A senior writer at The Chronicle, Lawrence has covered higher education for more than 30 years. Can you surprise him?
- For Claremont’s Female Presidents, ‘It’s Not Lonely at the Top’
- Lunch at Grove House: Sandwiches, Cookies, and a Taste of Philosophy
- Cal Poly Pomona’s Doomed Tower Awaits Its Fate
- What Students Ask About Orozco’s Prometheus Is, Well, Obvious
- Beneath a Pirate Flag, West Hall Offers Pranks and the Occasional Nightmare
- fizmath on For Grinnell’s New President, Tense Negotiations Over Sheet Cake
- 11279395 on A Tale of 2 Chickens, a President, and Her Mother
- jbarman on A Tale of 2 Chickens, a President, and Her Mother
- wilkenslibrary on Pitzer Makes a Collective Effort at Biking
- bhread on In Lawrence, Kan., a Home for Theremins and Tropicália
Author Archives: Lawrence Biemiller
February 28, 2011, 5:35 pm
Lori Bettison-Varga, Deborah Freund, Pamela Gann, Maria Klawe, and Laura Trombley (Photos courtesy of Scripps College, Claremont Graduate School, Claremont McKenna College, Harvey Mudd College, Pitzer College)
Claremont, Calif. — It’s not every dinner with college presidents that starts off with one offering to teach the others how to skateboard. But when I got together the other night with the women who head five of the seven institutions in the Claremont University Consortium, Harvey Mudd College’s Maria Klawe volunteered even before the appetizers arrived to give skateboard lessons to any of us—and she was perfectly serious.
I knew then that it was going to be an interesting meal. By the time the entrees appeared, Pitzer College’s Laura Trombley had told a great story about chicken-butt photos and Ms. Klawe had given me the background on the Harvey Mudd rule…
February 20, 2011, 4:03 pm
Sandwiches and cookies are the fare at Pitzer College’s Grove House, along with a daily special.
Claremont, Calif. — In a sunny, cramped space shoehorned under a staircase, Zenia Gutiérrez is fast becoming one of the most important people on Pitzer College’s campus. She is cook, kitchen manager, friend, philosopher, and queen of cookies at Grove House, a 1902 cottage that serves as a cafe, meeting place, and hangout. To many Pitzer students, that makes her more important than the college’s president—possibly more important than the country’s.
Ms. Gutiérrez (left), known to her staff as Zee, has been working in kitchens for a decade now—since she was 17—and came to Pitzer several years ago as a cook in the main dining hall. But as soon as she saw Grove House, with its cozy rooms, its antique Arts and Crafts furniture, and its quirky kitchen with big windows overlooking…
February 17, 2011, 12:51 pm
Pomona, Calif. — So I went to visit my favorite doomed building, which stands not far from where Interstate 10 makes a roller-coaster descent into this broad valley. Here W.K. Kellogg, the cereal magnate, once raised Arabian horses on a huge ranch that is now the California State Polytechnic University’s Pomona campus. The building is the campus’s most visible icon—a sculptural, triangular tower with an unmistakable top that looks like it was cribbed from an M.C. Escher print.
The tower is the signature element of a multi-part complex designed by the architect Antoine Predock and opened with considerable fanfare in 1993. Officially, it’s known as the Classroom/Laboratory/Administration Building, but everyone here calls it the CLA. In fact, that’s what the university’s trustees called it when they decided last fall to tear it down sometime in the next few years and replace it with …
February 16, 2011, 3:26 pm
Claremont, Calif. — The great Mexican muralist José Clemente Orozco has been engaging and confounding Pomona College students since 1930, when he spent some weeks in the college’s brand new dining hall, Frary, painting a towering portrait of a nude Prometheus. It was Orozco’s first work in the United States, completed several years before the more famous—and famously disturbing—murals in Dartmouth College’s Baker Library.
