New Strategic Plan Draft Pursues Inclusivity

Madeline Stocker, Editor-in-Chief

Published nearly four months after the release of the last draft, the newest version of Oberlin’s Strategic Plan continues to make marked departures from the contents of the 2005 document.

Though it remains more of a comprehensive list of goals than a specific implementation plan, the current draft does identify two of the administration’s future initiatives — the development of “theme-based course clusters” and the creation of a guidance system that will offer support to students throughout their first four post-undergraduate years.

The draft, which was made public Wednesday evening, focuses considerably on ensuring an “inclusive and equitable learning environment” — certainly more so than its decade old counterpart.

“We recognized that it needed to be upfront and center and more prominent,” President Marvin Krislov said. “We revised this draft to do that in response to faculty and student comments.”

Though specifics were excluded, the current plan suggests implementing strategies that would increase the number of faculty, staff and students from underrepresented communities.

According to Senior Class President and Strategic Planning Steering Committee member Machmud Makhmudov, a number of these changes were due to student input, as well as suggestions made by student members of the Steering Committee.

Previous drafts of the 2016–2021 plan included language emphasizing the retention of full-paying students — an initiative that has been heavily criticized since first appearing in the 2005 Strategic Plan. However, after review by the student members of the Committee, language prioritizing retaining higher-income students was reduced.

“There was concern that the financial landscape was changing in the context of who gets to attend here and who doesn’t,” Makhmudov said. “There was language on that in the beginning, but we didn’t think it needed to be as forceful as it was.”

Although the nature of the document omits specifics, several students from the Steering Committee have expressed frustration over the lack of tactical approach.

“There have been times when I and some of the other students have been really idealistic about it,” said College junior and Steering Committee member Sarah Minion. “For example, we’ve [suggested ways] to increase faculty diversity or sustainability in dorms. And we’ve just been reminded that implementation will come after the plan is written and that the plan is more of a guiding vision of the future.

I don’t think it’s a perfect plan by any means.” Makhmudov said that the student representatives of the Steering Committee navigated this by making suggestions on how to adjust the tone of the document — for example, changing that something is “considered” to being “strongly encouraged.”
However, Minion said she felt the lack of specifics has the potential to allow the administration to sidestep the accountability necessary to making the suggested changes a reality.

“As student members, we’ve had to push a lot for student involvement in implementation,” Minion said, adding that she is particularly concerned with the administration’s plans for execution.

According to Minion, the student faction of the Steering Committee received an email Tuesday evening containing the Board’s latest edits to the draft, one of which changed the language to say that the Board would only include students in the implementation process as they saw appropriate.

“We told them that that absolutely couldn’t be the case,” Minion said.

In its current state, the draft’s implementation language includes student involvement.

“Once the Strategic Plan is approved by the General Faculty and the Board of Trustees, it will be implemented by the administration, led by the president, in collaboration with the General Faculty Council … the Board, and Oberlin’s faculty, staff, students and alumni,” the plan reads.

Though currently unformed, the future implementation committee may take forms similar to those of the working groups, Krislov said.

Other notable aspects of the plan include a change in mission statement and simultaneous adoption of four “core values” — educational excellence, diversity and community, stewardship and sustainability — as well as increased focus on technological development and “connected learning,” or an academic experience that integrates coursework, advising, mentoring, internships and various other avenues of a collegiate career.

Oberlin’s Strategic Plan is drafted by the Strategic Planning Steering Committee, a group composed of the Oberlin College Board of Trustees, as well as Oberlin College faculty, students, staff, administrators and alumni. As of now, the Committee has held several Student Listening Sessions and collected 71 pages in written responses to the Dec. 10 draft. The plan is set to be finalized by June 2016.

Both Makhmudov and Minion strongly encouraged the Oberlin community to continue to make their opinions known.

“For the strategic plan to work, the whole Oberlin community needs to be constantly reviewing and evaluating it,” Minion said. “Or else it’s easy for nothing to happen.”