Ambar, Students Must Share Vision of Oberlin’s Future

Halfway through this academic year, Oberlin has already confronted many institutional challenges. Structural and infrastructural changes have transformed last year’s dining system, admissions, advising, academic resource offices, the Office of Disability Resources, and faculty and staff salaries, among others. President Carmen Ambar’s new role as Oberlin’s leader has certainly been a major shift as well. Her understanding of and plans for Oberlin will greatly determine the course this institution takes in the years to come — including, but not nearly limited to, the areas listed above.

Ambar’s email to the campus community this Monday bluntly detailed the challenges we face as an institution. But she also indicated her initiative to work across different bodies on campus to overcome issues of retention, admissions, and the structure of a purposeful Oberlin education. In this week’s issue of the Review, James Monroe Professor of Politics Chris Howell writes that in addressing budgetary issues, the Oberlin community must engage with the administration in a transparent matter and that a bureaucratic, closed-door process will not produce the outcomes this community needs. In both Ambar’s email and her recent discussions with this board, she has shown a willingness to redirect governance strategies toward those democratic processes. Her upcoming budgetary presentations — ones that will reveal the stark realities of this institution’s finances — will not only make the state of the school transparent for the campus community, but they will create space for faculty and students to engage, ask questions, and provide input.

As Ambar begins to open the doors of administrative matters to the campus, it is important that we as students and members of this community take advantage of this opportunity. We have long critiqued administrators for their opaque decision-making, and we’ve certainly endured some of the consequences of falling subject to ill-explained choices they’ve made. Rather than protesting All Roads Lead to Oberlin for the administration’s sudden tuition, room, and board changes again, we now have the opportunity — courtesy of Ambar — to participate in preventing those reasons for protest while also working to avoid further admissions and retention shortfalls. The cooperative paradigm of governance is one we must truly embrace to own our future at this institution and to ensure that privilege for those who enroll in the future.

This cooperation will require sacrifice from all of us. With a now-familiar $5 million deficit still looming, we must consider the resources this institution has available. Although Oberlin is a progressive institution, many of us tend to be conservative in our desire to preserve the comforts and privileges this institution provides. Therefore, when we enter discussions with the administration about how to tackle the budgetary state of the College, all options must be on the table. But we must also understand that change and compromise is something to expect without resentment as these conversations move forward.

At the same time, we must hold Ambar and the administration to their word. Opening administrative information and governance to the rest of the campus means exposure and vulnerability for the administration; if promises of cooperation are broken or if doors are closed, we must re-engage administrators to stay the course. When we collectively decide to make another budgetary cut or carve a path to improve an aspect of this institution, we will look to the administration to keep those plans and consequent actions true to our agreements.

The administration has already proven responsive to student input. After hearing many complaints about the campus’ limited range of lounges and social spaces during Student Senate’s constituency week, Ambar, Senate, and the Dean of Students’ Office renovated the Wilder Hall lobby to address that issue. Although this may be a relatively small change, it happened because of the administration and students’ optimistic collaboration. Ambar’s vision for Oberlin will certainly affect the way we face the obstacles that hinder higher education. But we must know that if we so choose, her vision can be ours, too.