Pomona Announces Finalists for Dean of College Search, Diversity Concerns Arise

Pomona College recently announced the three finalists for the position of Vice President of Academic Affairs and Dean of the College (VPAA/Dean).

Claremont McKenna College Literature Professor Audrey Bilger, Pomona English Professor Kevin Dettmar, and Pomona Biology Professor Len Seligman are the three final candidates for the position. Each candidate went through a series of interviews with members of the Pomona community over the past several days. Once selected, the new dean will take over from Betsy Crighton, the interim dean of the college.

Some members of the Pomona community have expressed concerns about the lack of racial diversity among the three finalists, all of whom are white. Pomona's strategic plan for diversity, Lighting the Path, said that Pomona was aiming to “bring faculty, senior leadership, and the Board of Trustees into closer alignment with student body demographics” in terms of race/ethnicity and gender.

Currently, however, every member of Pomona's senior leadership—the president and vice presidents—is white. 

“To me inclusivity and equity is about representation and also about track records, and I know that the candidates (at least the two internal candidates) have track records that can inform how they would deal with diversity, inclusion and equity if they were selected Dean,” wrote Associate Dean of the College Fernando Lozano, a member of the President's Advisory Committee on Diversity, in an email to TSL.

Last spring, the faculty and administration decided to restrict the search for a new VPAA/Dean to 5C candidates rather than doing a national search, as had been done in the past. An email was then sent out to faculty members calling for nominations. Faculty could self-nominate or nominate others to be candidates.

The Faculty Search Committee for the new dean of the college then contacted nominees asking them if they wished to become a candidate. Those who became candidates had to submit a curriculum vitae and had an hour-long interview with Pomona President David Oxtoby and the other members of the Faculty Search Committee. From these candidates, the Committee narrowed it down to three finalists.

After being selected as a finalist, each of the candidates went through several interviews, including meetings with Pomona students, Oxtoby, the Vice Presidents of Pomona, college staff, Crighton, the President’s Advisory Committee on Diversity, the staff of the dean of college office, as well as a lunchtime forum open to all faculty, a separate meeting with just untenured faculty and a call with some of the trustees.

The student interview committee was made up of students who could make at least two of the three interviews. Based on two opening meetings, where students brainstormed questions, ASPC Commissioner of Academic Affairs Christina Tong PO ‘17 and VPAA/Dean Search Student Coordinator Aaron Sege PO ’18 wrote up a list of interview questions that included subjects such as creating a diverse faculty, student engagement and grade inflation. They revised the questions after an open comment period to which eights students responded.

“We are looking for a Dean who is willing to listen to and work with students, who will be committed to increasing diversity amongst the faculty, and who will support the needs of a diverse student body,” Tong wrote in an email to TSL. “We are looking for a Dean who will have a broad growth vision for Pomona that balances humanities, social sciences, STEM, international initiatives, pre-professional programs, and a liberal arts focus.”

The members of the student interview committee submitted a Qualtrics survey, rating a candidate’s strength and weaknesses after each interview. After all the interviews were finished, they also gave a joint opinion to the faculty search committee about their thoughts on each candidate.

“The interviews have gone well. We’ve had candid and informative talks with the candidates. I feel we have a good sense of how the candidates would interact with students and the vision and mindset they would bring to the dean’s office,” Tong said.

Students brought up the issue of student representation in the hiring process. In response to these requests, Aaron Sege PO '18 was appointed to help solicit feedback about the candidates from students, although students still did not belong to the faculty search committee for the new dean.

According to the job description, “The VPAA/Dean serves as the chief academic officer, and plays a leading role in shaping and sustaining the intellectual life of the Pomona community. Working collaboratively with the faculty, the President and the senior leadership team, the VPAA/Dean is responsible for coordinating and supporting academic programs, teaching and research.”

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