Laura Skandera Trombley Named President of The Huntington Library

Trombley, President of Pitzer College, Succeeds Steven S. Koblik, Who Retires Next June

Published : Tuesday, December 2, 2014 | 10:44 AM

Laura Skandera Trombley. Photo: Pitzer College

Laura Skandera Trombley has been named the eighth president of The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens, The Huntington’s Board of Trustees announced today. Trombley takes the helm on July 1, 2015, the first woman to do so, following the retirement of Steven S. Koblik, who has served as The Huntington’s president since 2001.

Trombley comes to The Huntington after 13 years as president of Pitzer College in Claremont, Calif. She is widely credited with dramatically improving the college’s standing in higher education. Under her leadership, the college completed three successful fundraising campaigns, raising over $110 million, while its U.S. News ranking improved 50 percent, moving from 70th to 35th, a feat unmatched in higher education. Pitzer has become one of the 20 most selective higher education institutions, and financial aid has increased 125 percent, decreasing student debt by 27 percent for the past decade. In addition, Pitzer has been the national leader for the number of Fulbright Fellowships awarded per 1,000 students. Also under Trombley, Pitzer’s endowment increased more than 200 percent, and the college added eight new buildings, all receiving Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Platinum or Gold certification.

“With strong strategic insights, unceasing persistence, and a talented team that she assembled, Laura put the college on very sound footings, both financial and academic,” said Stewart Smith, chair of the board at The Huntington. “It is a success story that is the envy of many other liberal arts colleges. Laura is a woman of fierce intellect, a solid leader with tremendous energy and a strong vision for how to continue to build on The Huntington’s substantial strengths. More broadly, she is a passionate proponent of the humanities who articulates their value and fundamental importance in such a convincing manner that we knew without a doubt she would be the right person to lead The Huntington at this time.”

At The Huntington, Trombley will oversee a staff of some 450, an annual budget of $40 million, and an endowment of about $450 million. She follows a long period of programmatic and capital expansion, and substantial increases in membership and endowment, capped off with the planned opening next spring of the new $68 million Steven S. Koblik Education and Visitor Center.

The Huntington is one of the nation’s major funders of advanced research in the humanities, awarding $1.7 million in fellowships each year to scholars who spend time working in the institution’s vast archives. About 1,700 scholars use the institution’s collections annually — the greatest number outside of the Library of Congress.

“It is a place I know well,” Trombley said of The Huntington, “and it has been a constant part of my personal and scholarly life. When I was a child, my mother and I visited the gardens. As a budding Twain scholar, I did research there 30 years ago that would culminate in my first book, and just a few years ago, I returned to use the collection to complete my fifth one. Like many of us in the humanities, I love The Huntington not just for its considerable library and art collections but for the importance it places on using these primary-source materials to impact scholarship, education, and — through exhibitions and displays — public understanding. But my excitement extends further still, knowing about The Huntington’s important role in botanical science and its ability to use the gardens to teach about plant adaptation, conservation, and the future of the planet’s magnificent biodiversity.”

Trombley is a leading scholar on Mark Twain. She has published five books and countless articles on the American icon, was featured in Ken Burns’ 2002 documentary on Twain, and has been invited to lecture all over the world. She attributes her scholarly success, in part, to work done at The Huntington. It was in the collections that she discovered important Twain material that provided some of the rich fodder that led to her fifth book, a highly acclaimed biography published by Knopf in 2010 entitled Mark Twain’s Other Woman: The Hidden Story of His Final Years.

Entering college as a 16-year-old freshman, Trombley earned her bachelor’s degree in English and Humanities and her master’s degree in English (summa cum laude) from Pepperdine University. She received a Ph.D. in English from the University of Southern California. While at USC, Trombley was the Lester and Irene Finkelstein Fellow and received the Virginia Barbara Middleton Scholarship and the English Graduate Student Scholarship. In 2002, she was honored as one of Pepperdine University’s Accomplished Alumni and in 2013 received an honorary doctorate from Pepperdine University Graduate School of Education and Psychology.

Trombley is an active leader in Los Angeles-area and national organizations. She has served as a member of the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce Board, the San Gabriel Chapter of the Young Presidents Organization, the Pacific Council on International Policy, The Trusteeship, the Council on Foreign Relations Higher Education Working Group on Global Issues, the Chronicle of Higher Education/New York Times Higher Education Cabinet, and the President’s Council of the Association of American Governing Boards. She also is a member of the Chief Executives Organization. In 2013 President Obama named Trombley to the 12-member J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board, to which she has recently been elected vice chair.

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