Transcript: Family Weekend 2022 College Update
Delivered by Jill Klein P’15, Interim President of Pitzer College, on Saturday, October 29, 2022, during Family Weekend 2022
On behalf of everybody at Pitzer College, welcome. I hope everyone is having a great time.
This weekend, did you go to a class or listen to a professor give a talk? Maybe you took a long walk around the consortium or up in the California Botanical Gardens or somewhere in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains. I think of Family Weekend as a great time to walk or wheel and find out what your student’s campus experience is all about.
As a California newcomer, I find new things to explore every day. Quite frankly, I feel like a first-year student. I know I don’t look like a first-year student, but I certainly feel like one. I hope that your students are sharing their discoveries about living here in Claremont.
We, as a community, are thrilled to have you back here for Family Weekend because your presence represents a return. We’re excited about that return because we love Pitzer. This weekend is the chance for us to share the reasons why. As I was walking around today, I was excited to see people painting rocks and engaged in other activities. It’s nice to see that you’re already giving back to the community and to our garden.
During this weekend we hope that you have a chance to get a better appreciation for the experience your students are having and understand what makes Pitzer a very special and unique institution.
Let me start with what I think is our most precious resource, and that’s your students. We love your children. They come to us this year from 35 states, 16 different countries, and already we can see and feel how they are enriching our community with all their talents and interests, and that’s so important.
To be fair, all of us at the College are so genuinely thrilled to be back on campus. We get to hold large celebrations like this one. I hope you’ve been enjoying the variety of programming. I want to thank my colleagues in Alumni & Family Engagement and broadly in our Advancement & Communications group along with my other colleagues from every part of the College. Some of you have talked to our faculty and other staff this weekend. Can we give them a round of applause? They make this work.
My job today is to share with you a report on the state of the College. I want you to know that the comments that follow actually reflect comments I delivered to the College community a few weeks ago. It comes back to the fact that, when I accepted the position as interim president this past spring, I quickly recognized that my most critical role was going to revolve around the question: How do we return to campus? I mean really return to campus—all of our cross-campus experiences, the dining, the clubs, the consortial classes, renewing campus traditions that had been hibernating during the pandemic, and assuring our community—students, faculty, staff, families, and alumni—that we as a college were still paying attention and tracking our strategic plan, which we call our plan for “sustainable excellence.”
This plan was created in 2018 and 2019, and people just like you were involved. We had students, staff, faculty, and alums putting sticky notes that shared their aspirations all over this wall on campus, and that’s how this plan evolved. Knowing where I wanted to start really required a thorough review of how we were doing since the “before times,” as we like to refer to it. I knew that this insight would drive everything as we prepared for our next president. So, did we progress? Did we regress? Did we stand still?
I won’t keep you waiting; I’ll give you the answer. We progressed and in fact we discovered that we were tracking on or ahead in every single area. In fact, for our accrediting body we had to present a mid-cycle review. You do these about four years after you’ve been reaccredited, and the members of our accrediting body were so impressed with our progress that they wrote about it in our updated report and said, “You have made more progress than any school we’ve seen, and would you mind if we used your report to share with other schools so that they can start to see what can be done?”
We were thrilled to share our success, so let me share a little bit about the plan. At the high level, our plan is rooted in Pitzer’s motto, Provida Futuri, which means “Mindful of the Future.” It is part of our collective pledge to provide an innovative, distinctive liberal arts education to our current students and the next generation.
We have four high-level goals that would address the Pitzer community collectively that we identified as our top priorities. They are the following: expanding interdisciplinary opportunities and academic resources at Pitzer, including Pitzer-Scripps science; cultivating a greater sense of community and engagement across campus; strengthening our financial sustainability so that we have the opportunity to broaden access to a Pitzer education; and finally ensuring an inclusive, transparent, and effective decision-making process for the College.
