Implementation Committees Inch Toward Final Plans
A year has passed since the College formed implementation committees for the Strategic Plan, and in that time progress has widely varied by group. Committees like Resource Management have made strides, while others wait idly for their turn with movement contingent on other groups’ plans.
“Compared to previous plans, the implementation is actually off to a faster start,” President Marvin Krislov said. “It’s a five-year plan and not all recommendations will be moving forward at the same pace. … Some of these recommendations also relate to the groups, so Resource Management is going to help define how much we can do in certain areas and how quickly. We think the progress is actually moving quite well, and there’s some committees that have moved faster than others, but that’s deliberately so.”
Five implementation committees are currently chartered: Advising, College Governance, Resource Management, Curricular and Co-Curricular Innovation and Support, and the Strategic Planning Committee on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. Of these, only Advising, Resource Management and DEI are currently active.
This is part of what the general faculty ad hoc — the governing body comprised of students and faculty that the implementation committees report to — calls the “multi-step” implementation process.
“The thinking is that certain strategic recommendations are decisions that need to be made that are so integral to the other committees that it doesn’t make sense to assemble the other committees before some ground work is laid, especially by Resource Management, which is kind of the lynchpin of everything,” said College junior and Student Senator Jesse Docter, also a member of the general faculty ad hoc committee.
Since the Strategic Plan’s inception, students and faculty members have questioned its vagueness and contradictory promises of reducing costs to students while simultaneously instituting expensive programs and policies. Given the Plan’s ambiguity, many implementation groups have struggled to determine which issue they should tackle first.
Many decisions hinge on the recommendations of the Resource Management implementation committee, which released a survey last semester asking students, faculty and staff what they considered expendable resources at Oberlin to determine the best ways to reduce spending.
“We are presently finalizing a report to the [General Faculty Council] on directions the College might take to change its financial trajectory,” said Frederick B. Artz Professor Leonard V. Smith, co-chair of the Resource Committee. “Our working group has no authority to cut anything. My personal preference would be to make that report public, but that is up to the working group as a whole and to GFC. Once the report is submitted, we will await further instruction from GFC.”
In the meantime, the Curricular and CoCurricular Innovation and Support committee and the Governance committee are stagnant, waiting to see which projects will get funding and which of the goals in the Strategic Plan will be prioritized. College senior Rachel Mead, who serves as one of the student chairs of the Governance committee, said this inactivity has created more confusion than clarity.
“We’ve only met with [Professors] Chris Howell and Tim Weiss, the faculty chairs, once, and don’t actually even know who the administrative and trustee chairs are,” Mead wrote in an email to the Review. “This isn’t necessarily a problem because of the divided way that the committee is supposed to run, but to me, it is oddly opaque and ironic considering that we’re supposed to be understanding governance better because of this process instead of being thoroughly confused by it.”
Howell, who is on the Governance committee, touched upon the goals his group is working toward this semester, despite the lack of meetings.
“Our task this semester is listening and education,” Howell wrote in an email to the Review. “Members of the Faculty Governance Committee have been meeting with senior administrators and elected committees to ask for their ideas. We will be holding a series of listening sessions for all faculty, and then administering a poll to all faculty. Lastly, we are collecting data on faculty participation in elections, and how other schools like us organize their governance systems.”
For some students, however, the overall opacity of the process raises questions of institutional accountability and transparency — a concern widely echoed across campus.
“Each Committee is supposed to be working internally and has no responsibility to respond to anyone because nothing has been implemented yet,” said Student Senate Liaison and College junior Thobeka Mnisi. “Once they have strategic recommendations, they’ll present those to general faculty for approval, then the board. There’s kind of no oversight during the process, and each committee is responsible for soliciting feedback from different constituencies on campus.”
The one other committee that is making definite progress this semester is the Advising committee, headed by David Kamitsuka and Afia Ofori-Mensa. Both did not respond to questions concerning their committee’s progress.
The Strategic Plan emphasized reforming Oberlin’s advising system, creating the 4+4 plan to support students after they graduate and fostering more entrepreneurial opportunities for students. e Advising committee is currently working on assessing the first-year advising program so it can decide on recommendations for the General Faculty or the Board of Trustees in the future.
“Advising is moving forward at a very fast clip because the co-chairs had a vision that dated from long before the Strategic Plan,” Docter said. “They’re moving forward quickly with … evaluating the current first-year advising process, and not moving on 4+4 yet, but that is their plan.”
While the Advising committee has shown signs of progress, other committees like DEI have not. Sophomore Kameron Dunbar, former committee member, blamed this on institutional restraints, overbooked committee members and lack of funding.
“Issues such as diversity and inclusion ought not be limited to an administrator’s side gig, but rather someone who can truly dedicate the significant time and energy required,” Dunbar said. “On another hand, the committee was an ‘implementation’ group without the ability to truly implement anything. We could offer recommendations or suggestions, but even those could simply be swept away by higher forces.”
The DEI committee, which recently lost two faculty members and students, is reeling as it tries to find its feet after the mid-year shakeup.
“It was functional for a while in the fall — very [dissatisfactory], but functional nonetheless,” Mnisi said. “Then Shelley Lee and Meredith Gadsby resigned because they felt like the structure of the committee wasn’t conducive to real change and impact.”
Lee declined to comment on why she resigned from the group.
Double-degree senior and DEI member Thanisa Durongkaveroj said that although the committee meets about once every two weeks, discussion and progress is slower than she would like. She believes that this is because DEI’s priorities have not been made explicit and says that clarity would increase the committee’s efficiency.
“I think this committee would have worked better if each member were given more distinct responsibilities,” she wrote in an email to the Review. “When we think that we all work collectively together, we sometimes assume that somebody else will do the work if you fail to do it. Our committee [is made] of members who contribute to diversity and inclusion at Oberlin in various ways, however, our other commitments can take away from our work for [DEI]. I agree that the committee work hasn’t been as fast-paced and action-oriented as I had expected.”