Administration Fails to Understand Orr’s Call to Action

Isaac Hollander McCreery

To the Editors:

I’m sitting in Azariah’s Café. The snow from a few days ago still lingers, as the leaves reach the peak of their falling. Soon there will be no more, and the ground will be blanketed in snow.

Six days ago Professor David Orr told us a story. “Over the bleached bones and jumbled residue of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words, ‘Too late.’”

Climate destabilization is a huge problem. But there are other huge problems, ones that we can’t afford to ignore. Our economy grinds people into the ground on a daily basis, and our societies and cultures enforce norms that tear into each of our humanities and allow us to commit atrocities against one another.

While I don’t agree with Professor Orr’s grounds — he erred through omission — I agree with his conclusions. “Now, more than ever,” he said, “we need liberally educated young people who know how — and what — to connect.” We must “boldly enlarge our ideas of education and research to meet the challenges — the unprecedented challenges — and opportunities of the time, to lead with courage and persistence.” And this process “can only begin,” he said, “with a large conversation about education that engages the entire campus community, that asks questions beyond conventional categories, questions that have no easy answers, questions that force us out of our comfort zones and conventional categories of thought and behavior.”

And our College’s president wrote the following of Professor Orr’s lecture: “His provocative talk asked us to contemplate what we can do as individuals, as a community and as a society.”

No, President Krislov, you missed the point.

Professor Orr didn’t ask us to contemplate. He asked us to connect and to act. Now. “This is no time for complacency … There is such a thing as too late … Hope is a verb with its sleeves rolled up.”

Will we rise to the challenge, Oberlin College? Or will we continue to silo our institution into status quo departments so narrow that no real conversation can happen, only contemplation? Will we continue to study neoclassical economics under the title Economics, as if it’s the only economics that has ever existed? Will we continue to study Literature — the canon of Western Europe, named as if it is the only canon that is real Literature — while relegating other canons to Other Studies such as Africana Studies and East Asian Studies? Will we continue to study Environmental Studies as if everything else we do doesn’t take place on the earth upon which we stand? Will we continue to study Computer Science as if computers were not at the heart of the 2008 financial collapse? Will we continue to practice our instruments for six hours a day as if the mathematicians in King don’t need to hear our music to solve their equations?

I am joining the call on Oberlin College and its Administration: Do not just contemplate. Roll up your sleeves, and give us a space in which to connect. Start with this: Take two days, say, a Wednesday and Thursday. Cancel classes. Hold that forum, that “large conversation about education that engages the entire campus community” that we so desperately need.

I am so deeply terrified that it’s with me while I sleep. I had nightmares last night. I dreamed that the end had come. Society was crumbling, and everyone knew it. My dear friend said to me, “Anything that isn’t real is worthless. If you can’t hold it in your hand, don’t think it’s anything at all.” Then I awoke. I slowly came to and remembered, we’re not there. At least, not all the way there. Not yet.

So I’m searching for a way to act, lest we look back to see those pathetic words written over our civilization, “Too late.”