In a flyer introducing her course on “Southern California Earthquakes and Water,” a geology professor at Pomona College sells her class as an intriguing hands-on look at the unique “tectonic and hydrologic challenges” faced in the Golden State. She then explains how she will exercise racial preference in choosing which students may enroll in the course.
Unlike in most Pomona classes, seats in the earthquakes course are offered on a permission-only basis, which means that students must submit a written request—colloquially called a “PERM”—to the professor seeking “permission to enroll.” The professor sees all of these requests and may choose among them to fill his or her course.
Typically, professors treat PERMs as a waitlist, selecting students in the order in which they submitted their PERM requests. To the extent that preferential treatment is exercised, it is typically used to ensure that students majoring in a particular field of study are able to enroll in courses for their major ahead of others, who may simply be taking them to fulfill general education requirements.
Linda Reinen, who will teach the earthquakes course this fall, plans to use her approval authority to prefer students from marginalized backgrounds, such as non-Whites and low-income students, who she believes will derive “particular benefit” from a smaller and less competitive course.
“I encourage students who PERM this course to indicate how their background, experience, and/or interests could contribute to diversifying perspectives in the course,” she writes. “In resolving PERMs I will strive to identify students for whom the small-section setting has the potential to be of particular benefit. I am especially interested in seeing PERM requests from students of color, first generation or low-income students, international, and students early in their college career (first two years); such students are especially encouraged to apply.” (emphasis original)
Reinen does not explain how preferential approval on the basis of race, income, national origin, or age might provide a tangible benefit in a course on geological science or why the students she prefers stand to benefit more from a small-section class than other students.
Professor Reinen did not respond to the Independent’s requests for comment.