So let me go to goal one: enhancing academic resources. I could talk about this for two hours, but then you would miss dinner and that would not work. Our faculty and students simply astonish me every single day. Let me give you a few highlights. We have now officially launched the Pitzer-Scripps science program. Claremont McKenna College will, over the next three years, leave the program we know as Keck Science, and we will become the Pitzer-Scripps science program. On day one, I met with the new Scripps president, and we agreed on a way to work together with our Keck Science dean, our financial people, our advancement people, and our faculty to make sure that we create a science program that we believe will sustain us into the next generation.
If you haven’t had a chance to walk by our really cool hole in the ground in the southwest corner of campus… (audience laughs) Actually, so this summer it was really a hole in the ground, but now it’s got pilings, some foundations, and it’s super cool. If you want to check it on a regular basis, we do have a webcam so you can see the amazing progress. All of your students, if they are first- or second-year students, will have the opportunity to study and learn in this new facility, which we expect to open in the fall of 2024. We are right on track. We’re excited about construction of The Nucleus and the promise of The Nucleus.
We’re so excited about how this connects to the Robert Redford Conservancy for Southern California Sustainability. This is a special biological field station which sits across Foothill Boulevard. We renovated and revived the original infirmary of the Consortium of the Claremont Colleges. Today we have a wonderful facility where we can teach science, we have art studios there, and we can do research. And, perhaps, if you are a reader of the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times—gotta get the coasts in there—you will very frequently see that our Professor Susan Phillips has been quoted for the work that we’re doing with the Conservancy, especially around understanding the environmental and societal impacts of the warehouses that are here in the Inland Empire. If you’re a visitor to our region, you may know that the Inland Empire is where all the big warehouses are that receive everything from the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles. These have a very significant and potentially negative, frankly, impact on our region. The work we’re doing in this area deepens the importance of our understanding around biological as well as environmental studies.
And in addition, we also have a biological field station in Costa Rica, and we’re excited. We have just completed a significant renovation thanks to a number of donors for our dormitory facility there. It is a place that I would encourage your students to consider when they’re thinking about their study abroad.
Perhaps some of your students have already met Professor Marcus Rodriguez. He is doing amazing and impactful research in the area of global mental health, and he invites his students to participate in his mental health lab. He does work in Africa and China, and it’s really exciting the way he combines the global and local in his work.
Another area where we are especially proud and deeply committed is with the work that we do in the prison and racial justice areas. Our students for the past 8-10 years have had the opportunity to take a class, a regular Pitzer class, inside a Level Two men’s prison not too far from here. Our traditional undergraduates are going into a very safe but extremely engaging area and studying with people who are in prison. They are smart, they are engaging, and they are curious. Together, our inside and our outside students have an exceptional learning experience. This work has been done with extraordinary faculty leadership—Professor Nigel Boyle, if he was up here in my place, would make me sound like I was flatlining. (audience laughs)
Nobody is more excited than Nigel when you get up here and talk about those opportunities. We’ve been so successful with this program that last year, we graduated our first set of 8 men studied in prison and earned Pitzer College bachelor’s degrees. One of these students, Kenny Butler, recently earned a Fulbright. Along the way he also earned a Napier. Now he is taking his Fulbright scholarship. These extraordinary outcomes with these young men brought NPR to our campus for commencement last year. Not to be outdone by their radio brethren, a few weeks ago PBS was onsite and, if you have not seen the piece that we’ve done on PBS NewsHour, please take a minute, google “Pitzer prisons on PBS,” and watch and hear about this extraordinary story. And then, make sure you encourage your students to make sure they take the opportunity to be outside students. It is really exceptional. We are leading, not just in Southern California, but around the country, in this transformational education. There are less than five colleges in the country that are doing what we are doing. Right now Georgetown University is coming to us and saying, “How did you do it?” This is an important thing.
Tied to that is the Melvin L. Oliver Racial Justice Initiative, which we have now endowed and named in honor of our former president, Melvin Oliver. This is a program that helps support discussion, analysis, and activism by providing support to fund things around curricular, co-curricular, and structural change so that our students, faculty, and staff have a deeper understanding about racialized violence in this country. The Inside-Out program and the RJI will continue to be significant opportunities for our academic program, and I hope you and your students will consider how they can engage.
