CMC’s Interdisciplinary Science Plans: Additional Background Information and A Look Forward

October 18, 2018

To: All faculty

Dear colleagues:

You have all received the message reproduced below. This communication provides additional background and more information on the path ahead, including the many ways we intend to involve faculty in the process. 

Executive Summary

Dear CMC, Pitzer College, and Scripps College Community Members,

During the last year, the presidents and deans of Keck Science, as well as the Boards of the three colleges, have explored a range of solutions to dramatically increase tenure-track faculty positions, reduce class sizes, and upgrade classrooms, labs, and equipment.

After much consideration, the colleges have decided to move forward in anticipation of the following:

Scripps and Pitzer are preparing to jointly assume ownership of CMC’s financial stake in the Keck Science department and invest in renovating and expanding the W. M. Keck Science Center and program.

CMC plans to create an independent science department and construct a new science facility to house 22-28 full-time science faculty.

The two science departments will collaborate closely and be highly coordinated, with the shared goal of offering an excellent interdisciplinary science education that is greater than the sum of the parts, to the benefit of all our students and faculty.

Our goal is to expand science education at the three colleges. Keck will become a Pitzer/Scripps joint sciences department. Over the coming years, this department will expand through faculty hiring and building renovation and expansion. CMC is moving forward in planning for (i) an independent science department that will both coordinate and cooperate with the Pitzer/Scripps department and (ii) withdrawal from the current structure. We believe that this will benefit the students of the three colleges by relieving enrollment pressures currently facing Keck Science, providing complementary courses and colleagues, and increasing the overall breadth of science across the three colleges and The Claremont Colleges.


Since 1964 Claremont McKenna, Pitzer, and Scripps Colleges have collaborated on science education, in several different configurations. As “Joint Science” since 1980, the department was a fully integrated entity that gave students of the three colleges a standard of science education that no one college alone could have managed. As three colleges with different missions, cultures, and endowments, there were often challenges in sustaining the collaboration. Despite this, Joint Science, named “Keck Science” in 2011, thrived as a single department. Intellectually, it developed a strong commitment to interdisciplinary science. Pedagogically, it developed a strong orientation toward faculty-student research, including a high publication rate and success in securing external grant funding. 

The excellence of Keck Science was one factor in attracting waves of growth in enrollments and majors over the last two decades. This growth was especially notable at Scripps since 2000 and at Pitzer since 2008. However, the inability of the three colleges to expand the department to meet this demand led to undue growth in class size and heavy reliance on visitors.  Keck Science faculty have been rightly critical of the lack of resources to address growing enrollment—and this includes two failed attempts to build a new facility during the last decade. 

In a way, Keck Science is a victim of its own success: an impressive scholar-teacher model for interdisciplinary science that has attracted more students from the three member colleges than its current resources can accommodate. It has also been a victim of its joint governance system. The faculty is permanently migrating between three institutions, belonging simultaneously to all and no one college in particular. Keck Science investments have often been made at the lowest common denominator of what any one college could afford to contribute, thus lowering the bar on what is possible and structurally delivering insufficient resources.

The situation requires immediate action. The use of adjunct faculty and the size of classes has grown far beyond what CMC students deserve and rightly expect. Labs and equipment also need to be upgraded to match the ambitions of the faculty and students. Notwithstanding the valiant efforts of its great faculty, Keck Science needs a prompt and substantial infusion of resources.

Starting in the summer of 2017, the three colleges worked together with the faculty of Keck Science to address this situation. Together, we designed a facility that would eventually end up housing up to 46 faculty, from 32 today. Last Spring, CMC came to the realization that this planned growth in facility and faculty, as well as the timeline to get there, were critically insufficient—much more was needed. Last spring, after endorsing interdisciplinary science as a core priority to its liberal arts mission, the CMC Board of Trustees authorized a fundraising effort to invest between $200 Million and $250 Million in new capital and program development in order to nearly double the overall capacity of science.

Doubling the capacity of science posed significant financial and governance challenges. Under the Keck Science governance system, each college must contribute one-third of the cost of a new facility, as well as proportionate formula funding for program costs. This means that the collective ability to raise funding for substantially expanding Keck depends on the ability of each individual college to raise sufficient funding. If any one of the three colleges cannot reach that level, the three colleges together cannot reach it. Furthermore, as a matter of policy, CMC will not use financing on capital projects without an external source to retire that financing. 

Overcoming these challenges thus required a dual commitment: to raise sufficient resources without violating CMC’s financing principles and to find a governance solution that could tolerate unequal contributions. The three colleges spent the latter part of spring and the summer trying to come up with an organizational and governance model that would accommodate asymmetric investment while retaining Keck as a single entity. The presidents and deans went through multiple scenarios, working in consultation with their respective Boards of Trustees. All of these created unacceptable asymmetries to all parties and proved to be unsuccessful. 

After much consideration, the colleges have decided to move forward with planning to organize science education at the three colleges into two entities. Our intent is that the existing Keck Science department will become a Pitzer/Scripps entity; that CMC will build its own science department; and that the two science departments work closely together in matters of curriculum and faculty, to the benefit of all of our students and faculty. The three Boards of Trustees have discussed these plans at their respective Board meetings during the last two weeks and are prepared to move ahead.

We envision that the two departments will eventually be of roughly equal size in both physical space and faculty and have autonomy in decision-making; yet, each will deeply coordinate decisions on hiring and curriculum with the other, with the shared goal of offering an excellent interdisciplinary science education that is greater than the sum of the parts.   

