London Program May Return in Fall ’06
Student protest met the College’s decision to eliminate the Dannenberg Oberlin-in-London Program last December. Now, the committee that oversees that program hopes to revive it for fall 2006. There will, however, be some changes.
As the original program stood, students traveled to London every semester with two faculty members, from whom they would take classes and with whom they would explore the city. The professors differed with the year, as did the curriculum.
The new program, currently in early phases of restructuring, plans to be as it always was in the spring, with faculty teaching one interdisciplinary course and two disciplinary courses. It would change in the fall, when it would join with Grinnell College’s London program.
Oberlin also plans to move the program’s housing from its former facility, a costly residence with inadequate accessibility for disabled students, to an academic and teaching center run by Florida State University. Grinnell students already stay in this facility, as do students from many other colleges.
Oberlin’s decision to join with Grinnell, a small liberal arts college in Iowa, resulted from Oberlin’s financial crisis.
“It’s an expensive program, even in the best of times,” said Provost Al MacKay, who has actively helped re-launch the program. “And it’s an expensive program to run alone, when you have no one to share the costs of facilities, staff, funds, etc.
“We were looking for a program to join with that was a comparable institution with the same sort of values. Grinnell used to have a London program year-round, but now they only offer it in the fall,” MacKay continued. “The financial difficulty of sponsoring a London study-away program is not just Oberlin’s problem.”
“At the end of September, [Associate Provost] David Cleeton and [English professor] Katherine Linehan and I went off to Grinnell to talk to [the administrators at Grinnell],” said Marc Blecher, professor of politics and chair of the London Program. “We thought that some kind of cooperation could possibly work out based on what they were doing with their program.”
“Then we talked some more and David and I went to London to look at their program, and our impression ...that we could very well work with them was only strengthened, that there were pluses for them as well as for us,” Blecher said.
According to Blecher, the Grinnell program, which only happens in the fall, will join with Oberlin in classes and in living environments. The size of the Oberlin contingency will shrink from 25 students to 15, and from two professors to one. This is because Grinnell’s London director, with whom Oberlin will now be working, does not feel comfortable being responsible for so many Oberlin students in addition to Grinnell’s.
“The other thing that might be new [to the Oberlin-in-London program] is that Grinnell has been offering its students internships,” Blecher said. “We’re thinking our students would dig that too, and we’ve talked to the woman in London who arranges those internships. She said she could arrange internships for Oberlin students in the fall and maybe also in the spring.”
Blecher also pointed out that the advantage of joining with Grinnell’s program was that it would afford Oberlin students learning opportunities outside the classroom.
“We would like students and faculty to be there with Grinnell students,” he said. “In the past, both Grinnell’s program and our program has been intense socially, with students seeing each other in class, outside, in their rooms, etc. It was pretty intense and concentrated. With a joined program, Oberlin students could hang out with Grinnell students, live with them, take classes with them...we think it’s something our students want.”
Optimism for the new program is high, but both Blecher and MacKay noted that plans are still tentative and subject to change, especially in terms of the structure of the program and the time table for it to take effect.
“We’re putting together a proposal for how the program might work at least for an initial year or two,” Blecher said. “It’s going to be a work in progress, probably forever, but mostly for a few years as our relationship with Grinnell will evolve.”
“We need to clarify in our own minds what our expectations are for the program,” MacKay added. “It’s not exactly trial and error; it’s more like an exploratory phase.”
There was also a question about whether the new program would be ready for implementation as early as next fall. Of particular concern are funds, as Oberlin’s financial difficulties are still very much a reality.
“The College is developing new policies for the costs of all study away programs,” Blecher said, “so according to these new policies, we need to put together a budget for what this new projected program is going to cost.
“It’s up to Al [MacKay] exactly at what point there will be a go-ahead with the plan,” Blecher continued, “and I know we’re getting closer to the College being able to say we’re ready, but [the administration] needs to look at the costs. The College has got to decide fairly soon because faculty have to make plans to teach there in the fall and spring, and students have to apply to the program, and so on. We had originally thought we would know this for sure by the end of October or the beginning of November...I don’t know when the College will make a decision.”
MacKay echoed these sentiments.
“It’s a complicated issue, but Oberlin is a complicated
place,” he said. “But my hope is that we’ll accomplish