Why We’re Here

December 5, 2011

In the Spirit of an Inclusive and Welcoming Campus Environment

 Dear Pomona College Board of Trustees, Chairman Paul Efron, and President David Oxtoby:

Since Wednesday, November 30, we, a concerned group of Pomona College students, have been holding an extended vigil outside Alexander Hall to express our disappointment with the College’s recent actions and to show solidarity with individuals directly affected by those actions.  We wish to address the deficiencies in the current relationship between the Board and the Pomona College community, which have been crystallized in the College’s decision to terminate the contracts of 17 employees who were unable to resolve the deficiencies in their work documents by the administration’s December 1st deadline.

We would like to reaffirm our commitment to maintaining a presence outside of Alexander Hall until our concerns have been addressed in a substantive manner.  Prior to the extended vigil, students made repeated attempts to engage the Board of Trustees in conversation.  These attempts were met with just one official response—a single e-mail sent to the community at large.  Given the Board’s apparent unwillingness to open up lines of communication, we decided to hold an extended vigil in hopes that the Board and the administration would respond to us.  After almost a week of sleeping, studying, and working outside of Alexander, we find it troubling that the Board of Trustees—specifically the Executive Committee—has yet to acknowledge our presence or engage in dialogue with us.  This raises a question: what types of direct and effective channels of communication are open to students who wish to speak to the Board of Trustees?

In addition to the concerns outlined above, we would like to recognize the intensified climate of fear and distress wrought by the termination of 17 members of our community.  Considering that the Board recently reaffirmed its commitment to upholding an inclusive and welcoming campus environment, we ask that steps be taken to prevent such a situation from reoccurring and to rectify the harmful consequences caused by the Board’s actions.

We call for:

1. An audience with the Trustees during their time on campus this semester.

2. A commitment from the Board to never again initiate a document re-verification process, especially now that the College’s hiring practices have been confirmed to be in compliance with the law.

3. The establishment of a permanent position on the Board to be filled by a student representative.

4. The creation of a set of procedures by which the Board reports its actions and recent decisions to students.

5. The development of a process by which students can request the establishment of a comments period regarding prospective Board decisions.

Moving forward, we ask that the Board participate in a two-way exchange of information, thoughts, and ideas for the future.  Specifically, we ask that the Board directly respond to the proposals above.  While we look to have a formal meeting with the Trustees during their upcoming stay on campus, we want to open conversation beforehand as well.  We encourage Trustees, individually or collectively, to respond to us at concerned.pomona.students@gmail.com.  Should anyone wish to direct comments to specific student representatives, we can provide the relevant contact information.  In the spirit of constructive dialogue, we are open to negotiation.

We remain dedicated to mutual respect and open communication within the College community.

 

Sincerely,

Concerned Pomona Students

 

Download a PDF of this document here: Concerned Pomona Students’ Letter to Board Dec. 5

 

Advertisements

7 thoughts on “Why We’re Here

  1. mikekim says:

    please outline what the profound effects are. not sarcasm, genuinely curious.

  2. Anon says:

    I’m not certain where to leave this comment, but the Chair of the Pomona College Faculty Executive Committee (Professor Lindholm) sent out an e-mail to his students on December 1st that hasn’t, to my knowledge, been made available to the Pomona community at large. I’ve copy-and-pasted it below, for those who would like to see it.

    Yours,
    Anon

    (Start e-mail text)

    As most of you know, today is a sad day for Pomona College, because it will mark the last day of employment for some workers who have been a valued part of the community for many years. A legal process compelled the College to verify the citizenship or immigration documents of every employee, and further compels the College to terminate any workers whose paperwork is deficient and cannot be brought into conformation with legal requirements.

    Ordinarily, I would not regard this matter as relevant to the curriculum of a music performance course. However, the campus climate is especially energized with respect to this issue today, to the extent that it could be a distraction in our dress rehearsal.

    Furthermore, some of you know that I currently serve as Chair of the Pomona College Faculty Executive Committee (EC), and you might wonder whether, in that position, I have played any particular role in this process. As we work together in an intense environment over three of the next four evenings, you would be justified in being curious about what my thoughts are.

