Each new academic year offers an opportunity to turn a new leaf. With the end of former President Marvin Krislov’s decade-long tenure this summer, that opportunity has perhaps never been greater at Oberlin. Simultaneously, however, the institution has never seemed to be in a more precarious position in recent memory than it does now.
Just within the last year, Oberlin has seen cuts to administrative assistant and custodial positions, threats to eliminate programs like faculty research status, yet another tuition increase accompanied by an overhaul in room and board requirements, and the resumption of business with Gibson’s Bakery after controversy that sparked massive student protests. Together, these choices along with many others painted a picture of an untrustworthy, austere, and aloof bureaucracy unwilling to take action based on student concerns — a palpable sentiment that can still be felt today in discussions about the administration.
While Krislov’s administration was by no means ill-intentioned and ultimately provided some explanation for each decision made, it had a major perception problem. A consistent failure to establish transparency on multiple fronts fostered misunderstanding and a lack of faith in the relationship between the campus community and its administrative leaders. After the administration’s actions last year, many students left campus at the end of the semester feeling anxious for the next sudden pivot in this institution’s next direction.
But with a new administration, led by President Carmen Ambar, we have hope for change.
After meeting with Ambar this week, we were impressed. She was sharp, energized, and passionate about heightening the qualities that make Oberlin a unique, progressive institution. At the same time, she was proactive in expressing her desire to tackle Oberlin’s financial struggles, involve the broader community in decision-making, and understand what Oberlin means to all of us while leading this institution with that sentiment in mind.
The principal difficulty of Krislov’s administration was its closed-door approach to governance, and while Ambar’s promise is clear, her success will depend on the entirety of her administration following the example she sets in the hope of cultivating trust between the student body, staff, and Oberlin community.
The Review’s previous Editorial Board has repeatedly advocated for student representation on the Board of Trustees in the past, and we continue to stand by that cause as one of the first and most critical steps the administration must support to rekindle trust with students. While we understand that tough decisions have to be made to ensure Oberlin’s future, those changes must be balanced with an effort to lessen the brunt on those impacted most in the near term — including current and future students, staff, and community members. That cannot happen without student voices and accountability on Oberlin’s highest governing body, something that the new administration must prioritize if it truly hopes to promote student inclusion.
Additionally, the Ambar administration must go beyond the confines of campus and seek out input from community members, on whom the impact of our institution is often less visible yet equally powerful.
Change can be daunting, and the task at hand is massive. However, we believe that President Ambar and her administration are capable of realizing an Oberlin that better serves students, staff, and community members while also remaining financially viable in the long term. If that vision of Oberlin is one we hope to achieve, it will come about precisely because of an approach that is transparent and inclusive, not in spite of it.
We challenge the new administration to surprise us. Students are hungry for change and even hungrier to roll up their sleeves and get to work to make those changes happen — we’re just waiting for a seat at the table.