Student Criticism Crucial to Oberlin’s Future

This article is part of the Review’s Student Senate column. In an effort to increase communication and transparency, student senators will provide personal perspectives on recent events on campus and in the community.

As I see it, part of the Oberlin experience involves the desire to leave Oberlin at one point or another. I’ve been known to say that you’re not a true Obie until you’ve considered transferring — in jest, to be clear. But I have known many students who have come close to leaving permanently. And for me personally, a large part of my desire to study abroad was simply to take a break from this campus.

Of course, everyone has their own reasons for wanting to leave, and sometimes those reasons do not result from preference but from necessity. For those who are still here, there is certainly an air of dissatisfaction permeating throughout the student body — enough that the College administration is taking notice. This has become evident in meetings between Student Senate and senior staff as the issue of retention grows as a concern.

This week, Senate is hosting “Constituents Week” — an outreach program that will allow Senate to better advocate for students’ interests. At the core of this program is the online survey that we send out each semester. I cannot stress how important it is that we receive as much feedback as possible through this survey.

On one hand, student feedback gives Senate a clearer picture of what issues matter most to the student body, and from this we can derive and prioritize our advocacy concerns. On the other, a large response percentage will further legitimate our requests to the College administration, as our statements will be backed by hard data. So the purpose of my writing this piece is to say: Here is your chance.

You will notice that the first few questions on our survey have to do with retention. This is intentional. Compared to peer institutions, Oberlin is more heavily reliant on income from student tuition in our operating budget, compared to other sources like annual giving or the endowment. Thus, maintaining a certain enrollment is paramount to the survival of the College.

Enrollment was less than ideal for the current academic year, which means that retention of students who are already here is a top priority. To prevent the College from slipping further into financial hardship, the administration is trying to do all that it can to prevent students from transferring or dropping out.

Sure, you could take a cynical view and question why the administration is paying increased attention to student concerns now that their greatest source of funding has been compromised. But I encourage you to take this opportunity for what it’s worth. Senior staff is lending an ear to the student body through Student Senate, and your voices matter more now than they have in the past. It is imperative that students take advantage of this opportunity to further our goals of fostering transparency, accessibility, and an overall more welcoming and healthy campus environment.

Oberlin is at a critical juncture on both local and national levels. In the past year alone, there has been considerable turnover of senior staff positions, administrative offices have been reorganized, a hiring freeze has been instituted, and another voluntary separation program for faculty is soon on its way. In addition, the value of a private, liberal arts education is being questioned as college tuition increases each year across the board. Compared to administration and faculty, students remain a constant amidst this sea change. We ought to stake a claim not just to air our grievances, but to leave Oberlin a better institution than how we found it.