Pomona College’s longtime Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students Miriam Feldblum has left the college to become Executive Director of the Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration, President G. Gabrielle Starr announced in an email to Pomona students Tuesday morning.
Feldblum, who had served as vice president and dean since 2007, was on sabbatical this semester to study immigration policy issues at New America, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank. She previously took a sabbatical in spring 2016 to work as a visiting fellow at the Migration Policy Institute.
The Presidents’ Alliance is a new initiative that advocates for the legislative interests of immigrant, undocumented, and international students on college campuses. Starr recently joined the alliance, along with former Pomona President David Oxtoby, the co-chair of the alliance’s steering committee.
“When President [Emeritus] Oxtoby asked me to join the initiative to launch the Presidents' Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration … this past fall, it was such an exceptional and meaningful opportunity,” Feldblum wrote in an email to TSL.
She credits her background as an immigration scholar and her work on campus supporting students and partnering with other campuses as her motivations for joining the initiative.
“For so many, this past year tremendously increased the urgency to act and support immigrant, undocumented, and international students, families, faculty, staff not just at Pomona or the Claremont Colleges, but also nationally … and it was important for me to commit to this work for a longer term than just the sabbatical,” she wrote.
The alliance chose well in selecting Feldblum as its director, Starr wrote.
“The higher education community is fortunate to have someone of Dean Feldblum’s talent, knowledge, and experience step into the leadership of the Presidents’ Alliance,” she wrote.
Feldblum’s longtime colleague, Associate Dean M. Ricardo Townes, offered high praise for Feldblum.
“[Feldblum] brought a tenacity to the job, to her work, that I’ve never seen in another colleague. This is my 40th year in higher education, and I don’t have a comparison,” Townes said.
In particular, she was available night and day to students by email and was relentless in pushing for projects to advance Pomona and the 5Cs, Townes said.
During her time as Dean of Students, Feldblum instituted and expanded a variety of programs across the 5Cs, including the Draper Center, student cohorts, academic support initiatives, bystander training, access to on- and off-campus mental health services, and emergency grant funds for students, according to Starr and Townes.
She also helped bring the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship program to the 5Cs, develop Pomona’s Quest Chapter, expand the Queer Resource Center to become a 7C resource, and establish the Student Disability Resource Center and the EmPOWER center, Starr said.
Feldblum played a significant role in elevating Pomona’s national profile and reputation, Townes said. He praised her for her work supporting undocumented students, which he said was unparalleled by other administrators across the country.
“Her legacy will last a hell of a long time because of some of the outstanding work she put in as a fierce fighter for students, for student experience,” Townes said.
The Student Affairs division also faced its share of challenges throughout Feldblum’s tenure, including the controversial hiring and firing of Jonathan Higgins as QRC director last summer and accusations in December 2017 that the Title IX office mishandled sexual assault cases.
Similar accusations of mishandling of sexual assault cases surfaced repeatedly while Feldblum led Student Affairs. Pomona was subject to a complaint to the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights from 11 students in October 2015.
The Student Affairs office has also faced criticism for its handling of mental health issues. Yi Li PO ’16 criticized the Office of Student Affairs’ response to an incident of self-harm, including involuntary hospitalization, and a ban from on-campus housing.
Townes believes the more controversial incidents during Feldblum’s tenure not detract from her overall positive record, and encouraged people to evaluate her entire legacy, instead of judging it on a few recent issues.
“If you look at the whole body of work, I think it’s a no-brainer that Dean Feldblum’s impact on this community has been profound in a positive way,” he said. “No one can argue with the facts … about the things that she accomplished.”
Starr did not announce Pomona’s plans for the search for Feldblum’s successor. During Feldblum’s sabbatical, Janet Smith Dickerson, a former vice president at Princeton University and Duke University, has been serving as acting dean and vice president.