Pitzer and Scripps host first joint Keckxit forum

An open forum was hosted by the Keck science department on March 6 to answer students’ questions about the future of the facility. (Justin Sleppy • The Student Life)

Pitzer Student Senate and Scripps Associated Students hosted a student forum Wednesday to discuss possible changes to the Keck Science Department in response to Claremont McKenna College’s anticipated withdrawal from the three-college organization.

About 30 students, four Keck faculty and Keck Dean Ulysses Sofia attended the forum, which was the first opportunity for student feedback since CMC’s announcement in October, according to senator Claire Wengrod PZ ’19, one of the forum organizers.

“Keck faculty have had a multitude of opportunities to share their concerns and to advocate for students,” Wengrod said, adding that there hasn’t been the same opportunity for Scripps and Pitzer students.

Wengrod, who spearheaded the event alongside Keon Rabbani PZ ’19 and Julia Kelly SC ’21, aimed to fill that gap by providing a space for students to ask questions and reimagine the future of Keck.

Students suggested institutional changes ranging from 24-hour swipe access to Keck to a shared governance model and better advising for students. Wengrod, who took notes on a whiteboard, plans to share the feedback with the extended Pitzer governance community.

“I’ll be reporting to Pitzer Faculty Executive Committee this Friday about the event and then again at our Student Senate meeting on Sunday,” she said.

In addition, Wengrod and Rabbani hope to create a student visioning committee and invite more collaboration between Keck students and faculty. Wengrod said she and Rabbani plan to hold a second forum in mid-April and create an online suggestion form for students who are unable to attend.

“The goal is to increase transparency throughout the transition,” she said. “The most important thing that came out of the event was that Keck students felt like they were being heard.”

Jackie McVay SC ’21 said she thought the forum was a valuable opportunity for students to weigh in on the future of Keck.

It was “a really good community exercise, because I actually got the chance to discuss with people I see all the time in classes and labs real issues we need to fix,” McVay said. “It really felt like a coming 

At the forum, students asked members of the Scripps-Pitzer Science Visioning Committee logistical questions for the first 30 minutes.

The committee was created shortly after CMC’s fall announcement, which shocked and dismayed students and faculty, and consists of Keck faculty members Nancy Williams, Lars Schmitz, Don McFarlane, Ethan Van Arman and Adam Landsberg.

A student asks a question of Keck Faculty at the forum March 6. (Justin Sleppy • The Student Life)

Many students said they were worried about how CMC’s exit, which isn’t expected to occur for several years, would affect the number of faculty members at Keck, especially because many courses are already overenrolled. However, Sofia said she was confident Keck would be able to retain its faculty.

“We expect there to be some migration of faculty from the shared Pitzer-Scripps sciences over to CMC,” Sofia said. “It most likely won’t happen in a lump or in a short time span. There’s going to be a lot of planning.”

Landsberg, a physics professor at Keck, echoed Sofia, noting that students will have access to new faculty as CMC builds its department over the next four years. He also said class sizes will eventually decrease by a third, improving the faculty-to-student ratio.

“If anything, you should see an increase in opportunities, not a decrease,” he said.

Michelle Wang SC ’20, a chemistry major, remains optimistic about the changes.

“The initial separation will be messy and things seem confusing right now, but I genuinely think in the long run things will be better for everyone,” she said. “After the separation, I hope the new CMC and Scripps-Pitzer science programs will be better than Keck is now.”

Elinor Aspegren contributed reporting.

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