Another thing that’s important in academics is the renewal of our amazing faculty. These are the mentors to our students in their academic journey, and that means not just replacing faculty who retire but also making a bigger commitment to hiring new faculty. Over the next three years, we will add six new lines—which, for those of you in higher ed, that’s a really big deal—to our traditional Pitzer program and at least five new lines in our science program. This faculty renewal is vital to our ongoing and continued academic mission. Personally, I am super-energized by these people. They will be the icons that your students will talk about at their fiftieth college reunion.
Let me go to goal number two: building a thriving community. The first one I want to talk about is the Strive 2 Thrive program. There are a couple reasons why I love this program. First and foremost, the genesis of this program came from parents just like you. That shows you how important families are to the way we think about the College. It is our unique holistic view on health, thriving, and wellbeing, and it is managed through our Office of Student Affairs. This year our program has gained more funding and more support and resources at a time when our world is challenging not only us but our students. The program originated in recognition of these challenges, and it is critical in the way we help our students practice self-care and prioritize health and wellbeing as part of their lives. These programs help us take a holistic view for our students.
I want to acknowledge Vice President of Student Affairs Sandy Vasquez. If you haven’t met Sandy, I promise you that your students have met Sandy. Sandy was recently invited to speak at the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities to aspiring new presidents about this program. This is gaining national recognition. So, Sandy, thank you to you and your whole team for that.
The other big part of wellbeing is fitness. How many of you have had a chance to check out the new Athletics Center? Very cool. I’m glad there is a place where the old folks can work out away from the students. (audience laughs)
I’m excited about this particular facility because one of the things that will happen over the next few years is that they have assigned murals that will be painted on many of the interior walls. I’d like to think that the spirit of the murals comes from Pitzer College because murals so make up our life here. They’ve got those mini-images on the walls, and I just can’t wait to see over the next few years as we paint those murals. Our athletics program, our Sagehens—chirp chirp!—they are awesome. Last night, the women’s volleyball team inaugurated the first competitive event in the new facility. I hope that many of you have the chance to see it. Just in case you didn’t read this in all your mail this summer, the women’s water polo folks are the national champions! So fitness really matters.
Another important part of our thriving community is Critical Action & Social Advocacy, which we call CASA. I know you may have listened to Professor Barbara Junisbai and others talk about CASA. This is located in Ontario, which is about ten miles further east on the 10 freeway. This is a community with very high need, and we put our students in there so they understand the importance to advocate on a long-term basis. This past year, they received a significant quarter of a million-dollar donation which has allowed us to expand the things we can do there.
The final thing in this area is that we launched something called Convenings across campus. In part, the idea here is that they’re small. We’re going to do these convenings within groups. There are faculty convenings, staff convenings, student convenings, alumni ones. What we want after these two years of hibernation during the pandemic is for people to get together. To get used to being together and understand what motivates and excites them about Pitzer. They’re all going to be asked to fill out a questionnaire not about the convenings but to reflect on the conversations and say, “Okay, what makes Pitzer Pitzer?” What aspects do you feel most proud of and optimistic about? We’re going to put this in a book. The book is going to have the date of the convening—all anonymous—and we’re going to share that with the next president. This way it gives our next president a window into the conversations we’ve been having on campus all year.
Last week, I hosted the emeriti faculty for a dinner, and, boy, did they bring excitement and energy, including one of the two remaining original Pitzer faculty members. Let me tell you, he was very sharp and asked some pretty hard questions, but they were so enthusiastic. I sent them the questionnaire and I think they’re all going to respond. If your student says, “I got this thing asking me to be in a convening,” make sure to tell them they should convene and join us so we get their perspectives.
