At this crucial moment in Oberlin’s history, we need a seasoned captain at the helm of the ship. Particularly, at a time when significant changes are being instituted to improve the functioning of the College, we need all the stability we can get.
Until recently, both the College of Arts and Sciences and the Conservatory have been entrenched in a hiring search for their respective deans. The hiring committee for the Dean of the Conservatory concluded its national search for a suitable candidate, which began in May of this year. The hiring committee for the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences also began earlier this semester and is currently on-going.
The Conservatory has proven that promoting stability is a priority, demonstrated by the astute decision to appoint William Quillen, former acting dean of the Conservatory, as the dean of the Conservatory of Music. Quillen has served as dean on an interim basis since fall semester 2018 and was also the vice-chair of the Academic and Administrative Program Review Steering Committee, which conducted a comprehensive review of all campus and administrative programs last year which culminated in the One Oberlin report.
We urge the hiring committee to make the same decision for the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences as it did for the Conservatory by appointing David Kamitsuka, acting dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.
During the year-long AAPR process, Kamitsuka played a pivotal role as chair of the AAPR Steering Committee and has been overseeing its implementation alongside Quillen since April.
Under his leadership, the entire AAPR process has upheld unprecedented standards of transparency that have persisted throughout the implementation of the changes. While many reasonably disagreed with the recommendations that the Steering Committee ultimately proposed, this commitment to transparency — certainly as compared to peer institutions — speaks highly of Kamitsuka’s ability to skillfully oversee the implementation of One Oberlin which, like it or not, is here to stay.
In short, regardless of whether or not we agree with the institutional decisions made by the AAPR under Kamitsuka’s guidance, we must realize that he is not only our best but also our only realistic option. The knowledge he has regarding Oberlin’s administrative history, current functioning, and vision for the future is so extensive that it would be virtually impossible to insert someone midstream and expect them to do as good a job overseeing the execution of One Oberlin’s plans.
One Oberlin’s recommendations tackle a wide array of institutional changes, including diversifying revenue streams for the College; reforming curriculum to adapt to the needs of current and prospective students; addressing equity issues in housing and dining facilities; and addressing employee and labor costs, to name just a few. These different avenues to create a more financially stable and educationally enriching Oberlin are all incredibly complicated, and Kamitsuka has been present for all of these difficult conversations. If appointed, Kamitsuka is our best shot at a smooth transition, one we desperately need as we try to retain Oberlin’s spirit and values amid administrative change.
Certainly, external intervention in revamping processes can be helpful in that it can bring fresh perspectives and a higher likelihood of objective assessment of problems. However, the ideal time for such an intervention was during the AAPR and the One Oberlin drafting period. The College has made its difficult decisions and plans for the future. Now, we need a leader who can keep the concerns that students, faculty, and staff had during AAPR in mind. Now, we need someone who is attuned to the pulse of the student body to address potential conflicts that may arise during implementation.
Given the work that David Kamitsuka has already undertaken as the College’s acting dean and the degree to which the recommendations he oversaw are nearing implementation, we hope that when the search committee for the next full-time dean of Arts and Sciences concludes its work, they will announce Kamitsuka as Oberlin’s continuing dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.