Student Senate Proposes Central Budgeting Committee


Photo by Bryan Rubin, Photo editor

Student Senator and College sophomore Meg Parker speaks at Sunday’s Student Senate plenary. Senators are drafting a proposal for a Central Budgeting Committee that will allow students, faculty and staff to participate in the College’s financial decision-making processes under a nondisclosure agreement.

Sydney Allen, Editor-in-Chief

Student senators are drafting a proposal to establish a Central Budgeting Commit­tee, a standing group that would include and engage students, faculty and staff in the College’s budgeting decisions. Senate’s Financial Prioritization task force hopes to release the proposal this week to leverage student and faculty support before pre­senting it to senior administrators.

Senate’s proposal calls for CBC mem­bers’ inclusion on all budgetary documents and information in accordance with a nondisclosure agreement. The commit­tee would be required to make a budget proposal to the president on a yearly basis. Ideally, the committee will draw members from all major campus constituencies in­cluding students, faculty, staff, union work­ers and potentially Oberlin Student Coop­erative Association representatives. The exact composition, among the proposal’s other suggestions, will be up for negotia­tion when the proposal hits senior admin­istrators’ desks.

Student Senator and College junior Jes­se Docter said that despite the 2.8-percent tuition hike announced last Tuesday — a decision made without student involve­ment — the CBC was initiated in response to similar trends regarding administrative governance and financial decision-making. Docter added that the CBC has been in the works for over two weeks.

“This comes out of a longer structural critique of budgeting at Oberlin that this week has played into extremely, extremely predictably,” Docter said. “I think that the decision coming out of [Vice President of Finance and Administration] Mike Frand­sen’s office and the way that it was made was just a perfect example of how broken financial governance was at this school. … But it fits into our larger narrative that we’ve been pushing for years of including students in decision-making processes at the school in a substantive way.”

Some senators also see much of this confusion stemming from the Strategic Plan’s ambiguous language, which they believe failed to give the College concrete financial direction.

“Oberlin is facing a structural deficit and a financial crisis, and we know that cuts are going to come,” Docter said. “But since we haven’t had a community process where we have articulated what our institutional values and priorities are, those cuts are go­ing to be completely arbitrary. … In the vac­uum left by the strategic-planning process, since there is no financial vision for this school going forward, we think the best alternative is to empower constituents and to empower the community to make those financial decisions.”

Students currently contribute to the College’s financial decisions by sitting on various committees, such as the General Faculty, the Student Finance Committee, Strategic Plan Implementation Commit­tees and Senate. However, no existing com­mittee explicitly engages students in bud­getary decision-making processes.

Not only would the CBC give con­stituents a more direct stake in financial planning, but it could also facilitate better communication between groups across campus, according to College sophomore Elie Small, student senator and member of the Dining Committee. He said that the lack of institutional dialogue around the recent budgetary changes have been trou­bling to OSCA members and dining hall employees and managers. Small added that these concerns point to a need for the es­tablishment of the CBC.

“We had been proposing different ideas on what to do with [the Rathskel­lar],” Small said. “We’d been working on that and we had the dining survey cir­culating around, which gave students a chance to vote. And with these changes that came out … [it’s] really frustrating because we’ve been working on this all semester and then, no input, the admin­istration just goes and does this and ba­sically shows us our work doesn’t matter. Anything that we can do to increase stu­dent input and student power is definite­ly necessary and worth it.”

Vice President and Dean of Students Meredith Raimondo voiced her support for greater community involvement in fi­nancial governance.

“I personally support the idea of ex­ploring this question,” Raimondo said. “Oberlin’s tradition of shared governance structure and commitment to community engagement align well with this kind of idea. It would be important to develop a specific proposal, as there are important legal and operational requirements for budgeting to work successfully. However, as I understand the proposal, the goal is to seek broad participation in setting in­stitutional priorities and ensuring that budgeting supports those priorities. I see that as an important and positive goal.”

Frandsen declined to comment for this article.