Radical Roots of Pitzer Part 2: Environmental Sustainability

“Our increasingly serious environmental problems can be understood, only by citizens and professionals who combine an understanding of the scientific and technological dimension of environmental problems with grasp of politics and economics and an appreciation of human behavior.”

From the 1970-1971 Pitzer Course Catalog

Environmental Studies Timeline

Environmental Studies Exhibit

From my one-year experience as President, I can say that Pitzer is almost a bellwether of our present society – searching for constructive change, anticipating human and environmental problems, in a setting of self-criticism, so that none of its educational programs are rooted in the cement of antiquated theories.

President Robert H. Atwell, 1971

John R. Rodman
Professor of Political Studies and Environmental Studies, 1965–2000

John Rodman in 1981

John Rodman was an only child raised by a single mother who moved every few years to different small towns in Arkansas and Tennessee. These were years of the Great Depression and World War II and John’s mother was always on the lookout for a better job through the N.Y.A. (National Youth Administration) or the W.P.A. (Work Projects Administration) or a better school for her boy. She instilled in John a rock-solid appreciation for education, as well as career aspirations that went beyond government-sponsored jobs or the episcopal ministry of her family.

She must have been quite proud when John matriculated at Harvard in 1950. He reveled in student life: leaving the south; discovering Plato, Dostoyevsky, Nietzsche and Kierkegaard; having lively discussions and debates with his fellow students. John went on to earn his Ph.D. in political philosophy and theory at Harvard in 1959.

John came to Pitzer in 1965, just before the second year of students would descend on the still not-quite-built campus. He was attracted to the newness and an opportunity to make a mark – a stark difference from Harvard, with its entrenched ways and rigid traditions. As Pitzer’s first political philosopher and sole member of the Political Studies field group, John relished the experimental atmosphere.

In 1967, the lingering summer air pollution in Claremont was so undeniable that John couldn’t look away. He began to dig deep into federal air quality control legislation, which led to him to co-found G.A.S.P. (Group Against Smog Pollution). John, along with other members of G.A.S.P., started writing articles and editorials in newspapers and testifying before hearings of the State Air Resources Board.

This was the first step on a path, which is bookended by the creation of the Environmental Studies field group (1970) and the realization of the John H. Rodman Arboretum (1988), the beautiful and climate appropriate landscape of Pitzer College – in other words, a lifetime of exploration and dedication to environmental and ecological intellectual pursuits and actions for a man; a rich legacy and inspiration for our College.

Try SMOG as a metaphor for our civilization – of what we do to nature, to each other, to
ourselves – a metaphor for technical skill mated with moral stupidity. Stupidity, because mass
society knows no evil villains, alas. Only each one doing his thing, heedlessly, needlessly, like
everybody else on the freeway of life. Who is responsible? We produce SMOG; therefore, we
exist. Provida Futuri indeed!

John R. Rodman, February 8, 1968

It was in the fall of 1967, the summer smog season seemed to linger longer than usual… I began
to wonder what this stuff was and where it came from and what “they” were doing about it and
who “they” were…

John R. Rodman, 1990

We learn best when observation and theorizing are crowned by doing.

John R. Rodman, 1991

I am committed to defending the integrity of native ecosystems here and everywhere.

John R. Rodman, 1991

The John R. Rodman Arboretum (1988)

Pitzer’s planted grounds did not always look as they do today. The original designers (in 1968–69) imagined a conventional grass and trees sort of campus. It’s an idea of landscaping that was born at the oldest universities in the world, none of which are located in Claremont’s Mediterranean, semi-arid, on the cusp of desert and mountain climate. Lucky for Pitzer, John Rodman, Professor of Political Studies and Environmental Studies (1965–2000) came along and developed an interest in field botany in the early 1980’s – just in time to recognize the destruction of native scrub and brush on Pitzer’s northeastern border as Harvey Mudd College began constructing a soccer field.

Then, as was his way, John quickly got to work – negotiating the actual border between Pitzer and Mudd and revegetating the area that had been impacted. This led to the conceptualization of the Arboretum, which was originally just the strip from Mills Avenue to the Pitzer Service Road, the Grove House area and the Outback.

