Financial Solutions Require Active Participation from Students

Oberlin’s financial strife is not news. Enrollment in private liberal arts colleges is down across the nation, the financial crash of the late 2000s hit Oberlin hard, and we have been living beyond our means a for too long. The budget deficit was reduced to $3 million this year but is expected to increase to $9 million next year if the market behaves as predicted. Fretting, discussing, and occasionally ranting about the institution’s financial outlook and fiscal management has become nearly routine practice for students, faculty, and staff during my six semesters at Oberlin. We are quick to ask why some departments are more expensive than others and where funding for departments comes from and to question the validity of a program or department altogether. We have all pointed a finger once or twice and grumbled that something has more funding than our program — even if it’s just conjecture.

During a conversation in December, I recall President Carmen Ambar remarking that vilifying other constituencies on campus as access to resources diminish was a common practice — one we have a responsibility to avoid. I could not agree with her more. Directing anger and frustration at others as the institution readjusts to a new fiscal environment is only going to make us worse off in the long run. Transparency can cause us to be extremely critical, for better or for worse. Having served on the Educational Plans and Policies Committee for the past two years and participated in program reviews and tenure proposals, I have witnessed first-hand how intense these conversations can get. We feel powerless as our needs get pushed to next year. Occasionally, we find ourselves fighting with each other just out of exasperation.

All of us with a stake in Oberlin’s future, however, have a duty and an extraordinary opportunity to unite as a whole community to shape the outlook of the institution. In an editorial piece earlier this month, the Review called for direct student involvement and faith in the process (“Ambar, Students Must Share Vision of Oberlin’s Future,” The Oberlin Review, Feb. 9, 2018). The prospect of trusting in the process may seem terrifying to most Obies, myself included; I believe that it’s easier to have faith in the process if you participate in it. Oberlin is crafting a new institutional outlook through the lens of our vague Strategic Plan and through financial reallocations. Let this serve as an opportunity to think creatively, innovatively, and rationally about our resources, rather than as an overall loss.

President Ambar’s goals are to use our resources most effectively and to uphold the values that shape Oberlin. This week, she gave the second round of Financial Resiliency Q&A presentations at the monthly General Faculty meeting. This week, she will host a student forum on Wednesday, Feb. 28 at 8 p.m. in King 306. Come. Participate in the process. Ask questions about our financial situation, our proposed solutions, and ask yourself: “What are my goals for Oberlin’s resources? How can I contribute to this process?” Most importantly, what matters to you? What drew you to Oberlin, and what makes you want to stay?