Student Input Valuable in Presidential Search

Kameron Dunbar, Contributing Writer

This op-ed is part of the Review’s Student Senate column. In an effort to increase communication and transparency, Student Senators will provide personal perspectives on recent campus and community events.

Senate Liaison Thobeka Mnisi and I submitted a letter to Vice President, General Counsel and Secretary of the College Sandhya Subramanian on Monday. In it, we announced our three student nominees to the Presidential Search Committee. The selected candidate will have the privilege of representing student interests broadly throughout the process of selecting Oberlin’s next president.

Senate looked for several qualities in selecting the top three candidates. For starters, we wanted someone who had experience with and knowledge of the complex institutional realities of the College. Oberlin isn’t broke, but the administration is facing looming financial challenges, including limited endowment growth while working toward capital project planning and efforts to diversify campus while still meeting identified financial need. There are certain traditions that breathe life into Oberlin’s existence, and we wanted students who understand this. Among a plethora of other qualifications, Senate also looked for students who had experience working with folks from various constituencies around the College, including work with the administration, student organizations and the Conservatory.

Personally, I looked for someone who would be keen to address some of the national shifts happening in higher education that I find in conflict with the philosophy of a liberal arts education. Oberlin is not a trade school, yet some small liberal arts colleges are shifting means of education from academic exploration to job preparation.

This presidential search is extremely important to me. I’ve seen in various institutions the good that can come from strong leadership in the executive office. Oberlin’s president has the opportunity to take a historically outstanding institution to the next level. Earlier this year, I submitted a letter to the Review articulating my wishes for our next president (“Next Oberlin President Must Promote Unity,” Sept. 9, 2016). As one of three students on the Alumni Leadership Council, I had the pleasure of being involved in the PSC nomination process from two strong constituencies: the alumni and students. I couldn’t speak more highly of the nominees from either group.

Senate hopes to amplify student perspectives in this search. While some students believe that the Board of Trustees doesn’t care about what students think throughout this process, I have faith that the committee will make an effort to seek out and consider student views. I have worked with Presidential Search Committee Chair and Trustee Lillie Edwards, OC ’75, since the fall of my first year. She’s a committed and esteemed academic who holds highly the spirit of Oberlin College and the values that make us such a unique institution. She has also made abundantly clear her desire to work with Senate and the greater student body throughout the search process to solicit honest and influential feedback from students.

If nothing else, I find it prudent to make it clear that our job as students in the search process does not end with the nominations to the committee. Our voices matter, and we must let them be heard. Attending listening sessions, providing feedback and other conventional ways of expressing our ideas may seem tiring at times and worthless at others. However, it’s imperative that we keep our spirits strong and continue to do the unsexy work that makes Oberlin a better place for us all.