faculty should involve faculty members.
“The board of trustees in this college—like the ex-president—have grievously damaged the college by violating the principles of shared governance and disrespecting the faculty's expertise,” Segal said.
Segal called for the faculty to “take an action where it expresses its strong disapproval of the conduct of the Board of Trustees. What has been done so far is timid and inadequate.”