<< Front page Commentary May 14, 2004


College shies from discussion

Here we are again. With the decision to close Biggs computer lab next year, the administration has once again made a decision that will adversely affect students’ academic and personal experiences at Oberlin, without consulting the student body. Worse, it has announced this decision with no warning, at the end of the year, leaving students little opportunity to respond.

It is frustrating that this has been a recurring pattern with this administration. But what is particularly disheartening is that this is an issue we have already dealt with — last year at this time, in fact. It forces us to wonder, does this administration have any semblance of institutional memory at all?

Last year, in the face of the College’s massive budget cuts, CIT announced that it would be eliminating 24 of the campus’s approximately 300 open-access computers. Among the proposed cuts was one-third of the already-thin supply of 24-hour access computers on South Campus. President Nancy Dye sympathized with the inconvenience being imposed upon South Campus students, endorsing the kind of “bedroom slipper access” that exists in dorm labs (The Oberlin Review, April 25, 2003). But there seemed to be a general attitude among administrators that there were other 24-hour labs available to students, namely Biggs.

Due to students’ virulent reaction to the proposed changes, the administration relented, cutting only one of the machines from the Lord/Saunders lab and opting not to remove the four machines in Wilder 210.

But the administration doesn’t seem to have learned anything from the experience. While last year it at least had the substantial argument of reduced financial capabilities backing its proposed cuts, this year it can only cite space considerations for its unpopular decision. The administration has attributed this sudden space crisis to the hiring of new professors. Clearly the goal here is to use academics as an excuse for cutting student services, deflecting blame from the more immediate reason that CIT has been “forced” to close Biggs: poor planning.

The old adage proves true: “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” Same as ever, the Oberlin administration continues to make unpopular changes without the slightest input from the students.

That is why this is an issue that, as senior student senator Vivek Bharathan aptly outlined, goes far beyond Biggs. While administrators maintain that this type of decision-making without student input is the exception to the way the College operates rather than the rule, within the last year alone we can point to decisions such as the changes in Dascomb, the new print quota and the changes in OSCA’s rent. Last year students were faced with the surprising disappearance of established amounts of Flex dollars, had the rug pulled out from under them when there was no meal plan provided during breaks and had to deal with the devastating cuts of departmental interns. In none of these instances did the College consult the student body for feedback or alternative ideas.

As an institution, the College has the power and the right to make any and all of these changes without our approval. But the administration claims that it doesn’t want to work that way, that instead it wants to include the student body in its decisions. If this is the case, it is time for the College to put its money where its mouth is because its actions continue to establish the opposite precedent.

We’ll believe it when we see it.

–Douglass Dowty, Editor-in-chief
–Margaret Carey, Commentary Editor
–Eric Klopfer, Steven Kwan, Colin Smith, Managing Editors

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