Pitzer College Names Higher Education Leader and Political Scientist Strom C. Thacker as New President

A graduate of Pomona College, Thacker will be leaving upstate New York’s Union College to lead Pitzer as its seventh president

Strom C. Thacker has short gray hair and wears a gray suit with a blue collared shirt.
Strom C. Thacker
Photo credit: Matt Milless

Claremont, Calif. (December 13, 2022)—Pitzer College announces the selection of Strom C. Thacker as the seventh president of the College.

A highly regarded college administrator and political scientist with a research focus on the political economy of development, Thacker previously served as dean of the faculty and vice president for academic affairs at Union College in Schenectady, New York. He will take office at Pitzer on July 1, 2023.

Thacker succeeds the College’s sixth president, Melvin L. Oliver, who retired earlier this year after a tenure of six years at Pitzer. Jill A. Klein P’15 is serving as interim president for the 2022−23 academic year. 

In an email message sent to students, faculty, staff, and alumni, Board of Trustees Chair Donald P. Gould announced Thacker’s selection and described him as an outstanding scholar and higher education leader with strong Claremont roots who “brings to Pitzer a depth of experience—in teaching, scholarship, administration, and leadership—that will serve the College very well in the years to come.”

Thacker’s selection marks the culmination of a robust, eight-month search that brought forth a deep, strong, and diverse pool of candidates. The search was led by trustee and Pitzer alum Thomas Brock ’83, and Gould thanked Brock and the search committee for “their tireless and indispensable efforts, which have enabled us to reach this milestone in the College’s history.”

Thacker expressed his gratitude and excitement at being selected in comments included in Gould’s community message.

“I am tremendously excited to join the Pitzer College community and to partner with its faculty, staff, students, administration, trustees, alumni, and supporters to lead such an accomplished institution to an even brighter future,” he said.

Special Connections With Pitzer and The Claremont Colleges

Growing up in Northern California, Thacker was able to attend college only thanks to generous financial aid, including a Pell Grant.

His experience with the challenges that many students face in pursuing their higher education dreams has shaped his view of college equity and aligns with the Pitzer education’s emphasis on issues of social justice.

Thacker, said Gould, “has built on this experience throughout his career, becoming a consistent champion of college equity and access, as well as a leader who speaks very personally to the transformative power of the liberal arts education.”

Thacker graduated from Pomona College in 1988, and his selection as president marks the first time in Pitzer history that the College will be led by a graduate of a member institution of The Claremont Colleges.

Gould noted this in his message, saying that “a Sagehen is returning to care for the nest!” For Thacker, the Pitzer presidency represents a very special return to his roots, and he “can’t wait to come ‘home’ to Claremont to help advance this amazing college.”

Scholarship & Leadership

After receiving his bachelor’s degree cum laude in international relations at Pomona, where he was elected to Phi Beta Kappa, Thacker went on to receive both his master’s and doctoral degrees in political science from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

Fluent in Spanish, Thacker has focused his academic research on the political economy of development, both globally and in Latin America.

In addition to numerous journal articles, reviews, and other publications, his scholarship includes two critically acclaimed books published by Cambridge University Press: A Centripetal Theory of Democratic Governance (with John Gerring) (2008) and Big Business, the State, and Free Trade: Constructing Coalitions in Mexico (2000).

Dartmouth’s John Carey hailed A Centripetal Theory as “an ambitious project, which asks how the design of democratic institutions affects downstream indicators of government performance,” while Big Business, the State, and Free Trade is described in The Latin American Research Review as “a powerfully argued, conceptually sophisticated, and empirically convincing study.”

As chief academic officer at Union College, a highly selective liberal arts college founded in 1795 in upstate New York with an enrollment of 2,200 students, Thacker managed a budget of approximately $47 million and partnered with the president and others on donor cultivation and fundraising.

Prior to his arrival at Union College, he served at Boston University as associate dean of the faculty, social sciences, within the College of Arts and Sciences. During his academic career he has held many prestigious appointments at universities around the world, including the University of Gothenburg (Sweden), MIT, Harvard, Stanford, and the Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México.

Thacker’s wife, Isabelle Thacker, serves as a supervising attorney at The Legal Project in Albany, NY, where she helps clients secure humanitarian immigration relief, with a focus on survivors of domestic violence and human trafficking.

The Thackers have three grown children (Matthew, CJ, and William) and two elderly dogs (Ella and Opal).

From his first engagement with Pitzer College, Thacker said that “its core values and mission have sung to me. Over its six decades, Pitzer has seen higher education come to embrace the College’s vision of interdisciplinary and engaged student learning. The world needs Pitzer now more than ever.”


Media inquiries: Wendy Shattuck, Assistant Vice President for College Communications

[email protected] (909) 607-7728

About Pitzer College

Pitzer College is a nationally top-ranked undergraduate liberal arts and sciences institution. A member of The Claremont Colleges, Pitzer offers a distinctive approach to a liberal arts education by linking intellectual inquiry with interdisciplinary studies, cultural immersion, social responsibility, and community involvement. For more information, please visit www.pitzer.edu.

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