Trustees to Reduce Endowment Payout, Student Senators Say

Oliver Bok, Editor in Chief

The Board of Trustees will meet at the College next weekend, and according to Student Senate Liaisons Megs Bautista and Jeremy Poe, they appear set to lower the endowment payout, an action that could have significant ramifications on the College’s operating budget.

“From talking to administrators and other individuals, we believe that the Board will be voting to reduce [the] annual endowment payout, resulting in millions of dollars being cut from the annual operating budget,” Bautista and Poe wrote in an email to student organization liaisons. “While we don’t know the specifics of the various proposed reductions, any reduction is obviously significant. When the operating budget is cut, we expect that administrative and professional staff will be the most significantly affected, and that student services will suffer.”

In light of the potentially far-reaching impact of a cut in the endowment payout, Poe and Bautista urged students to attend the trustee forum on Thursday, Oct. 8 to force the Board to take student input into account.

“The Trustees hold a public forum for students so that they can get an understanding of the concerns of the student body. In the past, however, the Trustees have found ways to dismiss the opinions of students they heard in these forums: Last December, high student turnout that was very critical of the Trustees was dismissed as coming from a disrespectful vocal minority; last March, low student turnout was understood to be lack of student interest and not a hastily and poorly organized forum.”

Student Senate will host a meeting on Saturday at 5 p.m. to “discuss the implications of a budget cut and organize student action.” There will also be a meeting of the Strategic Planning Steering Committee next weekend. As a result, the trustee forum on Oct. 8 may be students’ best chance to be heard by Board members before they make a decision on the endowment payout and other key issues.

After a contentious trustee forum last December, in which students protested systemic racism and the College’s perceived lack of support for low income and minority students, the trustees turned the forum in March into a venue for small group discussions between students and trustees. The forum on Thursday will have a similar format.

“In my time at Oberlin, I noticed that the trustee forums were beneficial but were not as focused as they could be,” said Class of 2015 trustee-elect Gifty Dominah. “I think that this new format will allow for topics to be well-discussed before moving onto another.”

The new format has received a mixed reception from students, some of whom claim that the format is simply a way to avoid student activism at trustee forums.

“Students no longer have the ability to raise questions to the whole board,” said College junior Kai Shinbrough. Shinbrough theorized that trustees changed the forum so “the Board of Trustees won’t have to deal with any more pesky centralized actions like last semester’s Black Lives Matter ‘hands up, don’t shoot’ call and response.”

Another common theme among student activists is a desire for the Board to be more accountable to students after the forum ends. “

I did like the more personal engagement with trustees, but by breaking up the trustees they lacked an ability to speak as a multilateral institution,” said College junior Jasper Clarkberg, who attended the March forum. “Trustees in our room seemed supportive, but we could not hold them accountable when they went into their secretive trustee meetings. We do not know if the trustees support us as a group, or if the trustees in the room were just pledging support to make us feel good.”