New President Should Prioritize Communication

Editorial Board

Oberlin is undergoing an administrative makeover with President Marvin Krislov and Vice President for Finance and Administration Mike Frandsen both departing this spring. With these two major transitions, the College is approaching a decisive opportunity to address students’ major concerns with administrative shortcomings.

The primary concern with the current administration is the opaque ways in which significant decisions are made. The College’s top-down decision-making process leaves students mostly out of the loop until it’s too late to voice dissent or offer valuable insight into how actions might impact day-to-day student life. One of the most viable ways this can improve is by opening up more channels of communication between students and administrators. In a new president, we hope to see a good communicator, as well as someone who can engage the community at this critical moment in the College’s history.

By good communicator, we don’t mean that the new president should be adept at deflecting criticism or saying as little as possible in the most words — rather, the opposite. The next president will have to articulate a clear strategy for how the College will navigate its financial difficulties. More importantly, the next president will also have to lead open conversations about that strategy and be willing to adapt it to fit the community’s needs. While it can be tempting for leaders to not publicly articulate lofty goals for fear of failure, falling short is far preferable to offering no direction at all.

Additionally, the next leader must be prepared to deal with students as equals and stakeholders, not as powerless customers. As one of the groups most directly affected by changes in College policy, students deserve a voice in decision making — which is why the Editorial Board has repeatedly called for student representation on the Board of Trustees. In this vein, the next president must treat students’ opinions with respect and an open mind, even when they contradict what administrators or trustees believe.

In multiple meetings, trustees have cited their own experiences protesting — board members fondly recall how in 1986, students slept in a “shantytown” they constructed around the Cox Administration Building to protest apartheid and demand divestment from corporations associated with South Africa — and we urge them to consider the frustrations they felt and the ways in which they used to draw attention to important issues. We reject the narrative of acting like coddled millennials who simply do not know better, and to put us in that category undermines the education we are receiving at Oberlin.

The next president should also have a clear sense of the community’s most deeply felt priorities and publicy commit to pursuing them. At the top of the list, reflected in both the Strategic Plan and student interest, is the College’s commitment to increasing compositional diversity. Though combating the evolving and increasingly inaccessible landscape of higher education, Oberlin cannot become a school that only the wealthy and white attend. The institution should build on its progressive legacy by playing a leading role in alleviating institutional racism and structural inequality.

These challenges will not be easy to surmount concurrently. Still, Krislov’s successor must also understand that we cannot afford to slide down the list of peer schools in terms of faculty compensation. Exceptional faculty is absolutely central to the school’s mission, and attracting distinguished professors is much harder when the College’s offers are not competitive. In contrast to all the other dubious lists of “best” schools, quality of faculty is a ranking that actually bears significance. If this means more budget cuts down the line, we ask that students be consulted in a meaningful way.