On Tuesday, Apr. 12 at 5:15 p.m., a meeting was held in the Smith Campus Center (SCC) to gather students’ input on Pomona College’s search for a new president. The leaders of the meeting were Mary Gorman and Michele Haertel, representatives from Spencer Stuart, a consulting firm that helps pair institutions with leadership. Both Gorman and Haertel specialize in finding leaders for the education field.
Gorman and Haertel stated that they were best able to pair educational institutions with leadership only after they had heard the voices of all stakeholders involved, stressing the importance of including student voices in this process. The meeting was open to all Pomona students, nine of whom were in attendance, including several Associated Students of Pomona College (ASPC) members.
The students were asked several simple questions, including: What is it about Pomona that so attracted you? What are the opportunities out there to make Pomona an even better place? What are the qualities of a President that would facilitate that?
Gorman and Haertel told the group that they wanted to get an idea about what Pomona students liked most and least about the institution, so they can help put forward presidential candidates that match Pomona’s strengths and weaknesses.
The praise and complaints were fairly unanimous among students attending the forum. Many of the students agreed that they came to Pomona for its academic excellence, non-competitive atmosphere, and liberal arts education and have stayed for those things as well as the quality of the people: faculty, staff and students.
They were also in agreement about the improvements they wished to see: a large majority of the students in the room said that they or their friends had had negative experiences with financial aid. Many students expressed concerns about the dichotomy between Pomona’s celebration of the socioeconomic diversity of its students and the less-than-consistent support of the financial aid office.
Many of the students expressed interest in a president who would encourage further bureaucratic transparency and administrative action on behalf of students. They were complimentary of current president David Oxtoby’s office hours, and expressed hope that the next president would continue that tradition or begin a similar one.
Yerika Reyes PO ’17, the only student on the Presidential Search Committee, wrote in an email to TSL, “In our current campus climate, it is imperative that our new president have an understanding that with increase of diversity in students different and new resources and approaches to learning, engaging, and living at Pomona are needed. It is important that a college president be aware of the types of experiences that marginalized students are having.”
Sophia Sun PO ’18, who attended the meeting, agrees with Reyes’ assessment.
“The president should be very aware of supporting the diverse student body that Pomona strives so earnestly to attract. The president should be approachable and responsive to student concerns,” she said.
Another concern addressed at the meeting included the increase in STEM majors at Pomona over the last several years.
“There are currently double the number of STEM majors as non-STEM majors, and one student mentioned that this could in part be due to the presence of the science and math cohorts that attract and support students in science and math from the very beginning of their college careers, whereas no similar cohorts exist for students interested in non-STEM majors,” Sun wrote.
Sun also wrote that meetings about the presidential search process will continue, and “the consultants are also planning on meeting with more specific groups of students at a later time.”
“Everyone who was present contributed significantly to the conversation, and expanded my understanding of the diverse range of experiences that Pomona students have,” Sun said. “I was really impressed with how knowledgeable the students were about Pomona's values and the factors that influence the distinct culture of our school.”
Reyes concluded by writing, “A college president must understand the history of Pomona College and the communities that have fought very hard to find space on this campus. A president needs to support this community in order to continue making Pomona a dynamic and safe place of higher education.”