All posts by Lawrence Biemiller


For Claremont’s Female Presidents, ‘It’s Not Lonely at the Top’

Lori Bettison-VargaDeborah FreundPamela GannMaria KlaweLaura Trombley 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 Mu…


Lunch at Grove House: Sandwiches, Cookies, and a Taste of Philosophy

Sandwiches and cookies

Sandwiches and cookies are the fare at Pitzer College’s Grove House, along with a daily special.

Zenia GutierrezClaremont, 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 pres…


Cal Poly Pomona’s Doomed Tower Awaits Its Fate

CLA towerPomona, 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 s…


What Students Ask About Orozco’s Prometheus Is, Well, Obvious

Orozco muralJosé Clemente Orozco’s portrait of Prometheus is the subject of a new exhibition at Pomona College’s art museum.

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…


Beneath a Pirate Flag, West Hall Offers Pranks and the Occasional Nightmare

West HallClaremont, 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 …


After 25 Years of Losses, Caltech Basketball Instills Fears in Presidents’ Hearts

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 In…


The Fifth Dimension Brings a Touch of Magic to Kids’ Afternoons

RIchard Tran helps Serena with a game called The Scruffs.

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 a…


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 tal…


Behind a Campus Chapel, a Place for the Ashes of the Dead

Chapman U. columbariumOrange, 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 St…


In Whittier’s Library, a Politician Keeps Company With a Poet

Richard Nixon as a member of Whittier College's football teamAs a student, Richard M. Nixon was a member of Whittier College’s football team. He’s wearing No. 23. “He was a great debater,” the college’s president says, “but a terrible athlete.”

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 de…