Farewell, Trombley: In Defense of 13 Years of a College Presidency

Pitzer College President Laura Skandera Trombley’s “13 Years of a College Presidency,” recently published in the Chronicle of Higher Education, provides, at the very least, insight into what Trombley’s personal experience as a college president has been like. A chain of now week-and-a-half-old Pitzer student-talk emails accuse Trombley’s account of being both “bizarre and inappropriate.” Her piece has garnered an overwhelmingly negative response among much of Pitzer’s student body, with many voicing their discontent. This general consensus represents a stance that ought to be discussed in a way that is not primarily one-sided.

A few of the charges levied against Trombley’s piece are ones I initially noted myself. The piece struck an overly dramatized chord in parts, such as when Trombley wrote, “What does a presidency feel like? Like you are asleep when a fire hose is turned on full blast, pointed directly into your face.” Yes, this was odd, but for all the criticism her account has received, I believe Trombley’s piece is (for her, at least) a real and honest account of the past decade-plus and should therefore be respected as such.

This isn’t to say that everyone ought to agree with all parts of Trombley’s exposition, but she, like the rest of us, undoubtedly has the right to candidly express how she feels, even if it goes against what much of Pitzer’s student body would have liked to hear. It seems to me, from reading those student-talk emails, that some students (myself not included) perceived Trombley’s tone as one that “victimizes herself.” Others wished she’d mentioned a greater number of positive takeaways from her presidency.

If Trombley worries about “students climbing on rooftops and drinking and fighting and much worse,” so be it; those who climb on rooftops have no more right to climb on rooftops than Trombley does to worry about them. If she laments not having “time for your teeth or for regular exercise or cooking or for keeping family photo albums,” that’s fine, too. If this is how she truly feels, who is to say that Trombley isn’t entitled to her own assessment of her own lived experience? It’s her life, after all, and it’s important not to lose sight of that.

Trombley isn’t remiss to remind us of her own humanity. Contrary to the consensus reached by the prone-to-faultfinding student-talk, the president absolutely has the right to feel like pinching herself when she asks, “How did the child of two elementary school teachers, who never took the SAT and was given a disciplinary notice two weeks into her college career, wind up a college president?” It certainly isn’t my place, nor do I think it’s anyone else’s, to tell Trombley she can’t wonder how she got here.

One would be off-base to argue that she doesn’t have a lot to be proud of, both personally and for the school. To admit that her personal privacy, as well as the privacy of her family, has been breached during her presidency could very well be true. Is it not possible for Trombley to disclose certain difficulties faced during her time here while still remaining appreciative and grateful? These feelings are not mutually exclusive, but conflicting and genuine. 

This mixed sentiment is, to an extent, how I feel about my time at Pitzer, too. While I occasionally take issue with Pitzer—as evident by my current critique of these student-talk emails—I am, all in all, incredibly glad to call Pitzer my school. And this is okay.

Although the student body may not agree with every word of “13 Years of a College Presidency,” Trombley’s piece is still an insightful glimpse into a college presidency from someone who knows the job better than most. We shouldn’t necessarily praise her opinion simply because she’s dedicated the past 13 years of her life to Pitzer, but we should respect it. Her narrative is, if nothing else, an interesting read and has, at least for me, inspired many interesting discussions. 

Approaching this write-up through an anti-Trombley lens would be missing the point. Her piece is not bizarre and inappropriate; it is Trombley’s own assessment of a period in her life, to which she is absolutely entitled.

Trombley reflects, “Unquestionably, I am the fortunate one, as I have had a front-row seat to witness the changing, fascinating life of a small college.” This point was overlooked: Despite Trombley’s relative complaints about her time as president, she concludes with how truly thankful she is for the past 13 years. 

To not acknowledge this side of her humanity is to miss the point. On the flip side, maybe we should be more grateful to Trombley for all she has done to make Pitzer a unique and special place.

Dylan Arya PZ ’17 is a political studies major from
Pasadena, Calif.

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