Sunday, November 20, 2005

An Open Letter To CMC

Dear President Gann and The CMC Board of Directors,

Where to begin . . .

Tonight, I received my annual Phonite call. Perhaps surprisingly, I look forward to this call all year long because I get to pester the unsuspecting sophomore who draws my name about life on campus, offer unsolicited advice, and reward her patience with a donation large enough to give them a bonus, even though I can't afford it. Yes, all, I am that alumna. I don't have deep pockets, but I like to think the proportion of my heart left at Claremont McKenna College makes up for that.

The lucky phoniter opened with the newest news that CMC's Board had recently approved increasing the student body by 60 students.

Wow, did this girl choose the wrong news.

Non-alum readers, 60 students might sound like a drop in the keg bucket - but for my little 1000 student college, it's significant.

Why is it so significant, you ask? Because to accommodate 60 students, CMC will need a new dorm.

The campus, as small as our student body, doesn't have much room for growth - so where are the powers that be considering planting the new dorm?


Yes, Badgley Garden, where the class of 2001 enjoyed its first dry week toga party. Badgley Garden, where we celebrated the visit of the real Rudy by watching the reel Rudy on a cold, damp night. Badgley Garden, where the annual Luau gives Stags and Athenas the chance to wear the beach garb they wear anyway, but for a reason. Badgley Garden, from which countless classes have bid a fond farewell to their beloved alma mater.

Badgley Garden.

Some background: Back when I was a senior, I served as the student representative on the Strategic Planning Steering Committee. I came to know the Board of Governors at the time fairly well and found them to be dedicated, intelligent folks, more of whom were alums than you'd be likely to find on most governing boards. During that process, the topic of increasing student body size came up and led to many a contentious discussion. I was on the "no" side of the increase debate - and vehemently so.

It seemed to me then, as it seems to me now, that increasing the CMC student body is tied to a desire to boost CMC's position in the arbitrary, foolish US News & World Report rankings.

President Gann mentioned frequently during those Strategic Plan discussions that CMC's small size was one of the main reasons cited by students choosing to transfer from CMC to other institutions. Students who depart CMC prior to graduation become part of the school's attrition rate. High attrition rates get you dinged by US News. Get dinged in enough categories and your numbers tumble.

Except that retention/attrition rates do not a great college make. Lat time I checked, CMC's retention rate was in the mid to upper 80s. So why should the 85% or so of CMC students who chose a small college, have come to appreciate a small college, be penalized by the need to appease the 15% who exercise their right to move on to find a better match? Hell, half of marriages end in divorce, so CMC's doing alright, right?

Oh, and I'm not the only one who thinks that playing to US News is a bad way to run a railroad.

But I'm not there anymore. I'm not on the Board of Governors, faculty, or administration of the college. And while I'm a slightly-more-engaged-than-most alumna, I'm no where near as involved as others. So fine, you, President Gann and the Board, feel you need to increase the student body by 60 students, costing the college millions in construction costs to absorb the new bodies. Okay, for the sake of discussion, I'll assume you've made the right decision.

But must you go after our garden?

President Gann warned, and rightly so, that sometimes alumni can become so attached to a physical aspect of a campus that they jeopardize the natural growth and evolution of an institution. Emotional attachment is understandable, but it isn't always appropriate.

I think she was right on that. I was initially skeptical of the "pods" constructed on each North Quad dorm. But they are an architecturally natural extension of existing structures and didn't drastically alter the feel or look of North Quad.

However, I think there are limited situations in which alumni attachment to a physical aspect of campus is warranted. This is one of those times.

Please, don't move a single stone from that Garden. Mid Quad needs its open space. And many of us need our memories to remain attached to a physical space - one that, unlike dorms or dining halls, won't ever really need to be updated to remain useful.

Thank you for considering leaving Badgley Garden put. And thanks in advance for stopping this student body increase nonsense.

