CASE’s Chief Executive Officer Leadership Award 2008 Acceptance Speech

Given by President Laura Skandera Trombley on December 9, 2008, at the CASE 2008 conference in San Francisco.

Thank you Paula for such a lovely and generous introduction. Paula is one of Pitzer College’s most ardent supporters and I am most fortunate that she serves as a trustee and is among the ranks of proud parents of recent Pitzer graduates. Her son Neil is a wonderful young man.

It is a great honor to be here this afternoon. On behalf of my institution I am grateful to accept CASE‘s (Council for Advancement and Support of Education) Chief Executive Officer Leadership Award and I’d like to thank those whose support led me here.

Pitzer College has enjoyed multiple successes over the past several years, and I am very proud to serve as president of this most special institution. After 6 1/2 years as president I can honestly say that this has been a privilege and a joyous experience. Our recognition can be measured in many significant ways: one of the ten most selective national liberal arts colleges in the country, recognition as one of the most diverse colleges for students and faculty, ranked 5th nationally in the number of our graduates who complete Ph.D.s in psychology, involved and talented faculty teaching and researching at the highest levels, and the national record holder for student Fulbright Fellowships on a per capita basis. Fourteen of our students were recipients last year. Additionally, Pitzer is fortunate to have recently completed an expansive green building project that included faculty and administrative offices, classrooms, and student residence rooms.

All the more remarkable is the fact that these achievements have occurred at an institution where our student population numbers less than a thousand. We are small, yet mighty.

As all of you can well appreciate, such success at the institutional level is never a single person’s achievement and I am very pleased that the good work of the Pitzer community as a whole has been acknowledged. Much like the philosopher Wittgenstein’s metaphorical rope, I envision institutional success as the way the many individual strands combine to form a unified whole, and recognize that not a single strand runs through from beginning to end. Instead, it is the work of all the members of the Pitzer community—from our founders to our newest faculty and students—that combines to form our strength and resiliency.

As higher education goes, Pitzer at age 45 is a very young college. Indeed we are the youngest to be ranked in the top 50 by USNews. Although few of the faculty and trustees who founded the institution are still with us, the vision they contributed—their belief in shared governance, commitment to social responsibility, openness to change, and dedication to interdisciplinary learning—continues to be felt and practiced. We know this history is what makes us powerful today as we build on the unique character of a college that forges its own path in adherence to its unique character, a vision of the College as expressed in our motto: Provida Furturi, Mindful of the Future.

I would like to take just a moment and tell you a story about how the many strands of Pitzer College wove together to complete a mission critical project. Our success, at the time not at all guaranteed, involved a process of marshalling resources, establishing a clear goal, and envisioning something new without straying from our core identity.

When I came to Pitzer in 2002, the College was in the midst of a fundraising campaign that had slowed. We decided to look to the character of the institution as an inspiration to energize potential donors. Pitzer’s current and past faculty, students and alumni are politically committed, involved and loyal. There is power in such a unique identity, and we found all that was necessary was to remind everyone of where they had come from, who they were and who, as a result, they had become. Our efforts were rewarded with incredible support from alumni, trustees and parents as well as foundations who believed in the character and future of our small college. We reminded them that we were something special.

We needed the campaign to be a success because an institutional priority was constructing combined residence halls and office spaces. But what kind of buildings do Pitzer people build? What kinds of brick and mortar products are consistent with a college committed to issues of environmental impact and sustainability, of perseverance and conservation? We reached out to our Pitzer community for their input. Dozens of people participated in imagining our new space and the resultant buildings are truly spectacular. To date we have won two design awards, and in May 2008 we were awarded Gold LEED® certification by the U.S. Green Building Council, making us the first Claremont College to receive Gold LEED® certification for its residence halls and the first liberal arts college to successfully complete a project of this scale, nearly 100,000 square feet, with this high a level of sustainability.

As president, I am proud of our local and national recognition. And from a practical perspective, I am particularly pleased that these new Green buildings were built on time and on budget. Their light carbon footprint will bring enormous savings to the environment and to our budget—we are anticipating a 32 percent savings in energy costs this year. The timing couldn’t be better.

The success of the campaign and the exercise of planning, building and moving in helped to remind and reaffirm for us who we say we are—many parts working together, always mindful of the future. And in a diverse community of activist critical thinkers you don’t get away with manipulating symbolism to convince people to give more of their time or their energy. No, the success that we have achieved as a college is based on the fact that we have never forgotten who we are, and we enjoy saying it, together. So when the time comes that an extra effort is needed to achieve a goal, we know we can rely on the pre-existing strands that make up our character that have always been in place.

I am deeply honored to receive this distinction, and I recognize that I stand here for every student who ever attended Pitzer College, for every faculty member who ever taught there, and for the trustees and staff members who have dedicated themselves to the institution. On behalf of our community, I thank yours.

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