On Oct. 5, the CMC Board of Trustees authorized a formal planning process to develop a CMC interdisciplinary science department with a goal of nearly doubling the current science capacity of the three colleges in Joint Science. This plan entails a restructuring of the governance relationships, which in turn requires a formal withdrawal from the joint sciences program. Under this proposal and subject to the matters noted below, CMC would give notice of withdrawal three years in advance of an anticipated commencement of the new program. This three-year notice would be given only after a vote by the Board of Trustees as soon as it is clear that CMC can achieve sufficient capacity (facility and faculty hiring) to realize the vision for a full, equal, and complementary science program. This withdrawal will follow the terms of the Joint Keck Science governance agreement. Scripps and Pitzer have asked for a definitive timeline as soon as possible and that we fully expect that to be within this academic year.

Withdrawal has never been the goal of CMC, but it has become a necessary step in order to raise the resources, resolve the governance challenges in an equitable way, expand faculty and facilities, and build the interdisciplinary science program that the faculty and the students of CMC—and the other colleges—deserve.

What does this concretely mean?

As described above, under this plan the existing department will become a Pitzer/Scripps entity and CMC will build its own Science department. There will not be a partitioning of the existing department. All of current Keck Science will become a Pitzer/Scripps entity. As the institution leaving Keck Science, we will not take members from the department upon our departure; however, current Keck faculty may freely choose to apply for positions in CMC’s program.

Pitzer and Scripps will engage in further investment in the department, to make it truly right-sized for the two colleges. They anticipate that this means hiring faculty, as well as renovating and expanding the current building. They continue to work with the original project architects, Carrier Johnson, and anticipate finishing the renovation of the current building and the addition to it by 2022. They intend to infuse the department with as much additional funding, and probably more, than was discussed in the first round of plans.

CMC has chosen Cannon Design as its architect for a new interdisciplinary science facility. The site for a new building has not yet been finalized—multiple options are under consideration. Within approximately five years, CMC plans to have hired 15-plus new faculty, and within five years thereafter up to ten more. Subject to funding and space availability—both of which we are working on hard—we intend to start hiring new science faculty as soon as possible, prior to having finished the construction of the new facility. This will allow us to reduce the burden on Keck Science faculty, and enhance the education of our students, right away.

CMC is committed to ensuring that the faculty we hire are teacher-scholars of the highest caliber, committed to the liberal arts and to interdisciplinary teaching and research—in short, faculty on par with the ones in Keck Science. Our interdisciplinary science strategy is also designed to strengthen other departments at CMC through hires that will create bridges to science from within economics, government, psychology, mathematics, philosophy, and other departments. We will involve ask faculty, including colleagues at Keck Science, to assist with the definition of these positions. The interdisciplinary science strategy also dovetails powerfully with CMC’s computer science and data science strategy already underway.

Looking ahead

There are many questions that need to be addressed. Some of these pertain to benefits and working conditions for current Keck Science faculty. We are committed to honoring the tenure rights of the tenured faculty, as well as the contracts under which current pre-tenure faculty were hired, to the fullest extent possible. Others relate to the future relations between the two new departments. Which rules and principles will provide a solid foundation for the deep coordination and collaboration between two autonomous science departments which we all desire? How to also enhance collaboration with science programs at Harvey Mudd, Pomona, KGI, and CGU? Many of the toughest challenges for CMC relate to creating a new facility and hiring the new faculty. Money needs to be raised, budgets established, plans drawn up, contractors hired, searches done, and so much more. Finally, we will also work with Pitzer and Scripps and the Keck Science faculty to ensure that our students are well supported throughout the transition period. 

Our planning process will create many opportunities for insight and input by CMC faculty, including the Keck Science faculty. The Academic Affairs Committee of the Board is tasked with the development of a Strategic Vision for Interdisciplinary STEM at CMC. There are four faculty on this committee (Asuman Aksoy, Rod Camp, Jonathan Petropoulos, and Katie Purvis-Roberts), and they are encouraged to participate actively. We will also organize periodic town hall meetings to discuss and influence the work that goes on in AAC. Two other Board committees play significant roles here, namely the Finance committee and Campus Planning and Facilities committee—and each have two faculty on them (Josh Rosett and Janet Smith, and Matt Magilke and Diana Thompson respectively). We are also creating a science advisory board that will have a number of Keck faculty on it and that will provide advice and consult with us on our plans for both facilities and faculty. Finally, Dean Uvin will ask the Council of Chairs and the Administration Committee for guidance and bring to them the questions that fall within their remit.

This is a moment of opportunity, transition, and major decisions. We understand that it may come as a surprise to all of you, and we regret we had to have the conversation so far outside of the public space. We will provide opportunities for input by all of you as we proceed on this exciting journey. We are enormously grateful for the contributions of our colleagues in Keck Science, and intend to do all we can to ensure that they, together with the new faculty we will hire, can enhance the great work they have been doing for so many years for our students. Within the next decade, the three colleges plan to nearly double the current science space and faculty and build the next generation of interdisciplinary science in a liberal arts environment. We will collaborate closely on faculty hiring and the curriculum and support research collaborations between our faculties. We will also create intellectual links with many other departments at CMC, and the interdisciplinary nature of science at our college will become even stronger. The number of students in the three colleges will remain roughly the same; yet, with the near-doubling of science faculty and space, the quality of our students’ science education, as well as the work conditions of the two faculties, will improve dramatically. This is a vision we all share and will realize together.


Peter Uvin
Dean of the Faculty and Vice President for Academic Affairs
Professor of Government
Claremont McKenna College