Goal number three. I promise this will go much faster now. Goal number three: securing financial sustainability. We maintained a balanced budget throughout the pandemic, and let’s face it, nobody expected a pandemic. We all have felt the impact in our families, in our professional lives, in the way we interact. When we built the strategic plan, we had no idea this was coming. But we weathered the storm exceptionally well, especially on the financial front despite significant dips in enrollment. I am most proud of the fact that Pitzer College did not furlough and did not lay off any employees. It gets better! We are the only Claremont College that did that, so that was a big deal. At the same time, we pulled back on the matching retirement program. For ten months, we didn’t match the retirement program. When we saw stability return, we agreed to reinstate the match to retirement, and when we reinstated that match, we went and retroactively gave all the employees the retirement money.
Thank you for acknowledging that. I am not only grateful to Laura Troendle and her team in finance who made sure we kept track of it, but each and every member of our staff helped us understand how to do this. We are proud that we did that.
At the same time that we were going through some belt-tightening, figuring out what to do, we also made a significant investment in the way we would manage advancement at the college, and this is important to our long-term financial stability and sustainability because it is through advancement that we are able to do things like improve access to Pitzer, increasing our endowment. I am grateful to our newest VP Kim Shiner and her team for the work they are already doing and the work we know they will do. Because we need to continue to attract and retain students as talented as yours.
The final goal. I told you that these goals were getting shorter! This final one is about optimized planning and decision-making. Before you start to go to sleep and say, now she’s going to talk about the back office of the college, it’s important to acknowledge the work we got done. We have renovated classrooms. There less than five classrooms that have not been renovated in the last two years, and we’re going to finish the rest of those this summer. We’ve been working in the dorms, and we’ve been doing things in our facilities so that we can be thoughtful about our planning. Our trustees have charged us with the challenge of distinguishing our short-term, medium-term, and long-term goals for our facilities. When we talk about long-term, we’re talking 15 to 20 years. We are taking a long view of our campus because we know that we need and want to offer more housing. We know that we need to enhance and create more convening space for everyone.
Another critical project is that we need to enhance our data-driven decision-making. Data is my favorite four-letter word, so I’ve made the cabinet own this one, too. We’ve got scarce resources, and we have to make hard decisions and understand how that goal is important.
The bottom line of all of this is that I am very optimistic about Pitzer, and I hope that you are too. Colleges in general have to take a long view because our practices are really long view. Let me share one final story just to give you an example. Last month, I had the privilege to meet with former Pitzer President Marilyn Massey. She was our first female president in the 1990s and served for ten years.
Today Marilyn is well into her 80s and could not be more engaged and sharp and interested in our progress at Pitzer. I used this opportunity with her to learn a few things. One of the things I learned is that during her term, the College decided to experiment with integrating social responsibility praxis into a course. This was back in the 1990s. Today, every Pitzer student must take a course with integrated social responsibility using a social responsibility practice in order to graduate. That gives you an example of the long view. This was an experiment that was deeply rooted in our core values and today is firmly and permanently a part of the Pitzer education. To say the least, Marilyn and I had great wonderful smiles on our faces when we talked about this experience.
I want you to also think in the long-term. Many of you are first- and second-year families. So I ask you to ask your students: How will they use the consortium classes to expand their perspectives? That’s the secret sauce here. You’ve got the other colleges. What role will study abroad play in your course planning? Will your student be one of the scores of Pitzer students who compete for fellowships like the Fulbright, Marshall, and Watson? I hope you encourage your students to aim high because we know they can get there. Pitzer is an exciting and busy place.
Thanks to your efforts in our community, we excel in a number of areas, and as we move forward as a College, we’re going to do all this while staying focused on our mission and our core values, which exemplify our motto, “Mindful of the Future.” We will have a new president next year, and I have no doubt that this person will continue the positive momentum in our post-pandemic environment.
As I mentioned, campus planning is a priority as we are completing our work on the strategic plan. Eventually we will launch a comprehensive campaign to provide resources for all of these collected priorities, and throughout it, I promise we will always focus on what we do best, which is educating our students to change the world.
….Thank you for being here and for sharing your children with us, it is our joy and our privilege.
Tagged with: jill klein