The John R. Rodman Arboretum was dedicated in 1988 and John was named Arboretum Director. That same year he began using the Arboretum as a classroom and laboratory introducing ES175 Directed Studies in Land Restoration and Management and ES172 Restoring Nature. HOI132 Restoration, Preservation, and Revitalization was introduced the following year. His goal, inasmuch as it can be reduced to a singular, was to restore a healthy and vital relationship between human beings and their natural environment. John held the position of Arboretum Director, in addition to teaching, for 12 years until he retired in 2000. In 2001 the mantle was passed to Joe Clements, the just-retired, former curator of the Huntington Library’s Desert Garden in Pasadena. Joe inherited an expanded whole-campus Arboretum and introduced a period of profound cultivation, planting a wide and beautiful array of native and drought-tolerant flora. Nan Sturman, writing for the Pacific Horticulture Society in 2010, called Pitzer’s landscaping, “…the most sophisticated and artfully presented collection of succulents, desert plants, and Mediterranean-climate plants outside of a botanical garden.” Thank you, John. (and Joe and Professor of Environmental Analysis Paul Faulstich (who retired in 2022), who continues and has expanded the work John Rodman did with and in the Arboretum.)

Carl H. Hertel
Professor of Art and Environmental Design, 1966-1994

Carl Hertel in 1975

The path that Carl Hertel staked out in life was non-linear, but you couldn’t call it random. Carl himself would call it intuitive – actions and decisions based not on conscious reasoning, but what he felt to be true – everything should flow naturally from that orientation.

Carl, a third-generation Californian, was born in Long Beach in 1930. In 1948 he traveled due east to attend Pomona College. East was the cardinal direction he journeyed from his birthplace, but it was also the direction of his intellectual pursuits, which started in
geology and moved on to art by way of Far Eastern studies.

Carl’s deep dive into Eastern languages and history formally ended after earning a Master’s Degree from Harvard University in 1955. Following a stint of military service, Carl came back to Claremont and back to art, saying he “supposed he reverted to type,” completing an M.F.A. in art and painting from Claremont Graduate School and embarking on his career in art and education.

In 1966, Carl was hired at Pitzer as the founding member of the art field group and he began infusing the place with his own particular brand of education with courses like: Environments + Happenings (1967) and The Communal Organization of Space (1968), co-taught with sociologist Russ Ellis. In 1972, he joined the Environmental Studies field group, co-teaching The Experience of Nature Colloquium (1972) with John Rodman. This wasn’t a ‘class’ or even a ‘course,’ which implies a series of lectures and lessons – but a colloquium, which has its roots in the 16th century and alludes more to conversation and dialog.

Colloquiua were a favorite format of Carl’s and he would go on to organize several over the years, including The Desert Colloquium – An Interdisciplinary Exploration of the Desert as a Place (1976), with Paul Shepard, and The Solar Colloquium (1979-1982). This format allowed him to explore a topic from multiple angles and in multiple ways, utilizing workshops, lectures, demonstrations, field trips and research projects.

Nature and natural systems were the models for art that Carl turned to. He internalized that interconnectivity and interdependence to form a holistic system and sought to communicate and translate those relationships into physical and spiritual design. And if that sentence seems incomprehensible yet strangely evocative, you’ve gotten a small taste of Carl Hertel.

I have no doubt that students will never forget this experience… Interdisciplinary work involves
a great deal cooperation, not to mention goodwill among both faculty and students.

Carl H. Hertel in reference to The Desert Colloquium, 1975

Pitzer was founded on an action model. In the beginning, we used phrases to describe Pitzer
such as ‘agent of social change’.

Carl H. Hertel, 1987

There’s a lot of truth to ‘you are what you eat.’ But you are also where you eat – where you live,
where you learn, where you play, where you work.

Carl H. Hertel, 1982

I was hired at Pitzer to be subversive.

