Student Input Necessary to Avoid Finger Pointing

Editorial Board

Following last week’s tuition hikes, the sentiment bears repeating: The administration needs to include students in conversations about major institutional decisions, financial or otherwise.

The scenario played out much like similar situations often have in the past. Behind closed doors, administrators privately pivoted in favor of a 2.8-percent tuition hike and higher flat-rate housing and dining costs under the guise of “improving equity.” Students protested, organized events and held meetings about where to go from here as constituents in an institution without adequate representation. Administrators sent emails. And more emails.

The justifications for these hikes have largely fallen flat on a student body that, for the most part, rightfully refuses to accept neatly packaged rationales for a nearly $70,000 price tag. It is not so much our unwillingness to understand the administrative perspective, but rather that we are often presented solutions to problems that were never previously identified, making certain explanations seem out of left field.

Again, we turn to the administration’s argument that hunger is a major issue on campus. If it was or is, why is this the first time we are hearing anything about it from senior staff members? Further, what about all of the wasted meals that students don’t use on their current meal plans? Why not allow students to transfer meals to friends who have run out of swipes for the week when the food is already paid for? For that matter, why not fully and indefinitely commit to funding break meals? These are viable solutions if changes were really made in the name of equity and not to generate revenue. Students could have suggested similar options, knowing full well how often these situations occur, but were ultimately shut out of the conversation.

To borrow a phrase from Hamilton, students want to be in the room where it happens. Disparate communication only serves to heighten tensions between students, who administrators often feel are antagonistic for sport, and senior staff, who students criticize for being out of touch. The distance allows preconceived notions to persist without venues for facilitating improved relationships, harboring resentment on both ends. We appreciate the invitation to raise questions in response to this decision, but that was never the issue. It’s about the front-end decision-making that excludes direct student input and later imposes significant changes on our lives at Oberlin — a critique that has also been repeatedly raised regarding the addition of a student representative to the Board of Trustees.

This is why Student Senate’s proposal to create a Central Budgeting Committee is a promising start to what Vice President and Dean of Students Meredith Raimondo calls “Oberlin’s tradition of shared governance structure” (see “Student Senate Proposes Central Budgeting Committee,” page 2). Still, administrators cannot simply call it shared governance and not act on it — if there is a real commitment to increasing horizontal governance, students deserve the opportunity to participate from start to finish. The Editorial Board fully endorses Senate’s efforts to pass this proposal and hopes the administration receives it well, keeping in mind our “tradition.”

Another point of contention regarding recent changes, dining plans that insist students eat three meals per day in Campus Dining Services exacerbate tensions between the College and city. City Councilmember Bryan Burgess raised the issue in a Facebook post Sunday, arguing that “requiring students to purchase extravagantly priced meal plans will divert those dollars away from our local food economy. This decision further walls off the Campus from the Oberlin Community.” We hope that in addition to attempting to alleviate student concerns, the administration focuses on new ways to bridge the town-gown divide so downtown venues do not bear the brunt of this change. The College already benefits from city services without paying property taxes in town. Hurting local vendors by potentially reducing student business is corrosive to an already fractious relationship.

We empathize with the difficulty of administrators’ tasks in governing the institution, but one way for them to avoid sharp criticism is to put students in the room. We will have a lot less to criticize if we are given more responsibility in major decisions.