The General Faculty Council and Office of the President announced the final 32 members of the Academic and Administrative Program Review Steering Committee — which will handle the external review process with the consulting firm Stevens Strategy — by email Wednesday. The committee includes Student Senate Chair and College junior Kameron Dunbar, who was appointed in spite of an informal agreement among student senators to not nominate any sitting senators. The selection process also faced opposition from some faculty members who wanted half of faculty representatives to be elected rather than appointed by the administration.
The GFC, the group responsible for selecting the AAPR Steering Committee appointments, received a list of five student nominees, none of whom were senators. Senate had hoped to have two to three students sit on the AAPR committee and decided that not nominating senators would allow more students to become involved in the review process.
Dunbar was the one to initially introduce this idea in Student Senate.
“[By only putting] forward people who weren’t senators or people who weren’t already involved in governance, then we’d be able to just open up more opportunity for students to engage in our work,” Dunbar said.
After receiving Senate’s list of student nominees, the GFC decided that the proposed group of students lacked an institutional perspective, according to Vice President, General Counsel Donica Varner. Dunbar’s name came up during a discussion of potential additional nominees, and he was made aware of his selection April 17.
Dunbar accepted, despite Senate’s agreement, and said that prior to his nomination, he had not been approached by either the Office of the President or the GFC about serving on the AAPR.
Although it is unclear whether the GFC was aware of Senate’s position on senator nominations, President Carmen Ambar sent an email to Senate explaining the decision to appoint Dunbar, which implied that GFC was aware that his appointment would need an explanation.
“The GFC is pleased to appoint [College sophomore] Janet Wu and [College junior] Sadie Keller and looks forward to their important contributions,” Ambar wrote. “In addition, the GFC felt that it would be helpful to have representation from Student Senate on the committee and thus appointed Kameron Dunbar in his role as Senate Chair.”
Varner also said that Dunbar was a valuable addition to the AAPR committee and voiced that it had not been the intent of the GFC to make any move that could undermine or delegitimize Student Senate decisions.
Both Varner and Dunbar maintained that the administration was in favor of the work Senate had accomplished in recent semesters and that Dunbar’s appointment was part of a push to make Senate the primary body of student representation on campus.
“I think [the appointment] speaks volumes of the good work that Senate has done thus far,” Dunbar said. “… Senate is working to make itself the sort of premier centralized governance organization on campus. And so [President Ambar’s] rationale was that if we were to go through such an important process like AAPR and start to understand what works at Oberlin, what does not work at Oberlin, and how we can make it a resilient institution for the future, that she wanted some representation from Student Senate to be at the table.”
Both Wu and Keller expressed gratitude in their selection and said they want to be a voice for the rest of the student body through the review process.
“I applied because I feel well suited to represent a variety of student interests, think about big issues from outside the campus, and connect the students and administration as we go through difficult conversations,” Keller said.
Wu concured, adding, “I applied for this position because I want to be involved in this all-encompassing review process,” Wu said. “If I end up as a committee member, I hope to be able to bring not only my experiences to the discussion table but also those of different facets of our student body. All [student experiences] are important considerations that should be taken when doing an extensive review of Oberlin as an institution.”
The administration made it very clear that it wanted a large degree of control over the final composition of the AAPR committee. This meant soliciting nominations for both students and faculty but being free to make appointments outside of those constraints.
As far as faculty committee members are concerned, several professors — including James Monroe Professor of Politics and East Asian Studies and Chair of the Politics Department Marc Blecher and Politics Professor Steven Crowley — hoped that faculty would have a larger say in who was chosen to represent them. Blecher and Crowley submitted a proposal to have half of faculty Steering Committee representatives elected while the rest would be appointed by the GFC.
“We took the view that if the faculty are going to manage this, then it is up to the faculty to decide who [among them] is involved,” Blecher said.
Blecher added that supporters of the proposal believed that such an idea was in line with the intention of the Finney Compact, the agreement which grants faculty the right of governance at Oberlin.
The Compact separates Oberlin from many similar peer institutions, and according to Blecher has convinced staff on multiple occasions to accept positions at the College over more lucrative offers elsewhere.
Ambar opposed the proposal at the GFC meeting however, when it was brought up for a vote. At that meeting, GFC members overspent their discussion time on the proposal, and in Blecher’s view, talk about the full impacts of the proposal was incidentally curtailed by a need to end the meeting. The proposal failed to pass on a narrow margin.
The AAPR will be the first review of its kind for the College and could take up to two years to complete.