Committee, Students Discuss Strategic Plan

Oliver Bok, Editor in Chief

Students voiced their concerns about the upcoming Strategic Plan during two listening sessions this week, in which student members of the Strategic Plan Steering Committee fielded questions and discussed new developments.

College junior and Committee member Machmud Makhmudov said that the purpose of the listening sessions, which will take place on a monthly basis, is to provide a bridge between the student population and the Committee.

“[The Committee wants] to hear what you guys have to think about the direction of the College, problems or ideas or options so we can hear those and relate them back to the Committee when we meet again in a couple weeks,” said Makhmudov.

In both sessions, the first concern students aired pertained to financial accessibility and high tuition costs. Many students have expressed concern that the upcoming Strategic Plan will suppress objectives relating to financial accessibility in favor of maximizing College revenue.

Students have cited the results of the past Strategic Plan, which was issued in 2005, as a rationale for their concern. While the past plan, which laid the groundwork for the College’s academic and economic expenditures for the past decade, has resulted in a number of educational advancements, it has also made policy changes that several students have defined as “severely limiting” for low-income students.

A result of the past Strategic Plan that has been under continuous scrutiny is the College’s modification of the study abroad policy. While the policy used to allow students to pay the tuition directly sanctioned by their particular study abroad program, the past Strategic Plan made students pay full Oberlin tuition for each semester spent abroad.

Because Oberlin’s tuition tends to be much more expensive than that of international study away programs — sometimes by as much as $45,000 — certain students have cited this policy change as an example of Oberlin’s disregard for low-income students.

Another issue raised at the meeting regarded the Steering Committee’s transparency policy.

“A couple of times, [student members of the Steering Committee] have alluded to the fact that there are some pieces of information that need to be kept confidential on the Steering Committee, and I just wanted to know what kind of information needs to be kept confidential and why,” said College junior Tyler Wagner, a newly elected student senator.

According to Machmudov, however, the Steering Committee will be as transparent as their discretion will allow.

“Nothing of that sort has come up so far. … We’re not in the business of trying to hide things from anybody,” said Makhmudov. “To the extent that we can communicate information, we will. There’s a few times … during the process of something, and you’re arguing and you have certain options on the table and you want to come to a conclusion, and if something comes out at that point that may change the perception of what the issue is … that may stall how the final solution comes forth.”

For Wagner, the commitment to transparency will also improve the Committee’s communication with students.

“When you have different options on the table and you’re arguing, presenting that to the student body and saying, ‘These are all the things we’re considering and these are the reasons why,’ that would allow students to have input before the administration comes out as a united front,” Wagner said. “Please pressure the administration into releasing as much information as possible.”

Students at Tuesday’s and Wednesday’s listening sessions also talked about bettering Student Health and support for students with disabilities. Other issues raised by students included divesting from corporations that do business in Israel, increasing diversity in the student body and reducing the alienation Oberlin students feel towards the Oberlin administration by improving communication and substantive dialogue between the students and administrators.

“There’s obviously a very wide array of student opinions and backgrounds and what they want to see come from the Strategic Planning Committee. I think that what we can say [is] that we’ve heard them, and we’ll take these ideas and we’ll put these ideas forward and start those conversations and then report back at the next listening session,” said Ryan Dearon, a College sophomore and Committee member.

According to Makhmudov, the Steering Committee will be broken up into three different working groups.

“There’s one for sustainability — in the environmental sense but also in the financial sense, making sure we have a sustainable financial model. One is about the type of student we teach, and how demand for higher education [will] change. … One is along the lines of globalization and how that will affect higher education,” said Makmudov.

The Strategic Plan Steering Committee will meet monthly for the next one to two years and is “tasked with providing a document to guide the Board of Trustees for the next 10 years,” said Makhmudov. The Committee will meet for the second time on Oct. 9, and following that meeting there will be more listening sessions before the Committee meets again in November.