Confidentiality Limits Dialogue at Trustee Forum

Louis Krauss, News Editor

The Board of Trustees held this academic year’s first forum yesterday, inviting students to King Hall for intimate conferences with trustees, often the most direct channel for the community to address board members.

Divided into four classrooms, the meetings allowed students to collectively raise concerns about issues such as the functionality of Oberlin’s Title IX office and the possible addition of student representatives to the board.

“I personally value these groups where I can look someone in the face, and it’s an individual conversation,” trustee Lillie Edwards, OC ’75, said. “When you’re in a room with 200 people, it’s hard to have that level of communication and exchange.”

Still, the board’s conditions of confidentiality often cut conversations short and keep exchanges one-sided or at the surface level. Multiple trustees acknowledged that the confidentiality issues seriously limit how much they can say on any given issue but assured that they engage with student input from both these sessions and generally.

“Obviously we’re listening, and we want to make the best decisions for Oberlin 10 years down the road,” class trustee Anne Chege, OC ’16, said. “But we are bound by certain regulations of confidentiality, so we need to talk things over first.”

Students were again reminded just how tight-lipped trustees had to be when disclosing information. Double-degree senior and former Student Senate Liaison Jeremy Poe, who announced his resignation from Senate this morning, said his meeting was productive, but that discussions are ultimately limited.

“Everyone supports those values of increased information on both sides,” Poe said. “We’ve said, ‘Here’s what we want in general terms,’ but it’s hard to say how comfortable the board members are with having students in the room because there are logistical issues of confidentiality.”

The restrictions, however silencing for the trustees, do not prevent students from providing plenty of input. One of the largest collective-action student groups at the forum included members of the Sexual Information Center, HIV Peer Testers and the peer-education program Preventing and Responding to Sexual Misconduct. College senior Dana Kurzer-Yashin, who helped organize the group, said one of her main concerns was finding a capable replacement Title IX coordinator.

Rebecca Mosely, who has worked in the College’s Office of Residential Education for 11 years, was named the interim Title IX Coordinator last summer as former coordinator Meredith Raimando transitioned into the role of Interim Vice President and Dean of Students.

Though trustees did not say whether they would take up the issue in future board meetings, they were visibly perturbed after Kurzer-Yashin described one of the recent Title IX coordinator candidates as “terrifying” in how unqualified they seemed. In response, trustee Christopher Canavan, OC ’84, questioned whether investing more money into the position is the best solution and that it was possibly just an issue of continuing the search.

“If we work to offer more adequate compensation, then people with more qualification in this field of work might be willing to come to Ohio, who wouldn’t be willing to do so otherwise,” Kurzer-Yashin said.

The small group format for student-trustee forums, which allows students to have these types of candid conversations, was introduced in Spring 2015, a change many trustees welcomed after previous, larger forums became increasingly raucous. The board concludes its meetings this weekend and will reconvene on campus in December for another round of student-trustee forums.