Carl H. Hertel, 1993

Paul H. Shepard
Professor of Natural Philosophy and Human Ecology, 1973–1994

Paul Shepard (undated)

When asked to look back in search of the impulse behind his lifelong interest in animals and the environment, Paul Shepard gave credit to a box turtle he found when he was five years old and about 50 different species of bird’s eggs he collected when he was eight. His boyhood was spent in the Missouri countryside making the most of what he called an upbringing “in rural isolation where there weren’t the usual town things to do.”

It’s actually difficult to find much in Paul’s early life that didn’t support his path. His father was a horticulturist and director of one of the University of Missouri’s Agricultural Experiment Stations, where the family lived. His mother encouraged his naturalist pursuits and was keen that he be widely educated in that area. His childhood spanned an important time of American interest in nature and conservation, prompted in part by overhunting and improper farming methods that led to the devastation of the Dust Bowl. This forced a major transformation in the science of ecology, and as a consequence, government and university programs in land management and soil conservation were developed.

The one hitch in this straightforward path came in 1944 in the guise of World War II military service. The summer after Paul graduated from high school, he volunteered, and after completing basic training, was shipped o to Europe to serve in the 493d Armored Field Artillery Battalion. This group saw five months of almost continual action and, in April 1945, liberated a Jewish concentration camp, one of the Kaufering subcamps of Dachau near Landsberg, Germany. This experience left him no illusions with regard to the “limitations of what it means to be human.”

Paul emerged from World War II a realist, and didn’t waste any time enrolling at the University of Missouri to study under the chair of Wildlife Management. He received a B.A. degree in English literature and wildlife conservation in 1949. He then went on to Yale University getting both an M.S. in art and ecology and a very interdisciplinary Ph.D. in 1954; his dissertation explored ecology, conservation, landscape architecture and the history of art.

After graduate school, Paul held positions teaching biology, environmental studies and ecology at several liberal arts colleges, including Knox, Williams, Smith and Dartmouth. He received grants from the Eli Lilly and the National Science Foundations; and was awarded Fulbright and Guggenheim Fellowships. Maybe it was the summers of 1967 and 1968 that he spent teaching art and ecology at California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland, California that gave him a taste of what an interdisciplinary academic home might feel like.

A couple years later, purely by chance, Paul crossed paths with John Rodman at a Danforth Foundation meeting in Santa Barbara in 1970. The two got to talking and by the end of the conversation John had convinced Paul to come to Pitzer to teach a class the following semester. Which he did, and again the next year, and the next, until he was hired in 1973, joining the Environmental Studies field group, where he stayed until he retired 21 years later. These were years spent writing books and teaching undergraduates, doing what he wanted to do, in a very interdisciplinary manner – exploring ideas and concepts, involving animals and the environment, that compelled him for his entire life.

Ideas should be bent, stretched, annealed, broken, and recreated, but people are mysteriously
fragile, and groups of them in classrooms imponderable. Therefore, I try to be intellectually a
roving Viking, making fires and edifices from the detritus of a mental heritage, but cautious and
fearful about how one remains humane too.

Paul H. Shepard, 1973

It makes sense to study the desert here since we are right on the edge of one. It is a geographic
fact that the history of ideas all came out of the desert. The great tenets of Judaism and
Christianity, which have shaped Western thought, were conceived in the desert.

Paul H. Shepard in reference to The Desert Colloquium, 1975

Usually we try to out ‘output’ and to spread our efforts as widely as possible. But occasionally
we should do things that can only be done with a small group and which should have a deep
and lasting effect. It is expensive, but it creates a learning experience which is not available any
other way.

Paul H. Shepard in reference to The Desert Colloquium, 1975

The logic of man’s domination of nature, the zealous control of things organic, the fear of the
body’s natural processes and their analogies in nature, the haunting sense of fall from affinity
with nature are the relentless expressions of a subterranean disaster whose roots lie deep in
our culture and deep in our personal psyches.

Paul H. Shepard, 1982

Environmental Studies is an interdisciplinary program focusing on the interaction between the human and nonhuman components of the biosphere. When successful, it can provide an integrated, unifying perspective on life, as well as a program for radical change.

from The Participant, Spring 1982