Students Demand Administrative Transparency
Oberlin’s administration has a transparency problem. The administrative body and the Board of Trustees have continuously left students out of both mundane and critical decision-making, and students are often first made aware of these decisions when physically confronted with them. The tuition hikes, the official repudiation of demands created by ABUSUA, the dismissal of Professor Joy Karega, renewal of business relations with Gibson’s Bakery, refusal to divest from the private prison industry and the continuation of a no trespass list of community members are all examples of administrative decisions that misrepresent student interests.
The Board of Trustees has had a direct influence on these decisions. After Student Senate presented the Board of Trustees with a letter signed by representatives of major student groups demanding the presence of a student on the board, the notion was flatly rejected. Instead of publicly engaging with the community at large, the trustees held a two-hour meeting with Senate, which Senators left feeling frustrated because of questions answered in roundabout or unsatisfactory ways. Student Senate is the voice of the student body. This complete disregard of our voice should not be normalized. It is unacceptable. When these bureaucratic avenues fail us, we must push back.
We have come together as Students Building Community Power because just like people across the United States, we feel a looming sense of insecurity. The future of everything from Planned Parenthood to the National Foundation for the Arts is insecure. Equal protection under the law is insecure to the point of being non-existent for poor people and people of color.
With so much insecurity on a national scale, we are owed, if nothing else, the right to feel secure and supported by Oberlin College. We as SBCP have laid out first steps for implementing this change in a petition currently circulating online.
The four demands we have laid out are as follows:
First, we demand the presence of six students on the Board of Trustees, one of whom should also be on the executive committee. The other five would be on different trustee committees. The Board of Trustees convenes four times a year. In between those meetings, various subcommittees work together to manage what the trustees consider to be the pressing needs of the institution. The most important is the executive committee. Our first demand is formulated to ensure that students have a direct say in the highest form of governance in Oberlin’s hierarchy of power.
Second, we demand the creation of a student general committee that meets with the president on a weekly basis to give students a consistent platform to explain their needs to the administration. The committee would function as an open forum in which students could air grievances or suggestions directly to the president of Oberlin College. This body would convene once per week and be open to all students. This keeps an explicit link open between the president and the student body, ensuring that the administration is accountable to us.
Third, we demand student liaisons to all of the 11 senior administrators who support the president in managing Oberlin. Each administrator would be required to maintain an open line of communication with their respective student liaison and provide updates on administrative decisions. Having students involved in key advising positions gives us a better understanding of how different processes work and allows us to work with administrators to more effectively accomplish the goal of running the institution. Furthermore, it would give students insight into how to effectively appeal decisions we believe to be unjust and establishes transparency.
Finally, we demand that Student Senate act as a centralizing platform for student activism. Senate must become a place of collaboration for student organizations on campus. It is time to stop viewing Senate as a powerless bureaucratic facet of the administration. Instead, we must hone the potential political power that our student senators can wield. While this demand is directed at Senate, it is intended as a message for the administration. Senate is an overtly political body, and the administration should not interfere with the workings of student democracy. Senate should be a place of empowerment where student activism is encouraged and where the status quo is challenged.
We are committed to making sure that the College not only opens up a line of dialogue with us, but that the College accepts these demands, and we stand ready to act to ensure this.
We are so grateful to all who have supported our efforts even this early on, and we welcome all who are interested in working with us on these issues to contact us and join in our work. Also, please like us on Facebook.
Bella Conway, Max Matthee-O’Brien, Rowan/Taiyang Lee and Dani Pacheco contributed to this op-ed.