Former Claremont McKenna College President Pamela Gann gave way to a new era at the college and the Chodosh administration on July 1, 2013, stepping down from her post after 14 years on the job. Rumors as to what Gann has done post-presidency have swirled around the campus ever since then, ranging from climbing Mt. Everest and base-jumping the Shanghai Tower, to quelling and starting Third-World uprisings. The Independent contacted Gann about taking part in an interview April 5, and all of her responses were sent via email. We hope to set the record straight on CMC’s own “Most Interesting Woman In the World.”
CI: It has been almost a year now since you left for your sabbatical. CMC students have been curious as to what you have been doing and where you have traveled to during this time. Would you mind sharing your experience with us?
PG: I really love high altitude trekking, and I experienced two trips to the Himalaya. In August, I spent three weeks in Ladakh, which is in Northern India. We first acclimatized in Leh and the Indus River Valley and learned a great deal about Buddhist culture. Our trek of two weeks included over a week of camping above 16,000 feet and crossing a pass at 19,200 feet before arriving at Tso Moriri, a large sacred lake at 15,000.
In October, I left for a month in Nepal. I spent a full three weeks in the Mt. Everest area, including trekking through three valleys, hiking to the Ama Dablam and Everest basecamps, and crossing the Cho La pass (17,870 feet) in deep snow. This trip was the finest trekking experience in my life, and I would very much like to go again to this part of the Himalaya. Many years ago, I also trekked in northern Pakistan in the area leading to K2 and up the Hispar Glacier, another amazing experience.
CI: During your 14 years as CMC’s President, you instituted a number of different changes. Many of these changes were major endeavors, such as raising over $635 million in a five-year fundraising campaign, establishing the Roberts Day Scholars Program, and creating a Master Plan for the college. What motivated you to institute these changes? Did you fulfill all of the goals you had for CMC by the time you left office?
PG: A leader works with various constituents, particularly with the Board of Trustees, faculty, students, parents, administration and staff, and alumni, to determine how best to advance the excellence and effectiveness of the institution. We determined that CMC needed to work on all fronts, including support for faculty growth, student financial aid, and co-curricular and extra-curricular activities, a master plan and improvement of the campus functionally and aesthetically, and our outreach to alumni, parents, and friends. The Campaign enabled us to address successfully these variously identified areas of the College. Importantly, our constituents supported the Campaign, for without their enthusiastic and significant support, none of this would have happened. A leader’s motivation comes from many sources, but I was always motivated by wanting to help others in our community be successful and fulfill their own personal and professional goals in life.
One area about which I was disappointed was the inability to make further progress on a second building for the Keck Department of Science. CMC, Pitzer, and Scripps were able to provide additional temporary spaces, continue to hire new faculty, and make many other improvements under the leadership of Dean David Hansen and the Keck Science faculty; nevertheless, the growth in science enrollments clearly justifies another science building.
CI: Looking back, do you wish you had done anything differently during your time as President?
PG: A leader is provided an opportunity to lead at a given point in the history and evolution of an organization. One’s goals are to take advantage, the best that one can, of the opportunities present at that time. I think that it will be easier to answer your specific question in about five years with the benefit of hindsight!
CI: Upon examining the legacy you left behind at CMC, many faculty members and students recognized that CMC’s next President had very big shoes to fill. Since his inauguration at the beginning of this year, President Hiram Chodosh has already introduced multiple new initiatives to CMC, including The Student Imperative and The Mirza Summit on Personal and Social Responsibility. What is your initial impression of the Chodosh administration? Do you have any advice for him going forward?
PG: Fortunately, the CMC Board of Trustees selected President Chodosh in December 2012. Consequently, we had six months to work together on his transition at July 1, 2013. Whatever advice that I wanted to give was communicated during that time period!
The two new initiatives that you mention are very important. Access and affordability to attend college are critical issues being addressed by The Student Imperative. When I was the Dean of the Duke Law School, I would always tell students that they were almost surely experiencing the most “ideal” community that they would ever encounter. It is the role of institutions of higher education to model the most “ideal” communities that they can create, and I’m sure that The Mirza Summit on Personal and Social Responsibility is rightly pursuing this honorable goal for CMC.
