College Should Prioritize Academics Amid Budget Cuts

The board of trustees wrote, in a statement about admissions, that “the future of the nation and humankind depends upon the quality of the education received by young people. Institutions such as Pomona College should prepare their graduates to lead lives of creative leadership and exemplary service.” Lest we devolve into the problems with such a wide, idealistic, and perhaps naive view of the fate of humanity, consider not the words themselves, but their implication and the mission of the college. The board of Trustees is right in some sense, that the purpose of Pomona College, and of all of the five colleges for that matter, should center on providing the highest quality of education that is possible for our student body. In this time of immense financial crisis, and incredible burden, we must ensure that this is still the first priority of the college.

It is impossible to suggest that the college should continue to operate in the same manner that it did last year, there is no denying the financial burden that a 25% fall in endowment value places on a college, even one with the immensity of resources that we have. However, the college decision makers should maintain that we need to protect the integrity of our education long before we protect any other aspect of the college. We do not suggest that the college should maintain all of the old policies, but we do suggest that the college must ensure that with each decision, each reduced program, each policy change, the college should consider first the impact that that decision will have on the education provided to students.

The administration, and in fact all areas of the college, have made a welcome attempt to be transparent in the actions that they are taking to reduce Pomona’s budget. In fact, across the five colleges, administrators have been open to the idea of allowing students input and agency in the process. However, they have sometimes failed to ensure that they are holding first and foremost the integrity of our education at stake. There are some areas, such as the financial aid policy at all five colleges, where the intent not to alter the policy or to reduce its funding is of the utmost importance to many students (approximately 51% of Pomona students receive aid), and for that matter, the protection of our financial aid policies maintains the high quality of our education.

There are other areas however, where the reduction of some (often excessive) comforts and campus life programming has become intermingled with the reduction of programs that provide for the strength of our education. Citing just one example, the Office of Student Affairs, which is responsible for both the student wage budget and the Orientation Adventure budget, is making decisions about the reduction of both simultaneously. OA may provide a big draw at Pomona, and it is important to our sense of community, however, it should not, in our opinion, be considered on the same level as the student wage budget, which funds both PCIP and SURP grants. Such grants are part of what defends Pomona’s status as a top liberal-arts school despite the necessary limitations of only 1520 students and 178 faculty. The grants provide students with opportunities that place them ahead of students at larger institutions, including those with a more specialized curriculum. Journalism for instance, does not have an academic presence on campus, and yet many Pomona students enter the world of journalism with lots of practical experience thanks to opportunities like SURP and PCIP.

Beyond the Office of Student Affairs, the college has begun to prevent certain hires. Although the college has made the admirable effort not to impose a hiring freeze, and in fact, to attempt to protect jobs, they have also decided that certain departments will not be provided with visiting or temporary faculty. This has caused the size and capacity of many of Pomona’s introductory programs to be strained. (Here we could cite the Pomona Physics Intro classes, which are full b/c we can’t get another lab professor, and Joint Science has been complaining because they have 114 enrolled students, 15 from Pomona, and want compensation. If we want to include this, I’ll send an e-mail to my advisor to get some information on specifics.) It seems odd that the quality of the introductory programs should suffer in order reduce the number of visiting faculty on campus, regardless of the conditions that merit such a reduction.

We don’t think that Pomona College, or the Claremont Colleges, are immune to the economic and financial troubles. We don’t even think that the academics are immune to the economic troubles. We do however advocate that the administration think carefully about the types of cuts that they make, and that they ensure that when a cut they make affects our education they think twice. In fact, going beyond this, they should make it expressly clear to us the adjustments that they make that will have an effect on our education here at Pomona, and they should be ready to defend those. And we urge students, that regardless of changes in parking permit fees, or dining policies, or other things that affect our quality of life, we should first and foremost defend the quality of our education, and we should question each and every move that could negatively affect our education. We are going to have to make sacrifices, but let’s try as hard as possible to not make those sacrifices affect our education and our future.

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