Our Case For Oberlin

 Today marks the end of a three-week-long campaign of All Roads Lead to Oberlin events, meant to encourage admitted high school students to enroll in Oberlin’s class of 2023. So far this month, over 660 high school students have visited campus to see if Oberlin is the right fit for them, according to the Office of Admissions. Prospective students have stayed overnight with current students in dorms, visited classes, and asked their most pressing questions at the All Roads Academic Department Fair.

Although this Editorial Board has often been critical of decisions made by the administration and other campus leaders, we want to step back in this final week of admissions frenzy and make the case for attending Oberlin. We want to advocate for the Oberlin not shown in admissions brochures, but instead, the Oberlin that we, as students, experience everyday. While information like the student-faculty ratio, the high rate at which Obies go on to attain doctorates, and the quality of our academic facilities is certainly important, you’ll hear it all on your campus tour. Instead, we want to make a pitch for this institution which comes with its fair share of challenges — but that we nonetheless care deeply about, and for which we have great hope.

If you’ve read the Review at all this academic year, you’ll know that Oberlin is experiencing financial hardship — the ongoing Academic and Administrative Program Review, launched in spring 2018, is proof enough of that. Tasked by the Board of Trustees to identify strategies to address Oberlin’s mounting budget shortfall, the AAPR steering committee just released its preliminary areas of recommendation in March. Committee members will now spend the rest of the semester collecting community feedback and input before presenting their final recommendations to President Carmen Twillie Ambar at the end of the semester.

While Oberlin’s stark financial realities could be viewed as a reason to go elsewhere, we believe this time of adjustment is an opportunity to shape Oberlin’s future like never before. Despite student complaints about the availability of AAPR data (which we echoed in our April 5 editorial “Students Need More Data”), the steering committee has made significant strides to address questions and incorporate student feedback into their work. This commitment was perhaps best exemplified in an April 11 email from Student Senate to the student body, in which 40 specific questions voiced by students were addressed in detail by the steering committee. Given this high level of student involvement, students who attend Oberlin over the next four years will have the opportunity to make a lasting impact on the school in shaping what this financial change looks like.

Furthermore, Oberlin is only one of many liberal arts colleges across the nation facing budget challenges, but because Oberlin is pioneering in its approach to tackle these deficits head-on through a comprehensive program review, the Oberlin community, including students, will help shape the future of liberal arts colleges more generally. Other institutions will be looking to Oberlin’s example, as they have before at other pivotal moments in history. Right now, Oberlin is blazing the path for what a 21st-century liberal arts college could look like, and incoming students have the chance to be a part of that — to define what higher education could look like for decades to come.

None of this is to say that we agree with every proposal put forward by the steering committee, nor every short-term budget cut made by high-level administrators. A lot of what’s to come will be truly challenging, and no solution will be perfect for everyone. However, given what we’ve seen up to this point, we are confident that, even though there will undoubtedly be some hiccups, the changes we see in the coming years will be the result of collaboration between the administration, staff, and students — and that’s important.

The class of 2023 and classes to follow will have the opportunity to envision and shape Oberlin’s future. We can only honor Oberlin’s legacy of being a progressive institution at the forefront of higher education while adapting to the shifting realities of higher education if we have buy-in from an interested, committed, and creative student body. Interested in working toward making OSCA more inclusive and accessible? Want to help academic departments build unprecedented interdisciplinary connections through the proposed structure for academic divisions? Now is your chance.

Students come to Oberlin because they’re interested in learning how to make lasting change in the world — and there’s no better training ground than this moment. Our current student body has shown an incredible commitment to making their voices heard this year, and have collaborated in shaping innovative ideas for Oberlin’s future. Now, we need a new cohort of students to help carry that work forward.

That’s our case for Oberlin, beyond what you’ll hear at an All Roads panel. We have a lot of work ahead, but also a lot of opportunities. Help us seize them.