If I'd wanted to go to something Pomona or Berkeley sized, I would have, and could have, gone to Pomona or Berkeley.

Yours truly,

Christiana Dominguez


Anonymous said...

And where is the alumni association on this?

I, like you, heard about the Trustee decision from current students, and AFTER the decision was finalized (funny, a vote on this wasn't on the Board of Trustees agenda for Nov 1, but came up by "surprise").

There are two keys to CMC's success: (1) a small size that lets everyone know everyone else, at least by sight if not by name, and (2) a strong focus on econ, gov't and psych, which allows CMC to establish itself in the crowded higher education market -- while still providing world-class education in other fields through our membership in the Claremont Colleges Consortium.

Gann has already undermined #2, and now she's well on her way toward killing #1.

Did you know she is well underway on a proposal to the board to expand to 1,400? There are facility plans, fundraising requirements, and all the other details already on paper and being reviewed on campus.

And yet the alumni association is silent. Shocking.

Anonymous said...

Well, I'm not going to blame the CMCAA quite yet. Fault lies with the faculty and current students as well. Especially current students - back in my day . . . .

Also - I realize the girl on the phone said Board of Directors but likely meant Trustees, I'm just going on direct quotes.

Anonymous said...

It is such a tragedy that the differences that make CMC a great instituation for some people are threatened by an appeal to the common denominator. Why can't CMC's administration see that future success in most fields lies in the ability to dominate in niche markets, not appeal to the masses?

Is it time to start mobilizing the alumni? If there's one thing CMC does respond to, it alumni limiting their donations. I think I know a few alumni who will be up in arms, and they are all current or future members (next tax year) of Res Publica.

Anonymous said...

Did you know that along with increasing student body size they have already reduced the teaching load for all teachers? They now all have a 4 class load. While they are in the process of filling a few new posts, I don't think they have plans to increase the faculty size to accommodate the new student body size. It looks like class sizes will increase.

Josh said...

Woa, woa, woa. First off, is there confirmation of any of this? CD, did the Phoenite student really know the down and dirty? Did you ask to speak to Faranda (cause you know he was right there with her). And where is this mid-quad you speak of? Was there ever beer there? Just kidding.

And I always thought that I was "that alumni" who talks to the phoenite student for an hour and gives money (that I don't have) mainly for the sentimental cause of feeling a part of things on campus. (Side bar - I always ear mark for kegs at Green and ASCMC, but I think they put it in the Dean of Students fund. Damn that Dean Sun! Some things will never die.)

I want to know more about this before I go off, so I am going to call my sources (Notorious J.I.M.) and see what I can find out. I'll be back.

Anonymous said...

I didn't go to CMC. I attended USD, and while it isn't as small, there was a wonderful piece of land that many students were attached to called West Point Field. It was a large mesa (rugby field size) at the far west end of the campus, and it looked down over Mission Bay and over the Pacific. Lots of schools are decent looking, but I've never been to another campus as striking as USD and this was, without question, its crown jewwl. My senior year, they broke ground on a buildingon West Point Field for a Cneter on Peace and Justice funded by Joan Kroc (the McDonald's hieress).

The physical loss of open space was troubling, but they were able to create an unbelievalbe garden behind the building and create built public spaces that took advantage of the views. Even though I was against it and thought the administration was shamelessly giving away its best real estate for a large donor, it turned out pretty well and has definitnely made that end of campus much more active.

The student body size is one thing, but perhaps there are ways to rethink the construction of new buildings so that they enhance these places you love. Just a thought

Josh said...