    So, first, how did I become Chair of the EC? I often wonder that myself. Well-meaning colleagues persuaded me to run for one of the six faculty positions on the committee, which I agreed to do because I thought I could have an opportunity to be an advocate for music during the College’s current $250 million capital campaign. I won that election, and then, to my surprise, the other members of this year’s committee voted me as Chair.

    The EC’s responsibilities are broad and nebulous, but they include serving as an informal advisory body, on behalf of the faculty, to the President and academic Dean of the College. As this process of paperwork verification has unfolded, Pomona’s President, David Oxtoby, has been in frequent contact with the EC, asking for our feedback on how to handle certain aspects of it.

    President Oxtoby has not, however, asked the EC for an opinion about whether the process, in general, should move forward as it has. This is because he believes that the College had no legal option. I personally have no qualifications to debate immigration law. But the President consulted extensively with the College’s legal advisors, looking for alternatives to this chain of events, and found none; and I don’t have any reason to believe that the College’s legal team was incompetent or dishonest.

    What started this? Several months ago, someone brought to the College’s Board of Trustees a complaint that the College was deliberately engaging in illegal hiring practices. The Board felt that it would be most prudent to take the complaint seriously, since the alternative could be seen as obstructionist if any part of the allegations were to later prove true. So they launched an investigation, which exonerated the College, but had as an unfortunate side effect the discovery that there were, by accident, some illegal workers on the payroll. Once an employer knows that workers are illegal, they cannot continue to employ them. It is a bit like the military’s infamous “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy – as long as the workers are not known to be illegal, the College can continue to employ them, but once their status is revealed, the College’s hand is forced.

    As EC Chair, my only particular role was to be briefed about this long before anyone else. The President met with me privately in late September and explained what would happen and why. Although he had had the information for some time, it was clear that it still weighed heavily on his mind and heart. I am quite confident that he would have seized any alternative that seemed legally viable, but he found none.

    Like anyone who receives unexpected bad news, I went through the standard reactions: the shock of being barely able to speak; the anger toward whoever instigated this and the lack of appropriate amnesty measures for the affected workers; the denial that there wasn’t some way around all of it. Being sworn to secrecy didn’t exactly help my state of mind, but I felt that I had been voted into a position of the President’s confidence and that I had to uphold that responsibility. By now, however, I have had more than two months to reflect, and to come to accept certain realities, as difficult as they may be.

    Another one of the EC’s roles is to be a sounding board for faculty discussion. I am receiving dozens of emails a day from faculty members who are upset about how this process is being handled, and I am responding to most of them. Because the issue is new to them, they are still in the early phases of grappling with the intense emotions involved; and because intense emotions sometimes interfere with our ability to engage facts, I am often finding myself assuming a stance of respectful disagreement with some of my faculty colleagues. Of course this means that some faculty are responding by painting me as unsympathetic, or gulled by the administration, or narrow-minded, or what have you. These attacks take their toll, but they will blow over in a couple of months, once the rest of the faculty have had as long to digest this news as I have.

    To respond directly to some rumors you may be hearing:

    The December 1 deadline is arbitrary and has no legal mandate. This is correct. The law compels the College only to act quickly, without specifying what that means. I don’t know how the date was arrived at, but many groups of faculty, including the EC, have appealed to the President for pushing it back, and he has declined. He believes that further delays would jeopardize not only the College, but also the workers themselves.

    Affected workers are being denied various kinds of legal help. This is simply not true. For legal reasons, if there is a meeting between a worker and Human Resources, and the worker has a lawyer present, then HR must also have a lawyer present. This has meant that certain conversations have not been able to happen immediately, but the College is being very supportive in providing legal assistance for anyone who might benefit from it.

    This is a scare tactic to intimidate dining hall workers who want to unionize. This is false from the administration’s perspective, but it’s impossible to know what the original complainant was up to. Theoretically, the complainant could have been an anti-union person who was devious enough to envision how this entire chain reaction might take place. But it is absolutely not the case that pro-union workers have been “targeted” by this process; the College verified the paperwork of literally every employee in its ranks, including faculty.

