Pomona contingent faculty members’ housing crisis remains stagnant

Faculty members still seek answers from Pomona College administration. (Esha Champsi • The Student Life)

Seventeen days after three Pomona College contingent faculty members sent an open letter to faculty about their removal from college-owned residences, the situation — in which a total of nine contingent faculty have received an eviction letter — has yet to be resolved. Still, members of Pomona’s community have continued to express support for those affected, with ASPC inviting the co-signers to speak at a meeting last week.

Letter co-signer and Visiting Professor of Chemistry Heidi van de Wouw said she is trying to stay patient while the chemistry department is still in conversation with Dean of the College Yuqing Melanie Wu and Associate Dean of the College April Mayes.   

“I now know at least one [visiting professor] hired by Pomona College that was not afforded faculty housing has experienced temporary houselessness,” van de Wouw said in an email to TSL. “Only by sharing our personal experiences do I think we can start to have discussion[s] about institutionalized inequities experienced by members of the Pomona College community.”

Wu did not respond to TSL’s request for updates on the housing situation.

Co-signers Maddalena Poli, Li-Fang Lai and van de Wouw have received public support from faculty who replied to the letter and shared their own experiences, including visiting professors Sean Diament and Esther Hernández-Medina.

“I fully support and agree with the sentiments my close friends espoused in the letter. The rug being pulled out from under them after they committed to work here for another year or two has been incredibly destabilizing, demoralizing, and looks very unprofessional on the school’s part,” Diament told TSL via email. “That is not how you treat valued community members.”

Hernández-Medina said she has found that contingent faculty salaries aren’t enough to live in Claremont, even with faculty housing.

“I am still carrying an obscene amount of debt from that period even though I arrived to Pomona having already paid my student and credit card debt,” she said in an email response to the open letter. “We need to proactively address the issues concerning the cost of living for all the members of the college (especially contingent faculty and staff) to make sure we can all flourish as a community.”

Some students have expressed support for visiting professors and several have even made social media posts raising awareness of the situation. 

“There’s nothing more brutal and horrible that an employer can do, short of firing someone, than removing them from their homes,” Francisco A. Villaseñor PO ’25 told TSL. “To know that the college could take away housing from professors is really disgusting and really upsetting.”

Villaseñor added that some of his strongest and most meaningful faculty relationships have been with visiting assistant professors. 

“It’s really just appalling to be a student and know that we can have the professors that really make this experience for us — professors that provide mentorship, support and other ways in which we can advance our careers — to know that they themselves don’t have the protection, to [wonder] if they’re going to have a place to sleep at night,” he said.

This week, anonymous flyers were posted on Pomona campus linking to TSL’s coverage of the evictions. Additionally, Poli and Lai attended ASPC’s weekly Senate meeting last Thursday, April 20, for a conversation about the eviction struggle.

During the meeting, Poli and Lai spoke about their struggles affording housing and managing the cost of living in LA County. They also touched on their experiences talking to administration and the lack of response they had received. 

“We want to keep this conversation going with [visiting professors], contingent faculty, and students because their salary has to be higher,” Poli told ASPC senators during the meeting. 

Politics Chair Amanda Hollis-Brusky said that in a chair meeting that took place before the open letter was sent, Dean Wu said administration was working to provide housing for tenure-track candidates.

Hollis-Brusky expressed her frustrations about the cost of making Pomona attractive to potential tenure-track hires by offering them college-provided residencies.

“Are there no other ways we can find and provide housing for our [tenure-track] folks that doesn’t involve kicking the most vulnerable among us out of their college-subsidized housing?” she said. “If I could wave a magic wand, I would make the college really examine creative ways to provide and subsidize housing for new incoming tenure-track faculty while not evicting current contingent faculty.”

Visiting Assistant Professor of Politics Benjamin Radd said that administrators described Pomona as a safe space during Pomona’s visiting faculty orientation in the summer of 2022.

“They pitched Pomona as a very welcoming place for visiting [faculty] … a lot of the same treatment and benefits that full-time faculty [have].”

Radd added that other institutions, such as those in the University of California system, pay their visiting professors more than at Pomona. 

Visiting Professor Sean Diament, who came to Pomona from Swarthmore College, said he was paid the same rate as early career tenure track faculty at Swarthmore, around $30,000 more than his current visiting salary at Pomona. He added that the morale among contingent faculty at Swarthmore is discernibly higher than at Pomona, where faculty are “treated by the institution as second class citizens.”

“There is a major disjuncture between the [diversity, equity and inclusion] values statements and actually proving the words mean anything beyond branding, virtue signaling and platitudes,” he said. “While Pomona is the most diverse institution I have been a part of, on the equity front the school is sorely behind the curve. Even though it is one of the wealthiest colleges in the world, it perpetuates inequitable practices of low-balling contingent faculty and staff under the guise of a market-will-bear neoliberal rationale.”

Diament and Hollis-Brusky both acclaimed the administration’s commitment to increase visiting professor salaries in the 2023-2024 fiscal year, but they emphasized that there is still work to do.

“I do want to applaud the administration for their work and recognition … that the way Pomona was paying and compensating visitors was far below peer institutions, and borderline immoral,” she said. “When we situate what’s happening with these evictions within the broader goals of this administration, I think this is an opportunity for the college to do something positive, to make a commitment to work with contingent faculty so they have their basic needs met.”

Diament added that Pomona administration promises seem to fall flat, given their longer history of compensation stratification. 

“I appreciate that Pomona has shown the ability to hear from the community and commit to changes, but it is deeply disturbing to learn about how bad the compensation levels have been for contingent faculty and staff for the past decade,” he said. “The mixed bag continues with several faculty and staff being kicked out of visiting housing.”

Villaseñor emphasized the importance of visiting professors to the Pomona community.

“Even though [visiting faculty are] only here for a temporary time, they pour themselves fully into this work,” he said. “And it is really upsetting to see that they are not being taken care of by the same community that they are working so hard to maintain.”

To combat this discrimination against contingent faculty, Villaseñor called students to action. 

“I encourage students to have conversations with their classmates and also to become informed about what’s happening here, because this is not something that we should just shrug our shoulders at,” Villaseñor said. “It is really appalling and saddening behavior that someone would do this to folks who are really so essential to our community.”

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