On Nov. 7, Pomona College issued letters to 84 students, faculty, and staff members requesting that they schedule a meeting with the Office of Human Resources before Nov. 11 regarding incomplete or deficient employment authorization documents. These employees were told to submit proper documentation on or before Dec. 1 or they could face termination.
Over the course of the past week, students, staff, faculty, and community members have participated in a series of events at which they expressed their opposition to the document reviews (see story in News). This came to a head Wednesday when the Pomona College faculty voted unanimously to express their concern for the effect these reviews will have on the Pomona community and to affirm their commitment to an environment of inclusivity at the college.
And yet, the majority of Pomona students have remained largely removed from the conversation. This Editorial Board would like to clear up some confusion surrounding the document reviews, request a more complete explanation for why the reviews are necessary, and urge the student body to recognize this issue for what it is: an undermining of the values that lie at the core of this liberal arts institution.
First, we find it unlikely that the document reviews are related to Workers for Justice’s (WFJ) unionization campaign that has been ongoing since March 2010. Not only is the administration too smart to attempt to subvert the unionization campaign in this manner, if that is even its goal, but only a quarter or so of the 84 employees who received letters were dining hall employees.
Second, we are not satisfied by President Oxtoby’s explanation for why the college must re-verify its employees’ papers. Oxtoby told the community in an e-mail last week that the Board of Trustees received a complaint from an employee of the college alleging that Oxtoby and his administration were not conducting thorough document checks of its employees. But we have yet to hear an explanation for why the external audit that followed was legally required. Why did that allegation carry so much weight? As some faculty pointed out on Wednesday, these questions may require answers from the Board of Trustees. Furthermore, Oxtoby said the rapidly approaching Dec. 1 deadline was chosen out of a concern that the college could be approached by federal agencies like U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) if the documentation deficiencies are not corrected soon. But what is the foundation for that fear? We have heard of raids being conducted by ICE on corporations, but liberal arts colleges? And how would ICE have become aware of the deficiencies, many of which were clerical, if the college had chosen not to go through with an investigation prompted by unfounded allegations?
This leads to our third point: Pomona College is not a corporation; it is a liberal arts community. One of the values that we hold as members of that community is, as the faculty resolution that was passed on Wednesday articulated, “a commitment to an inclusive environment” that welcomes all individuals regardless of background or belief. This commitment is crucial because it sets a moral standard that, while perhaps idealistic within the context of a broader national discussion over immigration law, fosters an open, accepting community for the sharing of ideas that have the potential to effect positive change on our world, including the pursuit of social justice and equality.
Toward that end, we call on the student body to follow the lead of the faculty and stand behind all members of this community. The administration’s hands may be tied by the requirements of the law, but that is not an excuse to ignore the fact that the document reviews could result in the termination of several Pomona employees who have worked here for decades.
At its meeting on Monday, the Associated Students of Pomona College (ASPC) Senate should pass a resolution similar to that passed unanimously by the faculty on Wednesday. Students should e-mail administrators and contact trustees directly. And we encourage students to continue to protest these reviews, albeit in a way that recognizes this issue for what it is and offers to educate students who are less informed about the issue.
At the end of Wednesday’s faculty meeting, Professor Cynthia Selassie called for a moment of silence in honor of the late Corwin Hansch, who served on the faculty for 42 years. As faculty and students stood in silence, one couldn’t help but feel the spirit of the 124-year-old Pomona community echoing through the room. That community is under fire now. It’s time to stand up and protect it.