In Essays & Poems, Faculty Voices, Newsletters, Office of the President

Letter from the President of Pacifica

Dear Pacifica Alumni,

Let me begin with warm wishes for 2021; may it bring peace and prosperity to all of you.

We have just come through a year like none other in living memory. It has been a difficult year marked by much sadness and loss, yet there are hopeful signs on the horizon. As the novel coronavirus which causes COVID-19 entered the human world most probably due to climate change, it rapidly spread around the world. At this writing, the US has more than 26 million cases, about 445 thousand deaths (more than all US casualties in World War II), and these numbers are rapidly rising. Effective vaccines have been created in a remarkably short time, but delivery systems and production lag. Hopefully the new administration in Washington will be able to meet this challenge in the coming months. The human consequences are staggering and compounded by great economic strain from the measures needed to inhibit the spread of the virus. As a consequence, in addition to the medical, economic, social, and political challenges we face, we will have an on-going mental health crisis from these events for years to come.  

Throughout this period, Pacifica has been able to learn, adapt, and even thrive. Abruptly last March as the spread of the virus accelerated and California responded with shelter-in-place orders, the campuses were closed. From the Thomas Fire and Montecito Debris Flows at the end of December 2018 and January 2019, we had learned to pivot to adjust to the closing of campuses (at that time Lambert for a few weeks and Ladera for almost 4 months). However, the COVID-19 crisis has necessitated a more radical shift to fully remote delivery of our academic and retreat center programs. We have added numerous resources, educated ourselves as to best practices to deliver content, and are still in the process of discovering which modifications are the most beneficial for our community.  

At first we were uncertain how long we would be closed. Looking back now, we recognize our naïve optimism in thinking it would be a matter of a few months. But as the new reality settled in, we were able to obtain a PPP loan and keep everyone fully employed through the end of June. The pandemic’s duration began to challenge our optimism, and we eventually had to make painful decisions for the well-being of the institution, offering reduced hours and furloughing or laying-off employees whose work could not be done remotely. Fortunately, we were able to retain health benefits for the remainder of the year for all who chose to be furloughed, which supplemented the federal and state unemployment benefits to which they were entitled. By the end of last year, we began increasing hours and bringing back some of the furloughed employees, while still keeping the school financially viable. We have been able to accomplish this in part because of a strong enrollment for the 2020-2021 academic year, demonstrating a still robust interest in Pacifica. While learning remotely may not be everyone’s first choice, it does have many advantages, including no cost for accommodations or travel and 24/7 access to many resources. 

Working together with PGIAA, we were able to offer tuition waivers to match the additional scholarship funds raised by PGIAA. This was of great aid to a number of students in the Fall of 2020 and has brought heightened awareness to the ways in which the school and the Alumni Association can work in concert for the benefit of all. We currently are in dialogue with PGIAA’s Board and hope to embark on several more joint ventures in the coming year. In this vein, the shift to on-line delivery has opened up a number of new possibilities for programming, especially through the Retreat Center, and this has begun to provide more opportunities for alumni to present their work under the Pacifica umbrella.

In December 2020 we had our Special Visit from WSCUC (WASC).  This was conducted remotely, all by Zoom over several days. It was truly impressive to see how deeply the visiting team was able to discern our overall situation. A strong positive report was given, with numerous commendations for the changes we had made since the last visit, as well as a new set of recommendations that we found in close accord with our own plans. The visiting team was surprised by how good the morale of the staff was, especially in light of the hardships we are all enduring.

Commencement ceremonies had to be indefinitely deferred, though degrees and diplomas were of course awarded. Given the current state of the country, we have decided to adapt and hold ceremonies on-line this year. We are in the process of designing the event to make it as celebratory for each graduate as possible and will invite the class of 2020 to join in as well.  Once we are able to return to the campuses, we plan to have a gala reopening launch, with some special time set aside for our graduates of the past two years to visit the campuses, which has not been possible since March of 2020—we also hope that many of you will join us for these celebratory events.

During the last year, there have been some important changes in personnel. Our dear Chancellor and Founding President Dr. Stephen Aizenstat has transitioned to being Chancellor-Emeritus. In this role he remains a vital ambassador for the institution, consults to our Board of Trustees, and occasionally teaches for us as his schedule permits, but he no longer has official duties associated with the daily activities of the school. We have also had the good fortune to bring on board a new Provost, Dr. Peter Rojcewicz, an excellent, skilled academician with a love of depth psychology, myth, folklore, and the humanities. He has been a wonderful asset to our community, often providing wisdom, compassion, and levity during the difficult situations we have faced. Last March, just weeks before the shelter-in-place orders, Rica Toribio joined us as the Senior Director of Enrollment Management. Together with her team, she has helped us move towards a data-driven recruitment model, which has been quite valuable and stabilizing during these uncertain times. And late last year we hired a new General Counsel, Marvin Richards. Our beloved Frank Michaelson graciously stayed on to assist in the transfer of knowledge and to complete projects where possible and will be fully retiring from Pacifica in mid-February. In the short time Marvin Richards has been with us, he has demonstrated great value for Pacifica, including joining our diversity, equity, and inclusion task force (DEI-TF), which I will discuss next.

The brutal murder of Mr. George Floyd on May 25th, 2020 at the hands of local Minneapolis police officers sparked mass protests worldwide and brought much needed demands for the recognition of systemic racism throughout our society. While Pacifica already has a well-functioning Diversity and Inclusion Council, which has held a series of well attended symposia, we felt a thorough examination of our institution at all levels was in order. This required resources beyond those of the council and thus, the Board of Trustees in coordination with Pacifica management set up a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Task Force (DEI-TF). We then hired an external consultant with expertise in this area to guide us through the self-examination and help us formulate recommendations for best practices for all of our programs and operations. The DEI-TF began regular meetings in November 2020 and has representatives from all stakeholder groups. A series of working groups has launched, charged with analyzing specific areas of concern and making recommendations for implementing changes to the TF. The TF will remain in dialogue with both management and the Board to ensure the necessary institutional changes are permanently integrated into the fabric of Pacifica. The Alumni Association has been and will hopefully continue to be a valuable and active participant in this process.

Moving forward we are seeking to build a more systemic, holistic approach to education in general. This vision of our future also reflects a recognition of the nature of the most pressing challenges of the current era. The denial of systemic concerns has amplified many dangers that threaten our world and our well-being, propelling us into crisis-laden times that require rapid yet complex responses. The reality of climate change, the multiple devastating impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, and systemic racism with deep historical roots, all threaten to destabilize society, creating profound polarization in the country which at times seems nearly unbridgeable. Trust in expertise has eroded in some places, due to abuses of privilege. As an educational institution, Pacifica needs to evolve its understanding of these dilemmas. We will not be able to return status-quo-ante, so how will we proceed?

Depth psychology has taught us to bear uncertainty and to cultivate serious, critical curiosity about events or processes we cannot immediately understand; we have learned to be attentive to manifestations of the unconscious. Now the nature of the unconscious itself is in need of re-examination if it is to remain relevant and useful. More holistic, systemic visions are required, attentive to the interconnectedness of phenomena. An ecologically based perspective inclusive of the psyche, going beyond individual, dyadic, cultural, or even solely human connections is needed. While we collectively have assembled various pieces of an emerging vision, we are not yet there. I believe it will take the good will of all of us to realize this and so I invite you, our alumni, to join us in whatever ways you can to help us create a richer, more diverse, inclusive, and equitable culture that is truly the path to our future.

In Communitas,

Joe Cambray

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