CI: I understand that you will be returning to CMC this fall as the Trustee Professor of Legal Studies. What made you want to be a professor again after all this time? What aspect of teaching did you miss most?
PG: I went into the academy as a young professor, and I always enjoyed the core activities of teaching and research. I could not be happier to be returning to these activities. I very much look forward to teaching the students at CMC and the other Claremont Colleges and the relationships that one builds with students through the classroom.
CI: What courses will you be teaching this fall? Is there an area of legal studies that you would like to specialize in?
PG: I am thrilled to be teaching again next year. In the fall I will be teaching a course entitled “What Do Universities Do?: Public Policy and Leadership in Higher Education.” This new course is an outgrowth of my entire professional life in higher education. We will look at many of the most important issues in contemporary higher education: the shifting historical and contemporary concerns; the discrepant purposes, values and responsibilities of colleges and universities and their intentional and unintentional social implications; the economics of the sector including finance and productivity; issues concerning the students’ academic experiences and engagement and the outcomes of higher education; issues pertaining to admission and financial aid, including shifting demographics and access; issues pertaining to accountability and risk; and pathways to globalization. Throughout the course, we will be addressing leadership issues pertaining to the topic and how one would go about leading a college campus through these issues.
In the fall, I will also be teaching a version of this course at the School of Education, Claremont Graduate University, to students enrolled in master and Ph.D. degree programs.
In the spring semester, I will introduce two new courses.
The first is also an outgrowth of my professional work, and it is entitled “Philanthropy, Voluntarism, and Nonprofits: Law, Public Policy and Leadership.” I always tell students that they are likely to work or volunteer for, lead, or govern a nonprofit organization. Why? The nonprofit area is so very broad and important in American society and increasingly outside the United States. It includes foundations, such as the Gates Foundation and the Ford Foundation, think-tanks such as The Brookings Institution and the American Enterprise Institute, museums such as the Metropolitan Art Museum and the Getty Museum, public benefit organizations like The Salvation Army and the United Way, religious organizations, civil rights organizations, and on-line organizations such as www.givedirectly.org or www.globalgiving.org. I am very pleased to introduce this new course at The Claremont Colleges. It will broadly address many key topics including: leadership, governance, accountability, who gives and why, and the appropriate public policy and legal framework for determining ideal allocations of social problem-solving among government, for-profit, and the nonprofit sectors.
The second new course is “International Law.” Citizens of the United States and other nations are impacted by transactions and activities outside of and across their national borders. They are increasingly affected by the norms and activities of international and regional organizations (e.g., the UN, WTO, NAFTA, and EU), and by the obligations of international agreements. Many international activities take place frequently in structured ways (such as cross-border trade in goods), but they may also take place in a more complex context such as economic sanctions against Iran. Collective force may be used in Libya causing regime change, while collective force may not occur with respect to Darfur, Rwanda, and Syria. These international organizations, international agreements, international norms, and international action and inaction may impact U.S. foreign policy and the range of realistic and legal options available to address U.S. strategic interests. International law is a legal system that affects all of these activities. This course is designed to introduce students to a framework for understanding international law, including what it means for anyone today – legislator, policy-maker, human rights advocate, environmentalist – who has an interest in politics and international relations. It will provide a foundation for more specialized courses.
I hope that all of these new courses will appeal to students, and I am thrilled to be teaching each of them.
CI: Once you return to campus, do you plan to still be involved in administrative decisions? If so, which issues would you most like to address and get involved in?
PG: I will not be involved in any governance or administrative decisions.
CI: After your experience as CMC’s President and your time on sabbatical, do you have any advice you would like to offer to CMC students?
PG: I do not think that there has ever been a time more exciting and important to be a student. You are fortunate to be at CMC. I would simply urge you to take advantage of everything that CMC has to offer, to be bold and intellectually adventuresome, and to be engaged with your faculty. Finally, always leave CMC a better place than when you first entered the College; and you should think about how best you individually or in groups can accomplish this.