AAUP Faculty Respond to Bylaws Revision

To the Oberlin Board of Trustees:

The following statement has been approved unanimously by the Oberlin Chapter of the American Association of University Professors and is sent on behalf of the more than 80 Oberlin faculty who make up that chapter. 

The Oberlin Chapter of the American Association of University Professors unequivocally opposes the Board of Trustees’ proposed changes to the bylaws of Oberlin College and Conservatory. 

Our objections include (but are not limited to) the following:

The re-writing of Article XV, Section 2 severely limits the role of the faculty in initiating, debating, or approving strategic and operational directions of the College. This marks a sharp break from the bylaws as they have stood since significant modifications in 1946 and 1949 and explicitly places the responsibility for any non-curricular changes in the hands of the president and board. This is nothing less than a denial of the central principle of Oberlin’s system of shared governance: that the faculty are regularly and necessarily engaged in changes to the operations and strategic directions of the college.

The re-writing of Article XIII, Section 3 significantly diminishes the role of the faculty in appointing a dean. The president is given wide latitude to ignore the recommendation of the faculty search committee — whose members have up until now been elected by the faculty. As the role of the dean is primarily to lead the faculty, we believe that full faculty involvement and buy-in is necessary for a dean to be successful.

The removal of Article XV, Section 3 takes away the faculty’s ability to make or approve legislation regulating student conduct and wellbeing. We are concerned about this change as we believe that student wellbeing cannot be artificially separated from student learning. While the proposed changes allow a role for faculty in defining “those aspects of student life that relate to students’ academic experience,” we feel that the new bylaws interpret “academic experience” so narrowly that it isn’t clear if we would be allowed to weigh in on issues beyond our divisional concerns (as Article XV, Section 2 takes away the place for General Faculty to come together and discuss with students and administrators those policies that affect the whole campus beyond our academic and musical divisions).

In brief, if passed, this set of amendments would revoke Oberlin’s long tradition of a strong faculty role in shared governance.  

Although the proposed changes to the bylaws use the term “shared governance,” they do not meet the standards of meaningful faculty participation outside of the curriculum. They give us no real say over the conditions in which we work and our students learn. It puts the people in charge of managing the College’s finances in charge of holding the institution to its core values and determining, with minimal input from the faculty, its strategic directions. The faculty is not just an employee group in a corporation, but the primary reservoir of teaching skill, research expertise, professional integrity, and institutional memory. 

We stand with our elected committee members and other employee groups at Oberlin College in unequivocally rejecting these proposed amendments as they currently stand and demanding a process of meaningful research, deliberation, and debate before enacting these sweeping and permanent changes.


Executive Committee of Oberlin’s AAUP: 

Kirk Ormand, Nathan A. Greenberg professor of Classics 

DeSales Harrison, professor of English

Stephen Checkoway, associate professor of Computer Science

Marta Laskowski, Robert S. Danforth professor of Biology

Matthew Senior, Ruberta T. McCandless professor of French

Claire Solomon, associate professor of Hispanic Studies and Comparative Literature