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Don Gould elected chair of Pitzer board-podcast

by Mick Rhodes | mickrhodes@claremont-courier.com

Pitzer College announced in August that Don Gould had been elected chair of the school’s board of trustees.

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“It’s an exciting time to be stepping into that position with the students returning to campus,” Gould told the COURIER. “In that sense I feel like my timing was either good or lucky or some combination, because certainly the last year and a half has been a very challenging time for all of higher education.

“And now it feels very much like we’re turning the corner and the sun has come out from behind the clouds. I mean, there’s nothing like a college campus with the students back on it,” he said.
The Pomona College graduate teaches investment management at both Claremont Graduate University and Claremont McKenna College. He has been a trustee on the board of Pitzer College since 2006, and chaired the search committee that led to the appointment of Melvin Oliver as the school’s sixth president in 2016.

He served as vice-chair since 2017, and succeeds Harold A. Brown, who was chair from 2017 until August, and remains on the board as an active member.

Gould had high praise for his 34 fellow Pitzer board members.

“It’s just a really terrific group of people, very dedicated, with a quite remarkable diversity of backgrounds and talents,” Gould said.

The Pitzer board is a volunteer governing body. The trustees volunteer their time, expertise and financial resources. The board is a fiduciary entity that hires the president, monitors the performance of the college, and does everything it can to contribute to its success, Gould said.

“What I would like people to know about the Pitzer board, and I’m sure this is true about all the Claremont Colleges’ boards, is they’re made up of a lot of really great human beings who are just super volunteers, are just incredibly generous with their time, expertise and money,” he said.

He has been both a close witness to and participant in Pitzer’s rising profile over the past 20 years.

“When I joined the board I think Pitzer was ranked number 70 in the US News and World Report among liberal arts colleges,” he said. “We’re now ranked number 35. I’m willing to wager, though I haven’t done the research myself, that no other school has had a similar ascent over that period.”

College rankings are helpful for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the recruitment of talented students, but they’re not the sole objective of the board or the college for that matter, Gould said.

“But, I think they are at least one indicator of how Pitzer College has really risen in terms of national reputation and recognition,” he said.

Gould credited the school’s higher profile to a combination of elements. “Pitzer has always been an innovative school,” he said. “If you look all the way back to the 1960s when the school was founded, it was on a set of principles and values that at the time were no widely shared in higher education.”

Among those were social justice, environmental sensitivity and intercultural understanding.

“I like to say that Pitzer was a little bit out in left field in terms of its values and mission; The field has moved and Pitzer finds itself around home plate,” Gould said.

He also credited President Melvin Oliver and his predecessor, Laura Trombley, for their leadership of Pitzer during its ascendancy over the past two decades.

“We have an absolute top-rate, world-class faculty,” Gould said. “We have very dedicated administrators and staff. So, it’s a team effort, and I’d like to think the board gets at least a little credit for helping push things in the right direction. I would attribute some of Pitzer’s rise to the farsightedness of the founders to position the college in a place where the rest of the world would eventually get to.”

Being on the vanguard has certainly paid off. Pitzer’s values and mission resonate with today’s high school students, Gould said.

“That’s certainly been part of it. A lot of it is, as they say in football, blocking and tackling. You know, building up the financial resources, building up all the different functional areas, particularly things like admissions, where Pitzer was not well-known among high schools 30 years ago. It’s very well-known now.”

Bearing witness to Pitzer’s ascent has been a rewarding experience, he said. And while each year has had its challenges, the past 20 months have been a test on every level. From March 2020 onward and for all of the 2020-21 school year, classes were entirely virtual at each of the seven Claremont Colleges.

And now students are back for in-person classes, and the 2021-22 year has still been like no other. The pandemic has changed the higher education experience for everyone in Claremont and across the country. The freewheeling Pitzer campus of years gone by has given way to an understandably more sober vibe, with COVID protocols remaining part of many, if not all, interactions.

“It’s like no other in the history of Pitzer, or probably in the history of Harvard,” Gould said, referencing his master’s degree alma mater. “Although I suppose they did get through the pandemic of 1918, but I would suspect that students were on campus nonetheless. They didn’t have technological alternatives like we do now.”

Pitzer’s board meets four times per year: in summer, and three times during the school year. Its seven primary committees each meet at least three times per year, generally shortly in advance of the board meetings. It is still largely virtual, with this month’s meeting continuing via Zoom.
“My sincere hope is that our board meeting that’s regularly scheduled for February will be in person, on campus,” Gould said.

Though it’s been a trying 20 months for Pitzer, Gould is grateful that COVID’s trials have produced some useful byproducts.

“We did learn, through the pandemic, using Zoom is actually a very effective way to conduct committee meetings,” he said. “And so we’re going to continue that practice even when it’s easy to meet in person again. Part of the reasoning there is that by conducting committee meetings—of which there are many—on Zoom in advance of board meetings, we will be allowing more time at the board meetings for discussion of other issues.”

If the board is unable to meet in person for its February meeting, it will mark two full years since the body has met face-to-face.

Gould has a full time job running Claremont’s Gould Asset Management, which he founded in 1999. He’s now risen to the highest spot on the Pitzer board, so the natural question is whether he may have his sights on higher appointed or even elected office.

“I would say that a different role in higher education is not on my radar,” he said. And as for elected office? He laughed and said, “I have no interest.”

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