Unfortunately for Orozco—though you have to think he should have known better—what Pomona students have mostly wondered about over the years is why he painted Prometheus without a penis. It’s not a subtle omission, either—no fig leaves, no judiciously placed hand, nothing. Prometheus is stretching skyward in his perpetual agony, and he is,…
February 15, 2011, 12:08 pm
Claremont, Calif. — Ask Maria Klawe about West Hall and she pauses, almost imperceptibly, for just a moment. Then Ms. Klawe, the president of Harvey Mudd College, brightens. “Well, it’s known as Wild West,” she says of the residence hall, a little landscape of chaos in the middle of Harvey Mudd’s sleek Modernist campus. “And it’s why we have a rule that flames can’t rise higher than the tops of the buildings.”
West Hall, one of Harvey Mudd’s original dorms, is a U-shaped two-story building that wraps around a courtyard that I’ve usually seen ornamented with oversized speakers and a junk store’s worth of old sofas. When I walked by last week there was also an inflatable pool by the barbecue grill, and heavy-duty electrical cords snaked in and out of doors. An impromptu movie screen hung from the roof, and a skull-and-crossbones flag hung from a pole affixed to the tallest limb of a…
February 14, 2011, 1:52 pm
Pasadena, Calif. — I went to the Caltech-Whittier College men’s basketball game Saturday evening because, as a journalist, I have a responsibility to history. Also because Sharon Herzberger, Whittier’s president, had told me she was afraid Caltech might actually win.
In case you’re no more of a sports fan than I am, what you need to know about the California Institute of Technology is that its men’s basketball team last won a game in its conference, the NCAA’s Division III Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, in 1985. The team, known as the Beavers, has occasionally beaten colleges outside the conference—in fact, Caltech won three nonconference games in a row in December—but its SCIAC record is remarkable, and not in a good way.
Nonetheless, Ms. Herzberger said Caltech had been playing pretty well all season, at least by the standards of a conference that …
February 11, 2011, 1:51 pm
Richard Tran, a Whittier College student, helps a child with a computer game in the Fifth Dimension area of the Whittier Boys and Girls Club.
Whittier, Calif. — Kids are swarming around Richard Tran as they come back upstairs after having their snacks, “wizard’s assistants” are lobbing questions at him over the kids’ heads, and the purple clipboard with the all-important game sign-up sheet is nowhere to be seen. But Mr. Tran maintains an almost magical calm.
Somehow he wills the clipboard to appear, greets several kids who have just arrived, answers a dozen questions about everything from computer games to construction paper, and figures out why one grinning eight-year-old boy is hiding behind him—all in the time it would take you or me just to catch our breath. It’s enough to make you think that there really is a wizard behind the Fifth Dimension program here on the…
February 10, 2011, 1:22 pm
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,…
February 9, 2011, 3:57 pm
Orange, Calif. — Does your college have a resting place for the dead? Offhand I can think of only a handful of institutions that do, and almost all of those institutions are very old. Hamilton College has a simple College Cemetery in the middle of the campus, while at Dartmouth College the lovely old burying ground sits all but hidden between the main campus and the business school. Several University of Chicago presidents are interred in the Rockefeller Memorial Chapel, I know, and there’s a Stanford family mausoleum on the campus of the university that Leland and Jane Stanford founded in memory of their son, Leland Jr.
Still, I was surprised to discover a columbarium—a resting place for the ashes of the deceased—tucked away at the back of Chapman University’s Fish Interfaith Center, which houses two chapels and was just completed in 2004. The columbarium is a beautiful little …
February 8, 2011, 3:34 pm
Whittier, Calif. — I did not come here meaning to look for mementos of Richard Milhous Nixon—or, for that matter, of John Greenleaf Whittier. I spent the summer of my 15th year learning about government by watching the Watergate hearings—John Dean, John Ehrlichman, Samuel Dash, Sam Ervin—and the next two decades listening to endless discussions about the aftermath. That seemed like enough Nixon for one lifetime. As for Whittier, well, let’s just say that tastes have changed since the 19th century, when his rhyming lines and classical allusions made him one of the country’s best-loved poets.
But the City of Whittier, settled by Quakers about 1880, is named for the poet, who was a prominent…