Restructuring of Board Necessary for Sustainability

Kerensa Loadholt, News Editor

Though students at Oberlin College have voiced their grievances to the Board of Trustees about issues prevalent in campus discourse, nothing seems to be getting done about the issues they are posing. At the Board meeting last Thursday, it was extremely frustrating to see students bring up issues to the Board for the fourth or fifth time, only to have a Board member tell them that the issue was new to them or that it was under consideration.

There seems to be a lack of structure within the Board of Trustees. Communication between the different meeting rooms during Board meetings is nonexistent. Many students would prefer that trustees all be in the same room at the same time. The trustees have separated students to prevent protests and interruptions, but students would prefer the previous structure where the entire Board received all of the same information at the same time. This also is an issue in the Board’s overarching hierarchy. There is a lack of communication between the point people of different committees, which leads to many Board members not hearing about an issue until they have to vote on it.

I was in Room One with some of the newer Board members — Cynthia Hogan, OC ’79, Charlene Jarvis, OC ’68, and David Krischer, OC ’78 — who did not have a grasp on the severity of several issues that have been discussed on campus since fall 2015. According to these Board members, some of the issues in the ABUSUA demands had never been brought directly before the Board.

During the Board meeting, students brought up important, progressive ideas, like having a student representative on the Board or including administrators into Board meetings. It can be unclear whether to take an issue to the Board or to the administration; from what the Board knew of initiatives brought up during the meeting, it’s unclear if the Board and College communicate on a regular basis. Trying to communicate to both the College and the Board — which only assembles on campus in October, December, March and June — becomes stressful and seemingly pointless when they are constantly redirecting student concerns to one another. Despite existing since the College’s founding in 1833, the Board doesn’t seem to have a sustainable operating structure. There isn’t a platform for communication within the Board, which leads to a lot of confusion about how to contact the Board. Organizational issues also affect the Board’s ability to respond to new issues.

The Board functions through committees. There is an Executive Committee and subcommittees for budget and finance, capital planning, investment, development, academic affairs, nominations and communications. The Executive Committee, made up of the chair and vice chair of the Board and the chairs of major subcommittees, has complete power over the Board and uses that power to make decisions for the Board in routine matters. The most important or controversial issues are tabled for discussion until the entire Board meets.

At the meeting, students advocated for a platform upon which they could present issues to the Board, so they could know that their proposals were being heard and reviewed by the entire Board. Specifically, if the division of Board meetings continues, attendees would want to know which Board members were in which rooms so they could discuss the progress of projects that they had proposed during previous Board meetings.

Oberlin College was not built on a sustainable foundation, nor is it run with sustainable methods. The Board consistently argues that there is not enough money to address the issues students bring up — like divestment — which seems like a cop-out given that the tuition has risen steadily over the past few years.

Board members have often said the Board only has enough to money to run the institution, when they have an $800 million endowment to work with. “As trustees, a big part of what we do is figuring out what the College spends its money on and balancing those concerns,” Hogan said. “We all sit down and think, ‘If we could only raise more money, we could fix so many problems.’” It is disingenuous to act as if Oberlin couldn’t do a lot better for the communities and people it affects.

While the issues plaguing Oberlin’s administrative structure have become blatant over the past year, students are fighting for the changes they want to see to make Oberlin a place where they can exist in a happy and sustainable way. The administration has been ignorant or unresponsive to students’ voices for years and by extension so has the Board. All students’ voices deserve to be heard.