Administrator-Student Communication Needs Improvement

As it stands, there is no clear, easily accessible avenue through which students can relay their grievances to the administration in a manner that encourages constructive change. Conversely, it seems like the administration often doesn’t communicate its decisions to students in a timely or entirely transparent manner. Students and the administration apparently suffer from a fundamental inability to communicate with each other. The fact that I have, on multiple occasions, heard about important changes to this institution through YikYak rather than through official channels should be an embarrassment.

Students have a right to know what large-scale changes the College is making, or planning on making, before they are made. Otherwise, it is impossible for us to feel like we have a voice or that we are heard. Shutting students out of major decisions isolates them and, as a result, makes the decision more contentious. I imagine that people who might otherwise like a decision may be less pleased when said decision is sprung on them by surprise — particularly when there is no explanation for why the change was made. From a student’s perspective, it feels like President Carmen Twillie Ambar sits in an ivory tower, occasionally making decisions that affect every single Oberlin student without so much as a word from her on the matter.

The change to Bon Secours Mercy Health is a prime example of this problem. Students who could have raised concerns about the change in health care provider before the fact were instead informed through a Campus Digest email on June 8. In a move that many students felt was predictable in hindsight, Bon Secours walked back numerous reproductive and gender-affirming health care procedures it had apparently assured the College it would provide. If students had known about this change sooner, they might have been able to raise concerns in time; if they had been educated on why it was happening, they might have been able to understand why the College’s previous contract was unsatisfactory and what the new contract improved. In this case, knowing ahead of time would not, in my mind, have made the change itself any better. Still, at least students would have been able to comprehend the administration’s thinking.

I’m not saying there are no avenues of direct communication between students and administrators. If you, dear reader, know of one: congratulations! You know more than the average Obie. And that right there is the problem: even if avenues of communication do currently exist, there is a lack of awareness of them that, in the end, negates their existence. The College should rethink how it communicates with students currently, as it is clearly failing to do so.

The solution I would like to suggest is simple: the College should host town-hall-type events. These events would be great opportunities to create student awareness of big issues and changes, and for administrators to receive students’ feedback. Doing this would not only give students like me a voice, but it would also allow the College to actually know how their new programs will be received. It might lead to programs that are satisfactory to both parties that can be implemented without confusion. Even if the College did not solicit questions from students or hold conversations with them, such town hall events would present opportunities for administrators to explain their choices and why they are important, positive changes for our community. 

I would also argue that this problem can and does go both ways: the administration may not know what its students are thinking if they are too isolated to hear our general chatter. Town hall events would be a great opportunity for them to hear from us, too. At the end of the day, though, I just want to know what Oberlin is planning on doing on a large scale. I deserve to know — it’s my life.