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.
We’d like to start this article by extending a warm welcome to the Board of Trustees to our campus for their last meeting of 2017. For the fourth time this year, the Board of Trustees have flown in from every corner of the country to convene and discuss Oberlin’s long-term institutional trajectory, the difficulties the institution is facing, and the fulfillment of Oberlin’s fiduciary responsibilities.
During this week’s visit, Student Senate chose to shake up how the Board of Trustees will interact with students. Senate believes that the Trustee Fora were not affecting change, building relationships, or serving their purpose of representing students to the board. Instead of having students and trustees sit under King Building’s fluorescent lighting, students will lead members of the Board of Trustees on campus-wide tours. As many students know, first-years living in Barrows Hall have a drastically different experience than those living in Kahn Hall; our goal is to exemplify these discrepancies in quality to the trustees.
Student Senate is concerned that the College’s facilities — specifically, the residential living spaces — do not reflect the high level of education that Oberlin embodies. Rather, our facilities reflect poor stewardship and delayed maintenance.
We are concerned that the state of our dorms will have negative repercussions on our enrollment levels, as prospective students stay overnight in substandard dorms and might leave their Oberlin visit with a poor impression that does not reflect the quality of education Oberlin offers. In a time when Oberlin finds itself in a high-competition market for students, we cannot afford to have students be repelled by poor facilities.
The College has fallen into a position in which it loses prospective students to schools with better dorms but without Oberlin’s academic, and altogether institutional, distinction. Oberlin is competing with colleges and universities that aesthetically reflect an investment in capital planning that prioritizes the student residential experience.
Oberlin is a school that takes pride in its academic rigor and rewarding residential life; if we want to maintain that status, living arrangements need significant improvement. Furthermore, as higher education faces disruption, Oberlin must continue to stand out. It’s time that Oberlin supports its mission with investment and proper maintenance. Currently, Oberlin spends approximately $10 million each year solely on delayed maintenance. When nearby Antioch College reflected on why they closed their doors, one of the first things they noted were concerns regarding the decline in the quality of their facilities. Sustaining our institution starts with guaranteeing that walls are sturdy and the crux of our student experience is stable.
The purpose of the new Trustee Tours is to give students the opportunity to directly share their thoughts about Oberlin with board members in the very midst of actual campus life. Students will have the opportunity to discuss our buildings, and how they add to and detract from the student experience. Each student giving a tour will be able to share their own experiences as well as how those experiences correlate to the campus climate — the topic of this weekend’s board meeting.
In denying our proposal for a student member on the board, Board of Trustees Chairman Chris Canavan noted, “Every trustee wants as much student input on important matters as is feasibly possible.” The Trustee Tours are an opportunity for direct communication from students. This is our chance to give feedback on a vital matter. Our walls are crumbling and our infrastructure is frightful; if we want to be the school of progress, we better start looking like it.