Board of Trustees Attempts to Increase Student-Faculty Communication on Financial Decisions

The Board of Trustees, comprised of 34 members, is responsible for the College’s long-term investments and financial stability. The class trustees and other members of the Board are required to come to Oberlin four times a year to meet with students to respond to concerns and suggestions. Oustide of this forum, however, communication between students and the Board is rare.

Recently several students have worked to improve student-trustee relations.

“I’m aware of the fact that transparency between the Board and the student body is an issue,” said College senior and Student Senator Tani Colbert-Sangree.

Specifically, Colbert-Sangree and Senior Class President A.D. Hogan both acknowledge a lack of communication channels between current students and trustees. Recently, the trustees, the Office of Communications and Student Senate organized an email through which students can contact class trustees.

“We’re trying to figure out … how to work the infrastructure so students can make better relationships with their trustees,” said Hogan.

In cooperation with the President’s Office, Colbert-Sangree and College senior and Student Senator James Foust are looking to implant several changes in hopes of increasing trustee visibility and accessibility.

As discussed in a meeting with the Office of the President, the two outlined several goals such as a before-and-after publication written by trustees about their discussions, opening their on-campus Board dinners to a wider range of students, inviting students to make short presentations about campus news and relevant information at Board meetings and allowing class trustees to begin serving during their senior year, while they still attend Oberlin.

“Not that the class trustees are out of touch,” said Colbert-Sangree, “but they’re physically separate [from campus].”

Both Hogan and Colbert-Sangree noted that the trustees “see themselves as Obies” and are interested in reflecting the needs and desires of current, impassioned Oberlin students. It came down to a question of compromise.

“How do we build an Oberlin that is not obsessed with the money or the bottom line, that’s driven by social justice responsibility?” Hogan asked.

This year’s Class Trustee finalists, College seniors Abbas Mohsin and Joe Condon, will compete in a run-off election in August 2013 to determine who will serve as the newest class trustee.

The Board is divided into nine committees, including Academic Affairs, Investment and Student Affairs. Its members focus on regulating the College’s endowment.

Voting members join the Board in four ways. The most common way is by Board membership nomination. 24 of the members gained their seat thanks to this internal election process.

“A lot of people are asked to be on the Board if they’re incredibly successful in their field,” said Hogan, “or if they’re large donors.”

In addition to Board-appointed members, six trustees are alumni-elected. Calculated under the General Alumni elections, the only requirement for running is a degree from Oberlin. Unlike the appointed membership, interested alumni can self-nominate. These two positions have six-year terms.

Aside from the president of the College, the three class trustees are elected and serve for three-year terms. College seniors are invited to run and current students vote on their class trustee.

Motivated by a desire to improve their alma mater, the class trustees’ main concern is connecting Oberlin students with the voting members.

“We are really trying to be a bridge and to communicate more with what we’re doing [on the board] and what students are feeling to the Board,” said class trustee Luke Squire, OC ’11.