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A Tale of 2 Chickens, a President, and Her Mother

Pitzer chickensClaremont, Calif. — It’s not every college president who has to explain chicken-butt photos to her mother, but when the time came, Laura Trombley managed. All part of being a president, she said.

Ms. Trombley, a Mark Twain expert who is president of Pitzer College, told the chicken story last night over dinner. It began when a student at neighboring Scripps College e-mailed to say, as Ms. Trombley remembers it, “One of your chickens is sick.”

Ms. Trombley knew right away what the student was talking about: Pitzer has a chicken coop (above) in the organic garden behind Grove House, its 1902 student center. Ms. Trombley even knew whom to call—a grounds-staff member who she said serves as “our chicken whisperer.” He told her not to worry, the chicken was just molting—which, in turn, Ms. Trombley reported to the Scripps student in an e-mail.

The story did not end there, however. Soon another e-mail arrived from the Scripps student, who turned out to know a fair amount about chickens and who insisted that this one was not molting. The student had gone over to the chicken coop with a friend and taken pictures, which she submitted for Ms. Trombley’s inspection. One photo showed the posterior of the ailing bird—Ms. Trombley was good enough not to go into detail at the dinner table, but the word “runny” figured in the narrative—and the other photo showed the posterior of one of the chicken’s healthier sisters.

It was just then that Ms. Trombley’s mother, who was visiting at the time, happened to ask what she was doing. What do you tell your mother when you’ve got two chicken-butt pictures on your computer screen? “Oh, I’m just being a college president,” Ms. Trombley replied.

“It cost us $100 to get the chicken fixed,” she said. But, as the credit-card commercials say, the story is priceless.

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