From: Elizabeth Durr
Date: Thu, March 23, 2023
Subject: Wardman House
Dear Sirs and Ma’ams,
I’m writing this letter from the heart about the rumored decision to sell Wardman House.
When I arrived on the Whittier College campus in August of 1998, I was terrified. I was terrified of the future, I was terrified of living without my parents for the first time, and I was terrified about being 1,100 miles from home. There was no “running home to mama” if I realized I made a huge mistake.
I remember being apprehensive and intrigued that the entire Freshman class was invited to Wardman House by President Ash as a traditional “Welcome to Whittier College” dinner. I had no idea what Wardman House looked like or where it was located, but as my advisee group trudged up Penn St and turned onto Summit Dr, I was in awe. Beautifully kept, elegant, mid-century homes gave way to a breathtaking Mediterranean villa. As we entered the magnificent courtyard through the arch covered drive, James Ash welcomed each and every one of us. I couldn’t believe that the president, OUR president, had invited us to dinner. I had never heard of a college president opening the doors of his or her house to students to welcome them to the institution that would be their home for the next 4 years.
Four years later, in May of 2002, I once again gathered at Wardman House with my class, except this time it was to say goodbye. They would be graduating and I had one last semester to complete. Once again, the president of Whittier College, Katherine Will, greeted the students as we entered the courtyard. It was a bittersweet night, knowing that this would be one of the last dinners I would have with the friends I had made over the last 4 years.
Many of you on the Board of Trustees are not Whittier College alumni, and I don’t expect you to understand the love that we Poets have for our school. I am sure, however, that the pride we feel for Whittier is much like the pride you feel for your alma maters. For those of you who ARE Whittier College alumni, I ask you, WHY? Why are you allowing Linda Oubré to tear apart the foundations of our school?
Linda Oubré is always talking about the future of Whittier College. I ask you, when she is gone, what will happen then? The Oubré family is perfectly happy to not live on campus, to not be part of the college community. The purpose of an on campus presidential residence is to cultivate relationships with the Poet community, from students to alumni to major donors. My AOKP Brothers and Sisters have told me that they rarely see the president on campus, which is the completely opposite experience I had with Presidents Ash and Will. What about future presidents? Do you honestly believe that anyone with the experience to lead Whittier will want to live in a tiny bungalow next to two dorms full of 18-22 year olds? Where will they entertain donors? In Villalobos Hall? I shudder at the thought of the embarrassment of asking alumni and members of the community to break out their checkbooks while surrounded by such drab surroundings.
Imagine pulling a piece of thread from a larger piece of fabric, the fabric starts to fray and come apart. That is EXACTLY what is happening to Whittier College under Linda Oubré’s leadership. The traditions and legacies that make Whittier College unique are slowly being unwoven.
- Freshman Welcome Dinner at Wardman House
- Senior Goodbye Dinner at Wardman House
- Jan Term
- Midnight Breakfast
- Society Activities
- AOKP Activities
- The Shannon Center performances
All of these activities are at the heart of Whittier College. My daughter is 11 years old and wants to be a teacher. Over the years, I’ve told her how wonderful Whittier College is, about the traditions that I’ve listed above, and how many of my WC classmates have become teachers, but how can I encourage her to go to Whittier when even I wouldn’t want to go to Whittier now? The memories made from attending Wardman House Society brunches, Poet Award ceremonies, and Volunteer Leader dinners are exponentially more special because of the memories Poets have of Wardman House.
Members of the Board, why are you allowing such shortsightedness? Selling Wardman House and other assets is only a band aid solution to Whittier’s financial crisis. You, as members of the Board of Trustees, have a fiduciary duty to Whittier College. If you look up fiduciary in a thesaurus, you will find “guardian” under its synonyms. As Trustees, you are the guardians of Whittier College and I encourage you to speak to members of the College community; Students, faculty, staff, alumni, and make decisions based on what is best for THEM and the future of the school. Linda Oubré is all about the Whittier College “brand,” but what she fails to realize and what you, the Board of Trustees fails to realize, is that Whittier College is not a brand, it’s a family.
Elizabeth (Holt) Durr ’19
Whittier College 1998-2002