Committee Forms to Begin Presidential Search
The College will soon finalize the members of the Presidential Search Committee, which will eventually select the replacement for current President Marvin Krislov. After announcing the six trustees on the committee Oct. 10, elections were held for five additional representatives, one from each group — students, College faculty, Conservatory faculty, Administrative and Professional Staff and alumni. These elections will pick a slate of three nominees who will then interview with the six trustees to determine a finalist. Elections for non-student representatives are ending today.
Unlike the four other groups, student nominees will not be chosen by a general election. Instead, Student Senate decided to send out applications for students to nominate themselves and will conduct interviews with nominees over the weekend to select the final three. As of Thursday evening, seven students, comprised entirely of sophomores and juniors, had sent in applications. Seniors were not eligible to apply, as the search process could potentially extend past this school year.
For Student Senate Liaison and College junior Thobeka Mnisi, the decision not to hold a general election was based o of past poor election turnouts and wanting to ensure that candidates who are chosen don’t simply want to push their own agendas.
“Honestly, because of how voter turnout has been in the past, a lot of us didn’t trust that process to yield the best candidates, because it just becomes a popularity contest,” Mnisi said.
Student Senator and College junior Jesse Docter added that Student Senate is paid and would take their selection very seriously.
“We’re trying to pick somebody who doesn’t just know how to write a compelling one paragraph and share a Facebook page,” Docter said. “We want someone who has a proven record of working with and representing student groups, has knowledge of the administration and is qualified.”
According to Mnisi and Docter, many of the student senators pushed for more student representatives on the committee but were unsuccessful. Student Senate was not notified of the Board’s decision to use the same committee format as in 2006, and did not realize until it was too late to change it.
“Working with the Board is very difficult, and the structure of the committee was entirely confidential and difficult to do any effective advocacy on,” Docter said. “This adds just another piece onto our case for why representation on the Board of Trustees is so important. We didn’t even know this was a decision, and we had to scramble around administration and faculty to figure out how this decision would be made, and when we found it out, there was nothing we could do.”
Although only one representative will be selected from each of the five groups, those who were voted in the top three of each group will still get to participate in confidential interviews with the final candidates for Oberlin’s presidency when they visit. Board of Trustees Chair Clyde McGregor said this allows for a somewhat wider Oberlin audience to meet the various candidates and give input to the committee. But while McGregor viewed it as a good way to “get feedback from more members of the Oberlin community,” Docter said more representatives would’ve made a greater difference.
The two faculty representatives are being chosen in a more traditional general election, which allows all faculty members to cast votes for each other unless they withdraw their names. These elections have involved two rounds of voting that narrowed the pool of nominees down to nine.
Although there may still be some issues with low turnout and apathy towards elections among faculty members, Politics Professor Chris Howell said the multi-step voting process helps ensure faculty vote when it’s a small group of nominees.
“I would guess the turnout on the first round would be unbelievably low, but the second round tends to have higher turnout because it’s a manageable group,” Howell said.
One difference between student and faculty elections is the possibility that faculty might be biased to vote for nominees from their department. Although Howell did not notice any faculty actively promoting themselves for the position, he believes it’s very possible people would vote to get certain departments or demographics represented on the committee.
“I’m not aware of any organized effort, but it wouldn’t surprise me if faculty of color wanted a representative on that committee and kind of bloc voted; any minority group would want that,” Howell said. “For example, women in natural sciences have historically wanted somebody, so it wouldn’t surprise me if some see someone on the list they know and vote for them.”
After the votes are tallied and student finalists are chosen by Student Senate, the committee’s six trustees will conduct interviews with the final nominees from Nov. 5–18. McGregor did not disclose whether the committee has already selected an official firm to conduct the national search for presidential candidates but said more information will be given out once the committee finalizes its website.