Repeated Staffing Shortages Reveal Concerning Pattern

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 First, it was the Office of Disability Resources in fall 2017. Then, it was the Multicultural Resource Center in fall 2018. Now, the Counseling Center becomes the third office in as many autumns to face resource shortages that directly impact its ability to provide vital student support services.

“Office of Disability Resources Faces Staffing Shortage,” read the Review’s Oct. 6, 2017 headline, following the sudden resignation of Isabella Moreno, the office’s former interim director. Moreno cited being tasked with a workload far beyond the capacity of any person to manage as the key reason for her resignation. In an email, Vice President and Dean of Students Meredith Raimondo asked staff to avoid discussing the state of staffing shortages in the ODR. 

“MRC Faces Staffing Shortage,” was the headline for a Nov. 9, 2018 Review article about the resignation of four of the MRC’s five full-time staffers over the course of six months. At the time, students expressed fears about the future of a resource that many found integral to their Oberlin experiences, especially when they were first trying to find their footing on campus. 

Finally, in “College Strengthens Mental Health Resources,” published Nov. 22 of this year, the Review’s news team reported on “unusually long wait-times for student appointments” at the Counseling Center this semester. The supposed culprit? Staffing shortages, once again.

Each time students expressed concern or outrage over the interruption in services provided by these offices, they’ve been told that hiring processes are delicate, that times of transition are hard, and that they just need to be patient.

All of these things are true and, in isolation, perhaps each of these three major incidents could be forgiven. But there’s a clear pattern emerging with regard to staffing in key student support offices on campus, and it doesn’t reflect well on the Division of Student Life’s ability to plan ahead or to prioritize the functionality of these core offices.

Commitment to disability and mental health resources, as well as to providing space and support for marginalized students on campus, needs to be more concerted than tepid statements about improving in the future. Oberlin’s ability to provide these resources for its students is directly tied to their wellbeing in the present. Without them, students cannot thrive personally or academically, and risk feeling disconnected or isolated on a campus that doesn’t have the staff to meet their needs.

Particularly at a time when student retention is, understandably, at the fore of many administrators’ minds, the consistent failure to do something as basic as provide enough staff to effectively provide adequate student support services is appalling. Making a pitch for a student to stay on campus is tough when that student reasonably feels as though their mental health, disability, and identity-based needs won’t be met by the institution.

As the Editorial Board has emphasized when these staffing shortages have arisen in the past, we don’t believe that these persistent challenges are the result of malicious intent on the part of any administrator or other staff member in the Division of Student Life. On the contrary, those employees show everyday that they are dedicated to making the Oberlin student experience a positive one.

However, time and time again, the reality emerges that there’s just not enough of them. And while it’s tough to plan for unexpected resignations and other personnel changes, at a certain point, it no longer matters to students why there aren’t enough staff members to keep these offices running — it just matters that there consistently aren’t. 

As senior administrators implement the One Oberlin plan and call on students to be institutionalists, they must return that same commitment. The institution must be able to show its students that, even in a time of significant and often rapid change, the core services offered to students will remain intact.

Otherwise, students are left to wonder which office will be the next victim of the seemingly unavoidable, nebulous plague of staffing shortages. We’d like to believe that there won’t be one, but if the distinct pattern that has emerged over the last three fall semesters is any indication, there likely will be.