Students seek more input in planning
This academic year began with the distribution of shiny new copies of the Strategic Plan not only among Oberlin community members on campus but also among trustees and alumni. The beginning stages of implementation are all but imminent and the faculty members of the six “working groups” have been established. However, there has been a little bit of a hiccup.
Student Senate’s constitution guarantees their right to appoint all of the student representative members in faculty, administrative and ad hoc committees. When Senate liaison and College junior Ezra Temko sent the Senate’s initial recommendations of working group appointments, he received a reply from Provost Al MacKay:
“I appreciate the assistance of the Student Senate in recommending non-voting student participants for many of the working groups. The General Faculty Planning Committee will consider these recommendations and act expeditiously to make appointments of students to the various working groups.”
Although what was primarily disturbing to Temko was the addition of “non-voting participants,” there was also concern not only about whether or not Senate would be able to appoint the representatives, but also how many there would be.
“Two weeks ago we were guaranteed two student representatives plus a senator per committee,” said Temko.
After receiving the e-mail, Temko put together and submitted his own proposal for how student representation in the working groups should be handled. The proposal was officially unaffiliated with Student Senate, although Temko says he consulted with several senators in its formulation.
“Our view is that there should be equal representation: one student per faculty member, per staff member,” he said. “It should be at least one third.”
On Wednesday afternoon, MacKay issued the recommendation that every committee but one would have two student representatives appointed by the Senate. Then the working groups could consult about how many more students they want or need with the provost’s office, which would make the additional appointments. The cap on student members would be six. This is how it stands now.
“We’re not trying to keep Senate out of the process,” said MacKay. “But we need to make sure that working groups can do their work and this has to do with the size of the groups.”
“The fact that they made the groups that large before incorporating students shows me that putting in students was an afterthought,” said Senator Marshall Duer-Balkind, College senior. “The way it is now is still problematic, but it’s better than it seemed like it was going to be.”
The voting issue has also been conceded and now all student representatives can vote in working group meetings.
“I was starting from the premise that the two students on GFPC don’t vote,” said MacKay, who chairs that committee. “It seemed as though I was following a precedent. But it appears that it’s an issue that some people are very passionate about and it’s not a big deal for me...I do want students in working groups.”
“All the faculty members were really surprised [that the student representatives were to be non-voting],” said Duer-Balkind. “It’s silly and outrageous at the same time.”
Additionally, there was a concern that no students at all were to be appointed to the Support and Build Faculty working group.
“The committee is largely concerned with things we didn’t think students would have much to say about,” said MacKay. “It’s things like salaries and benefits.”
“I’m not sure how many positive contributions students could make to that kind of committee,” agreed senator Matt Kaplan, College junior. “It’s not a closed door, which some people seem to think it is. We’ve been granted a great opportunity just by having students on committee with a voice and a vote; we should stick with it. Students being able to work this closely on something so important to the College’s future isn’t something that I think would happen at our peer colleges.”
Temko hasn’t given up on getting more students on working groups.
“My current plan is to talk to the chairs of each committee and see how many students they’re willing to take,” said Temko. “I’m hoping for at least three on every committe — with Support and Build Faculty I’d be happy with one.”
However, Kaplan feels that the most important goal right now should be getting the ball rolling on what will happen after the working groups are straightened out.
“If we continue to slow down this process even more we’re going to end up hindering the ultimate goals of the Strategic Plan,” said Kaplan. “After meeting with a lot of the alumni [during Alumni Weekend], I think it’s important to begin to implement this phase of Strategic Plan.”
This is also MacKay’s attitude.
“The working groups are raring to go and we have to get started,” said MacKay. “That’s just a fact of life.
“I think we have a workable solution [to the problems] already,”