A Farewell to Trombley and a Call for Pitzer Governance Reform

Courtesy of Pitzer.edu
Courtesy of Pitzer.edu

by Sebastian Aguiar

Contributing Reporter

As president, Laura Trombley was an excellent fundraiser and diplomat. As Vice-Chair of Senate, I interacted with her on various committees. We got along well, and I was thankful that she didn’t use the bureaucratic doublespeak abused by other administrators.

Her actions, however, did not live up to frequent claims about social responsibility. Indeed, she ignored Pitzer workers’ basic healthcare needs and she was not initially supportive of the Divestment Campaign. Eventually others and I analyzed the effect on the endowment, revealing that divestment would serve as an expedient, low-cost public relations move, and so the Board of Trustees eventually assented (thanks to direct action by students such as local hero Jess Grady-Benson). Other institutions like Stanford and the Rockefeller Foundation eventually followed suit with their own divestment announcements.

One Trombley legend, if true, I must applaud: Several years ago, Pitzer students dyed the CMC Athenaeum fountain blood-red in honor of CMC’s hosting of Bush administration “architect” and fascist war criminal Karl Rove. When the CMC president demanded that Pitzer pay a dubiously inflated sum to replenish the fountain, Trombley replied “I thought that Crimson was the school color of CMC?” Whether CMC was paid remains unclear. We need administrators who stick up for Pitzer’s soul.

On the other hand, Trombley’s administration was not an ally to hundreds of Claremont students and faculty during the Condoleezza Rice protest of 2011. I was one of the main organizers and I remember it well: CMC paid over $80,000 for a trite hour-long speech from Rice, who was on her book tour celebrating the fact that she served on the board of Chevron when she fabricated evidence of WMDs in Iraq — casus belli for the Iraq War, which left hundreds of thousands dead and over a million as refugees to this day.

The night of the protest was exciting, featuring speeches by professors and a water-boarding torture demo by a team from Pomona. The highlight was CMC’s egregious construction of “protest zones” near the new location of the ceremony: far-away chain link fence areas with plaques reading… yes, “protest zone.” Let the record show that we did not observe this Orwellian invitation from the CMC administration. Trombley didn’t stand up for 5C speech during this saga. And CMC continues to pay luxe speaking fees to senior military and the financial overlords who deliberately crashed the economy in the Great Financial Crisis of 2008-9 (which has only been postponed by unprecedented central bank money printing, FYI). 

Anecdotes aside, students at Pitzer tend toward hagiography when reflecting on our dear “leaders,” and I will now offer a counterbalance to that narrative with specific policy proposals.

Ignoring the Needs of Pitzer Workers

Pitzer claims to stand for social responsibility. Well, prefigurative politics start at home. The current administration acted as a barrier to raising the low wages of Pitzer workers, who actually keep the place running and clean up interminable Freshman vomit flows.

I have an explanation: Trombley’s education at the Christian conservative Pepperdine University and then at the well-known Left bastion, the University of Southern California, may not have encouraged the embrace of Pitzer’s radical roots.

This bias was evident in her administration’s unwillingness to recognize that their workers weren’t even paid enough for basic healthcare. Protests took place and will persist until this disgrace is made right. 
As Vice-Chair, I personally encountered resistance from the administration when I led the initiative to increase these workers’ wages to a mere 10% above the LA living wage. It is in deplorably bad taste that administrators like Trombley could take home over $400,000 for a lifestyle of international travel, book tours, and golf with wealthy benefactors while the people doing very hard work continue to receive a pittance for their tireless and demeaning labor. As an investment proposition Trombley was quite profitable – but the ongoing neglect of workers leaves the College morally bankrupt. 

Furthermore, adjunct faculty, the new second class migratory laborers resulting from the gross oversupply of academic PhDs, are paid just a few thousand dollars per course. These lecturers, some of whom are very talented, should be paid more. Take the difference from the tenured faculty salaries; they are overpaid for their workload. Tenure itself is a problematic institution, let’s leave it at that.

These are several of many instances in which Pitzer and its rulers have not lived up to its social responsibility mandate/public relations strategy. Allow me to now bring your attention to another Pitzer hypocrisy.

Student Governance is a Façade

There is an elephant in the room, one that troubled me, Senate President John Rice, and our Executive Board predecessors — some of whom a few years ago attempted a revolutionary coup d’état, seeking to restructure Pitzer’s system of governance. 

You see, College Council has been deliberately structured to disempower students: no matter if all thousand students vote one way, the math works out so that faculty can always outvote the entire student body! Look it up in the Faculty Handbook on Sakai. 

Students should insist that these rules be rewritten to reflect the fact that students constitute an uber-supermajority, and that we pay the bills (including faculty salaries). Without the ability to at least veto disagreeable faculty or administrative decisions, Pitzer’s claim about the importance of student governance and true democratic values will remain a cynical facade.

Students interested in the future of the College and the value of their diploma must involve themselves in the selection of the next President. This critical student input may be met with resistance by the Board of Trustees and at College Council.

5C students have a legacy of standing up to their administration on substantive racial, sexual, and financial matters — particularly in the 60s. Our strength always came in numbers. Organize! Remember: you are the customer, and administrators quake in their boots at the prospect of negative press on college crises. The venerable 5C publications are your sword and shield. You may find that you need not even unsheathe your weapon before administrators are brought to the table.

Sebastian Aguiar, PZ ’14, served as 2013 Senate Vice-Chair. He is a financial economics research assistant at the California Institute of Technology and currently serves on the scientific advisory board of the analytical chemistry firm EH Tech, Inc.




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