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Pitzer's New "Donation"

April 28, 2010

Caroline Mimbs Nyce
Pitzer's New "Donation"

Pitzer has a new donation campaign underway.  For just $500, you can get your name put on a chair in their newly renovated auditorium, located in Avery Hall.  You know, that auditorium which they are renaming in honor of CMC’s first president, George C.S. Benson. Wait, let’s rewind a bit.

In case you need to brush up on your Claremont Colleges history, here’s a little lesson: George Benson was the founding president of CMC.  Though he later helped out in the founding of both Harvey Mudd and Pitzer,  Benson seemed to be the embodiment of the ultimate CMCer.  Throughout his life, he was involved Los Angeles Republican party politics; he was even one of the original supporters of President Richard Nixon.  So why have our not-so-conservative neighbors chosen to honor Benson?

It turns out that Robert Day, CMC class of ’65 and former chair of CMC’s Board of Trustees, recently donated the $3 million for the renovation of Pitzer’s primary auditorium.   When given the choice, Day was the one that asked that the auditorium be named for Benson.  However, it does not seem that Day has abandoned his love for his alma mater and changed his allegiance to our northeastern brethren.   On the contrary, it seems that the move may have been entirely for the benefit of CMCers.  Rumors have begun to circulate that Day donated the Auditorium as a trade with Pitzer.   In exchange for the major gift, Pitzer would allegedly agree to allow the new Joint Science Building to be built in the lot across from the current building, right on the edge of CMC’s campus, on the plot of land that is currently the parking lot at 9th and Mills.  This would make the new structure just a stone's throw from North Quad, and therefore very accessible to Claremont McKenna students. Though Pitzer had originally wanted the new project to be located further north, on a plot of land up towards Mudd, it seems more likely that the new building will be built much closer to CMC’s campus.

CMC’s VP of Alumni Relations, John Faranda, could not confirm the rumors that the donation was a buyoff. However, he did mention, “Robert [Day] is a very smart man, and we know he is very interested in helping science.”  In fact, it is part of Day's family legacy.  Day is actually a relative of W.M. Keck, after whom the current Joint Science Center is named.   The W.M. Keck Foundation has provided funding for all sorts of science related projects, from the W.M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii to USC's Keck School of Medicine. In other words, Day is merely continuing his family tradition, albeit in a very hands-on manner.

In some ways, it appears that Day is the epitome of a CMC graduate.  He is an extremely savvy businessman who is using his expertise in the world and his monetary power to forward a cause he feels passionately about: the well-being of CMC students.  As for naming the auditorium after Benson, this is not uncalled for.  Much of the nomenclature around all five colleges is already intertwined.  In fact, Pitzer itself was named after Russell K. Pitzer, who provided one of the crucial initial donations to get Claremont McKenna off the ground.

Fundraising is not currently underway on the project, and it will probably be years before construction on the Joint Science Center Expansion officially begins.  Perhaps years down the road, CMC students can show gratitude to Day for his contributions to science at the Claremont Colleges and a shorter walk to class.

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