Keepin' up with the Jones'

My inside source (Biggie Nalls) basically said that this whole thing is President Ganns' plea to make CMC one of the "big boys". The feeling is that CMC is being left behind as other similar institutions are expanding and that we are losing out. The general idea is that CMC wants a higher ranking, we can buy higher rankings, we need more money, more students means more money. This sucks. Also, apparently this is not only a CMC thing. The other four colleges are all about this too. Even Pitzer has plans for a new dorm and apartment building. The plan is in the works and it is going to happen soon. The coolest guy on campus thinks that groundbreaking could happen anytime, even possibly as soon as this summer or definitely summer '07. I am amazed that the Trustees are down with this. If anyone wants to stop this, a plea to the Trustees would really be the only way. Possibly, we could stop giving money, but that might just prove the other side's point (being that they want more money so we must expand). That is what I know right now. I'll see if I can find out more.

Anonymous said...

Here's the details:

The Board of Trustees on Nov. 1 gave final approval to growth to 1,100 on-campus students (about 13 % of the students are in DC or abroad any given semester).

On Nov. 30 the Board votes on the details of the transition plan.

Also, the Board has asked Pres. Gann to look into what would be involved (facilities, funds, factulty, etc.) to grow to 1,400.

This is all straight from a presentation by Pres. Gann.

In one heartwarming note, a number of the current students are raising heck, especially over the class size issue -- ruby is right that professors now only teach 4 classes a year instead of 5.

To partially offset the reduced teaching load, Institute Directors now are asked to give only 25 % of their time to their Institute, instead of the 40 % of their time given previously.

Pres. Gann desperately wants to be President of "Pomona Jr.," not CMC.

What can be done? I agree that it's very hard to stop giving. Here's my suggestion: say that we won't give until the school communicates its plans with its alumni; until the school gives its alumni real input into the process and decisions; and that the school define just how it's going to meet all of these new expenses in a time of desperate financial shortfalls.

A significant number of staff have been laid off since September, including over 1/3 of the technology department. CMC's Web team has dropped from 5 staff a year ago to 1 today -- that's to maintain the institute sites, the school's external site, and all of its online internal resources.

There is talk at the Board of taking an even larger cut of Institute funds away, as the Institutes are the only area having any fund raising success this year.

The time for action by anyone who cares about CMC as an independent institution (rather than Pomona Jr.) is now.

cd said...

B - I definitely take your advice seriously since I know you know more about redeveloping an area - and areas beloved by residents and visitors - more than any of us.

But while it sounds like USD had a lot to work with in siting the building, for us, Badgley Gardens would have to be razed or moved - either option altering the environment in that part of campus - which for a campus our size is most of campus.

There's no view to preserve or to give us access to in another way. The Garden is bordered by other residence halls and a wall separating us from a parking lot shared with the northern reaches of Pomona College.

Moving the Garden, even stone-by-original-stone, couldn't preserve its meaning or recreate its form. The reason they want the dorm there - centrality and access - are exactly why we'd keep the Garden there.

And the underlying issue looms large. This building would be constructed to aid the evolution of the campus into something valued by the President and feared by many others. It lets us grow in number, but not in spirit or purpose.

Anonymous said...

A similar directional change took place at my alma mater after I graduated and a new president was appointed. I strongly encourage all of you (and everyone you know) to contact your Board of Trustees. Write to them and share your concerns with them. Witholding your financial support takes a while for the administration to feel - contacting the Board immediately and getting your opinions/reactions on record with them before their meeting on the 30th has a much greater chance of halting these plans.

Anonymous said...

I really don't think that the CMC Alumni Association Board was asleep at the switch here. They were just outmaneuvered by an administration hell-bent on making this change without going through what would be a lengthy communications and feedback loop with alumni.

The tone of most posts on this blog is encouraging: it is better to be part of the solution, then part of the problem. I don't think it makes much sense at all to withhold contributions from the College. At the same time, it is important for every one of us to voice our opinion to those who will listen.

Remember that there is still some exceptional work going on at CMC. Bright, energetic faculty members are teaching talented students. Coaches are showing their players how to win with pride and lose with dignity. Students are carrying-on traditions (such as MCN) and taking leadership roles on campus and in their communities.

CMC is still a great place worthy of support. It is also a college who needs its alumni to voice their opinions. Please do so.