Message from Alumni Association President David Sonner ’80

Dear Fellow Alumni:

You might have heard about the recent events at our alma mater through the HMC Alumni Facebook Page, recent articles, or fellow alumni. From my perspective as an alumnus and president of our Alumni Association, I want to give you some background and update you on the current status. I visit campus often and have been talking with leading representatives of the administration, faculty and students. Before going on, though, I want to apologize for the length of this letter. As you will soon understand, this subject needs to be addressed at some length.

In order to ensure those interested have the facts available to them, the College has created a website that contains a complete timeline of the recent events, activities and communications that are summarized in this letter.

The recent events on campus have included peaceful student protests and demands. While other college campuses across the country—including at the other Claremont Colleges—also are experiencing student protests and demands, there are many unique facts and circumstances surrounding the events at Harvey Mudd.

To begin with, it’s important to acknowledge that the Harvey Mudd College community has faced some extraordinary challenges this year. As some of you know, this includes the death last summer of Tristan Witte ’18 in a car accident and the subsequent campus memorial early in the fall, the divisive political climate, a fatal motorcycle accident in early December involving Adam Cave (a recent Pitzer alumnus and son of a long-time HMC professor Bob Cave), and the on-campus death of senior proctor Willie Zuniga ’17 shortly after the beginning of spring semester.

The compounding emotional toll of these events had already deeply affected the HMC community by the time The Claremont Colleges student newspaper, The Student Life, published a “leaked” copy of what has become known as “The Wabash Report.” This confidential report, commissioned by the College’s Teaching and Learning Committee as part of its normal analysis of the honor code, workload and curriculum, contained some quotes from faculty and students that were unexpectedly harsh and troubling.

The faculty made an initial decision not to share the full report with students (choosing to share a summary of the report instead) to avoid giving students the impression that some of these comments were reflective of how the majority of faculty members feel. Unfortunately, the newspaper publication of the full report on the same day as the on-campus memorial for Willie Zuniga ’17 ultimately had this very effect, sending a shock wave through much of the already weary and grieving student body.

Events continued after the release of the Wabash Report, including the death of Scripps student Tatissa Zunguze (a student of color who was well connected with Mudders), the placement of Associate Dean for Health and Wellness Qutayba Abdullatif (Dean Q) on paid administrative leave, student protests and demands, and difficult campus conversations.

This led to some short-term decisions by the faculty and administration, including the recent decision to cancel two days of classes and to commit to reducing student workload for the few weeks remaining in the semester. This was done to create opportunities for open and honest dialogue, add time for rest and reflection, offer activities to reconnect community members (especially between faculty and students), and support the overall health and wellbeing of our student body.

Last week, the College proposed additional funding for programs, staffing and student groups (this proposal is detailed on the College’s new website). The College wanted to ensure that additional support is in place for the students’ health and wellbeing—as well as for their academic success—and that this support is adequate and accessible for the remainder of the semester and through the 2017-18 academic year.

While these decisions target the current campus situation, I have been assured that the additional funding is a one-time commitment. The College will determine any extended or permanent allocations based on a review of the impact of these decisions following the 2017-2018 academic year. In addition, the faculty has made no lasting changes to the curriculum, to courses, to the Core, or to the mission of the College. Permanent change at Mudd—especially when it comes to curriculum and workload—always requires time for careful consideration, as well as direct involvement from all members of our community, including both current students and alumni.

As we all know, the curriculum is a living thing. It evolves, sometimes in minor ways and sometimes in major ways. The last faculty Core Curriculum review was completed about seven years ago. Considering workload in relation to the curriculum is part of that normal review process.

I have been told that HMC will continue to value rigor—both the rigor the curriculum provides and the rigor (and vigor) that today’s students bring (and thousands of alumni who came before them brought) to their studies. The College continues to recognize that rigor is essential to the Harvey Mudd experience and brand, but at the same time, the faculty wants to ensure that the curriculum is not unmanageable. We have already seen success in courses such as CS5—and more recently E79 (formerly E59 or “Stems”)—where the faculty made adjustments to the curriculum that have resulted in a more manageable workload for students without sacrificing learning outcomes.

As faculty members move through the review of the Core Curriculum, they have committed to work collaboratively with student and alumni voices that represent varying perspectives, with the goal of improving the Mudd experience while maintaining Mudd’s academic excellence. To that end, Pat Little, the chair of the faculty, spoke to alumni at our Alumni Association Board of Governors (AABOG) quarterly meeting a few weeks ago about the upcoming faculty Core Curriculum review, which formally starts next fall. In that meeting, the AABOG committed to work collaboratively with the Faculty Executive Committee to gather alumni input for the upcoming review.

The College has committed to providing ongoing information about these conversations. I encourage you to continue visiting the new website from time to time, as well as joining and visiting the Harvey Mudd Alumni Facebook Page.

In addition, there are two specific opportunities for alumni to provide valuable input.

  1. Saturday, April 29, 2:30–4 p.m., Galileo Auditorium: This is a special Alumni Weekend program where alumni can discuss recent campus events with HMC faculty, students and staff. You may attend the forum without registering for Alumni Weekend. However, we ask that you register if you plan to attend any other events. Online registration is closed, but those who are not already registered may do so in the Shanahan Center upon arrival to campus.
  2. Summer 2017: The AABOG and the Faculty Executive Committee are working collaboratively on an alumni survey that will give all alumni an opportunity this summer to provide input on their experience. (To be included in this survey, please remind fellow alumni that they must give the College their current email address.) That survey will be used by faculty to inform their ongoing conversations over the next 12-18 months about revisions to the Core Curriculum and student workload.

I would like to close by noting that during my times on campus over the last few weeks, I’ve been talking with students and faculty, eating in the dining hall and spending time at the new Shanahan Center Cafe. My conversations with students have been frank, thoughtful and respectful, as have most of the conversations throughout this process. In short, although this has been a challenging year for the Harvey Mudd community, our alma mater remains strong. I look forward to another wonderful Alumni Weekend connecting with new and old friends.

David Sonner ’80
HMC Alumni Association President