Classroom 1964

The first town hall meeting held on September 29, 1964 in Scott Hall.


hen Will Barndt considers Strom C. Thacker’s qualifications for the presidency, he’s encouraged by his scholarship. Thacker’s 2008 book A Centripetal Theory of Democratic Governance suggests to Barndt, an associate professor of political studies, that Thacker is a serious student of leadership.

“He’s spent much of his career in theory and in practice thinking about how to bring people together around common goals. In his scholarship he’s focused on bringing different forces together, and that’s applicable to our governance structure, too,” said Barndt, who served on the presidential search committee that selected Thacker.


What Barndt is referring to is the College’s shared governance model, which was developed at Pitzer decades ago. Under this model, all stakeholder groups have a say in how the College is run.

You can see this in action today during regular meetings of Pitzer’s faculty, student senate, staff council, and college council. For Professor of Political Studies Rachel VanSickle-Ward, who serves as a member of the Faculty Executive Committee, student engagement is one of its most important and unique aspects.

“Students serve on committees that make critical decisions about the College, including the hiring and review of faculty,” she said. “Their voices are vital, and their leadership interrogates our governance structure.”

Collective decision-making appeals to many institutions (not just in higher education) but few implement it. Why not? Two reasons: time and conflict. By increasing the number of groups involved in the process, every decision takes longer and the likelihood of disagreement and conflict increases. The process can be very messy.


For Jim Marchant, who serves as vice president and chief of staff, that messiness can lead to better results.

“When more parties are involved, the chances are higher that you’re going to have more buy-in and support for decisions, and it’s important to have that, especially for the big issues,” he explained. “Shared governance requires investing the time so that everyone gets to know each other’s perspective. It’s based on building relationships and, ideally, trust. Many leaders and institutions don’t have the patience for that.”

For 60 years Pitzer has demonstrated that patience, and Barndt, Marchant, and VanSickle-Ward, and others look forward to what Thacker adds to the College’s tradition of shared governance from his experience and scholarship.

Read Pitzer Founding President John W. Atherton’s views on shared governance