Oberlin Has Transparency Problems

Oberlin College’s administration claims that contracting out 108 union dining and maintenance jobs will save over $2 million a year. But where is the evidence for this claim? Good governance requires full transparency so that all the stakeholders impacted have the information needed to evaluate such dire actions as well as the overall financial health of the College. That is far from the case here.

Here’s what we have NOT seen to date: 

1) The proposed non-union sub-contracts: How much do they cost, and with whom? How long do they last? How are quality control and student safety issues handled along the way? What are the quality, performance, and labor relations history of the contractors?

2) Administration Salaries: Since the College believes it must save money, then we have a right to know how much the top 10 administrative officials and investment officers earn, and what their future contracts include. (For example, we know that, in 2017, one investment officer received nearly $600,000. What is the salary of that position today and what is it based upon?) If we need to save money, ALL options should be on the table — a mantra the administration has repeated often — including cuts to the incomes of these top officials. Maybe that already is happening. If so, then this information should be shared.

3) The Endowment:  This layoff crisis is reigniting serious questions about the health of the endowment. How big is it? How sound are its investments? What is its real rate of return? How much are its management fees? It is true that the endowment is heavily invested in “alternative” instruments which are notoriously hard to value and often carry enormous management fees? Is this strategy sound? The only way to find credible answers is to conduct an entirely independent audit and evaluation of the endowment and its holdings. We alumni have set up a committee and consultants to do just that, with appropriate confidentiality measures in place. If we are expected to donate heavily to this endowment, surely we should be able to obtain explicit information about its holdings and performance.

Our hope is that the administration and trustees will respect our call for transparency. It would be a grave breach of faith to hold back information at this point in order to expedite these layoff plans. 

Our deepest fear is that the College does not understand it may permanently lose thousands of us who have spent our lives working to enhance economic and social justice. It won’t be possible to support an institution so willing to trash its workers, impoverish the local community, and trample on its most cherished moral traditions. For all the talk of “One Oberlin”, we fear the making of “Corporate Oberlin” — secretive, cold, calculating, and cruel. 

Please, prove us wrong!