The I-Place Shutdown: Many Hands Make Poor Decisions

Most of us have heard the adage, “your college years are the best years of your life.” For some, this statement is less true, especially for those who have to adjust to an entirely different culture and move over 8,000 miles away for college. 

This state of affairs is my situation. However, I commend Pomona College, and the rest of the Claremont Colleges Consortium, for doing a lot to make this statement true even for international students. They immensely support international students through the International Place (I-Place), from visa paperwork to discrepancies in social standards. When I heard that the International Place and its associated programs will be dissolved by the end of this academic year, I was disheartened. Not only did the International Place offer guidance to students like me, but it also was an efficient, centralized organization, taking full advantage of the consortium system to avoid redundancies. The decision also highlights an age-old problem: a lack of understanding between the administrations of the colleges and students. 

Dealing with a culture shock and making new friends are hard enough in person; add a digital barrier on top of that and you can picture what the international students of the Class of 2024 have to endure. Despite such challenges, Pomona has provided multiple platforms for us to adjust to our new college environments. I-Place helped us adjust. Sure, Pomona has its International Student Mentor Program (ISMP), but I-Place takes on much more responsibility. While offering resources from cell-phone plans to local transportation, I-Place is the only platform that encompasses multiple schools of the Claremont Colleges as a collective international community, the one place that hosts festivals and galas that celebrates international students like me. When I asked international upperclassmen about their experiences moving in, they explained how New International Student and Scholar Orientation (NISSO) and the I-Place took care of everything, that these programs had the greatest impact when they settled into college.

Dissolving such an impactful resource from its repertoire is not only a poor decision for the administration to authorize; it’s also reflective of a larger problem of administrative inefficiency. It blatantly ignores the advantages offered by the consortium system. Instead of one central place, run by a few administrators, where international students—few in number at some of the Claremont Colleges—can gather, mingle, and receive support, I-Place’s elimination will force each of the Claremont Colleges to take over I-Place’s responsibility individually, contributing to the larger dilemma that plagues Pomona: administrative bloat. 

With its 2.325 billion dollar endowment, Pomona has the resources to keep I-Place intact. Funding should not be an issue. As presented in Pomona Professor John Seery’s article, the Pomona administration has ballooned by 384 percent, from 1990 to 2016. Such an increase should reflect in the administration being able to effectively provide the resources the student body, including internationals, need. Yet, I-Place closing shows that the contrary is taking place. The administrators are not listening to what the students need, which leads to a failure to leverage Pomona’s massive resources to support them. What good is a larger administration if they can’t provide the resources that benefit students most? 

Part of the problem, I suspect, comes from the administrations’ lack of understanding of the international student experience. The decision to close I-Place seems to have been made without consulting international students at all. If administrators had reached out to the international community in the way I have, they might have heard enough positive sentiments about I-Place to reconsider their choice to shut it down. Instead, the administration seems to have gone ahead with the choice without giving due consideration to how it would affect international students. Nor have they been able to provide me with straight answers as to how and why the decision was made. When I learned about the choice to shut down I-Place, I contacted the administration to ask about its standing and the decision-making process that ultimately led to its closure. I spoke with no fewer than three administrators, and each directed me to another, and another, and another. The questions I was hoping they’d answer were simple, but the answers they have provided have been frustratingly vague, to say the least.

Administrative bloat is a larger national issue, with many institutions of higher education in the United States falling victim to it. In this case, this national problem is not just affecting domestic students, but international students like me as well. 

With the Pomona administration failing to understand what their students need and I-Place being poised to shut down, I might just have to retract my commendation for Pomona’s efforts towards assisting its international community.

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