    The College had other legal options. I am not qualified to express an opinion on this question. Some faculty have paraded around articles or essays or other documents that appear to provide alternatives, but a careful reading quickly shows each to be on some other, not especially closely-related topic, irrelevant to this situation. I trust that the administration did not believe that they had other options, but maybe they never found the right people to ask.

    For those who would like to help, I encourage you to be in touch with Tania Pantoja, an administrative assistant in the Dean’s office, who is collecting donations for workers who will be let go. Her email is tania.pantoja@pomona.edu; her extension is 7-2831, and the Dean’s office is Alexander 222.

    Thanks very much,

    Eric

  3. Anon2 says:

    Yeah, demand 1 & 2 are completely impossible.

    As someone who headed off to law school after my time at Pomona, I can tell you this is how it works:

    Once you find out that an employee is actively committing a crime while on the job (in this case stealing a social security #, entering the United States illegally, etc.) you have to let them go. To keep the employee on the payroll would be a crime in itself, subjecting Pomona to some big time fines and/or other punishment.

    The issue of whether or not to “re-verify” employee’s documents involves very similar reasoning. The college is required by law to keep on file certain documentation regarding their employees. Once the college discovers that all or a portion of this information is missing (whether deliberately or by accident), Pomona has a legal obligation to rectify the situation and re-collect the missing documents/information from it’s employees. Again, to not re-collect the information would subject the college to some significant monetary penalties.

    I don’t understand the whole controversy about the December 1 deadline. If you are using a stolen social security number (or don’t have one at all) and/or can’t demonstrate you are eligible to work in the United States in a reasonable period of time (and I would posit that several weeks is more than reasonable to go scrounge up your birth certificate, social security card, or another document to prove your eligibility to work in the U.S.), then you are going to get fired. This fact is going to be just as true on December 1st as it would be on January 1st, February 1st, etc.

    Should Pomona have collected the documents the right way the first time? Yep.

    Could this issue have been better handled from a PR standpoint? Big time.
    (Discussions of morality aside, they could have set the date for the middle of winter break and I doubt the controversy would have ever reached the level that it is at now.)

    Has the Board of Trustees come across during this whole ridiculous affair looking like the wizard from the Wizard of Oz? Absolutely.

    But, bottom line, Pomona’s hands are tied. The college is obligated to fire these people.

    I don’t mean to be a downer about this – just wanted to give you a real world perspective of what Pomona can and can’t do, rather than getting some of the half truth’s that I’ve seen some of these non-JD holding professors quoted as saying (Just to be clear – I’m not talking about the professor mentioned by the previous commentor. I thought his email was actually informed, honest, and very clear about his understanding of the controversy)

  4. Anon says:

    I propose that if ConcernedStudents is actually interested in developing a fair, two-way dialogue, this website should also host all off the letters that Pomona has sent: Oxtoby’s, Feldblum’s, Lindholm’s (above) and Sidley Austin’s. Regardless of how firmly one disagrees with another perspective, it isn’t fair to render that perspective invisible.

  5. Beck Epstein '10 says:

    3. The establishment of a permanent position on the Board to be filled by a student representative.

    YES! i AM SO in favor of this.

    also, do let’s have an effort where we outline clearly what this has meant for our entire community. as long as we continue to see ourselves as separate groups of dining hall workers, administrative staff, students, alumni, faculty, etc rather than solidly and equally valuable members of the pomona community, who deserve the right to just and safe treatment, the administration and board will continue to divide and conquer. as long as this is only framed as a “worker’s issue” rather than also a “pomona community/ies issue” we as a community will get no where on this.

    i am glad that members from all of our community/ies are organizing on this issue, but let’s really stop and think about why this is important. because it IS important, and we need to be able to communicate that effectively within and without our community/ies. And we need to stay connected to our values rather than simply framing the issue in a way we think will appeal to the administration/board.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: