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Pomona Alumni Withhold Donations to Protest Worker Firings

Since the controversial termination of 17 dining hall workers in December, some Pomona College alumni have decided to stop donating to the school until the administration addresses the situation.

“I can’t imagine donating if the school is going to pretend that it committed no error here,” Jeff Horwitz PO ’03 said. Horwitz, who has donated small amounts of money before, added that he has spoken with other alumni who share his view.      

Pomona's Director of Annual Giving Craig Arteaga-Johnson said the Annual Fund has decreased in the past year, “both in terms of dollars and donors.” Donations to the Annual Fund go into the yearly operating budget, with 60 percent of donations going to financial aid, 30 percent to academic programs, and 10 percent to student life.         

“People don’t usually tell you why they’re not giving,” Arteaga-Johnson said. He added that the drop in donations may not be attributable solely to the documentation issue. 

“My gut feeling is that’s not it,” he said.

“What we do know is that we’ve actually been running behind all year,” and not just after the December controversy, Arteaga-Johnson said. He also pointed to poor fundraising execution in the fall and a national trend of declining participation in annual funds.    

“Unfortunately, we’re not bucking that trend at the moment,” he said.    

However, Arteaga-Johnson said that roughly two to three dozen alumni have called and said they would not donate because of the documentation issue, though it is uncertain whether they would have donated in the first place.    

“There were at least two [alumni who said] they weren’t happy with [President David] Oxtoby and how the school was handling the firings or informing people,” said Tyler Womack PO ’14, an employee for the Star 47 program, in which students solicit donations from alumni and parents.    

“The whole idea that it was an accident or a regrettable thing or that Pomona’s hands were tied seems implausible to me,” Horwitz said. He pointed to the hiring of law firm Sidley Austin to handle the documentation issue as evidence of the administration’s complicity. “One should have a pretty good idea of what will happen when you bring in a white-shoe law firm.”    

In May 2000, Horwitz was among a group of students who blocked access to Alexander Hall in protest of the way ARAMARK, the school’s food service provider at the time, handled workers’ unionization efforts. The students urged the administration to intervene with ARAMARK, and the Claremont Colleges terminated their contracts with the provider later that month.    

Young alumni like Horwitz seem to be the most vocal and active, Arteaga-Johnson said. He attributed this to the speed with which social networking can spread news.    

Last week, Pomona College Young Alumni Trustee Jenn Wilcox PO ’08 sent an e-mail to young alumni explaining the firings.

"It's sad that people who took so much pride in their work and in our community have been forced to leave under such terrible circumstances," she wrote. "As a law-abiding institution, Pomona College was compelled to take action in response to the formal complaint it received."

Horwitz wrote a response to Wilcox, expressing his disappointment with the college and asserting his commitment never to donate. Horwitz also forwarded the e-mail to a number of friends, who have passed it on.    

Wilcox’s e-mail “came across as a sort of naked attempt to try to whitewash what happened and what Pomona did,” Horwitz said. “They’re not willing to take responsibility for their own actions.”     

Horwitz said that he and other young alumni have not donated much in the past, and thus may not have the bargaining capital to effect substantive change. 

“It’s kind of a long game,” he said. “I and many of the people I know who are currently holding down good jobs and making money were disgusted by how the administration handled it.”    

Horwitz said policy would have to change before he would reconsider donating.      

“If Oxtoby believes that Pomona did everything it should have, I’m not sure Oxtoby is a good fit for Pomona,” he said. “I would need to see something that showed contrition and that this was a mistake not to be repeated again.”    

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