When Bethany Reim PZ ’19 first heard about Claremont McKenna College’s decision to leave the Keck Science Department, commonly referred to as “Keckxit,” she thought it was a joke.
After realizing the news was real, she felt a mix of emotions — fear, confusion, and betrayal.
“I took it as though [CMC] made this exit as a statement to the schools they they felt they were better off without Pitzer College and Scripps College weighing them down,” Reim wrote in a message to TSL.
The presidents of CMC, Scripps, and Pitzer announced CMC’s decision to leave Keck in various faculty meetings with the three schools and Keck. They sent an email statement to students Oct. 18, explaining that CMC plans to create its own science department and hire 22-28 full-time faculty members.
Keck faculty reported feeling shocked and upset that they weren’t involved in the decision.
“The three colleges managed to reduce Keck to an academic sweatshop”
According to Pitzer Dean of Faculty Nigel Boyle’s speech notes for the Oct. 18 faculty meeting, he acknowledged that “this news was a shock to Keck faculty” and “not what [Pitzer President] Melvin [Oliver] or I or [Keck] Dean [Ulysses] Sofia wanted or expected.”
The notes are publicly available on Pitzer Senate’s website under “Student Senate Meeting Agendas & Materials” in a document titled “KSD Update PZ FM Oct 18.”
Boyle’s notes state that enrollment pressures, specifically from Scripps and Pitzer, have been “brutal” and led to the inability of the three colleges to adequately grow the department.
This inability, according to the notes, resulted in larger class sizes, heavy reliance on adjunct faculty, and “wretched facilities.”
“The three colleges managed to reduce Keck to an academic sweatshop,” the document states.
Despite these issues, Reim, who’s majoring in chemical engineering, said she’s had “an extremely positive experience” taking classes at Keck.
“Working with Scripps and CMC has made me a better student and given me lasting friendships outside of Pitzer,” she said.
Michelle Wang SC ’20 echoed Reim, stating that Keck allowed her to make friends at the other Claremont Colleges.
But, she also noted the upper division classes do get crowded.
“Even with so little chemistry majors that there are across the two upperclassmen grades, I’m still worried about trying to get into some of my upper division classes,” she said.
Plans to upgrade Keck have been in the works for a while.
From 2016 to early 2018, Boyle’s notes state that the three colleges “agreed to work on an ambitious expansion of Keck Science.” Then, in 2018, CMC had “second thoughts” because it wanted to commit to a larger project.
Months of conversations ensued, and eventually CMC decided to leave Keck.
Peter Uvin, CMC’s dean of faculty, said in a statement to TSL that once the decision was made, all the deans and presidents involved “immediately shared the information with their respective faculties.”
“Faculty will now be involved in every aspect of all steps going forward,” he said. “Student input will be solicited as well.”
In a message to TSL, Nicholas Mendez CM ’21 wrote he was “pretty surprised” when he first heard about the decision “because CMC admissions always emphasized the benefits of having a joint science program.
“But after learning more about the reasons for why we left I understand the reasons for leaving and I believe that it will be better for CMC in the long run,” he wrote.
According to the notes, Boyle remains positive about the future of Keck.
“Keck is the goose that lays the golden eggs, and we get to keep it,” Boyle said. “We love our science department, Scripps loves it, and we together want to invest in it.”