Open Trustee Meeting Addresses Controversy
Wilder 101 was filled beyond seating capacity at Thursday’s class trustees open forum as students gathered to express their opinions on three of the hottest issues at Oberlin right now: the continuing need for a new student theater space, last week’s controversy over the Asian-American history position, and the need for environmental sustainability in the Stevenson housing project.
Students advocating for a new performing arts space were most populous, comprising about 90 percent of the crowd.
Junior Jon Levin and senior Josh Luxenberg, chairs of the SPACE committee, spoke on behalf of the large group, enthusiastically introducing a new idea to the old request for more theater space.
“Theater space has been theoretically in the works for the College for 30 years now,” said Levin, adding that Oberlin has fallen in Princeton Review’s rankings for student theater from seventh to 12th over the past few years.
“We started imagining, how can we make this more inclusive and more exciting for other areas of arts,” he said. “We came up with the idea of a true extracurricular arts center at Oberlin.”
Levin explained that the arts center would be entirely student-run, in the vein of OSCA and WOBC.
“This would be totally unique to Oberlin, and it’s totally within the character of Oberlin. It fits within the pillar of artistic excellence that the Strategic Plan mentions somewhere,” said Levin.
According to the plan Levin and Luxenberg presented, the space would include a black box theater, a smaller cabaret space, gallery space and film screening spaces.
“What we’re really asking for here is this project to be put on high priority for the next building campaign,” said Levin.
The trustees seemed supportive of the students’ proposed plan.
“I think this is an issue that we really understand,” said Liz Welch, OC ’80. “Taking off my trustee hat, as an alum, I think it is something we should raise money for.”
Students raised the concern that fundraising has been a problem for student theater for years now.
“We’ve been in dialogue with the [College] president for two, three, five years now, and people just aren’t excited about donating money for a black box,” said Levin. “It sounds like a box!”
Levin and Luxenberg said that they hoped the idea they presented would be a more exciting and alluring option for possible donors.
While there were fewer students present to discuss the proposed elimination of the Asian-American history faculty position, those present were vociferous, emphasizing that the position was critical to Oberlin’s mission and purpose.
Sophomore Mia Gregory read a prepared statement on behalf of concerned students. In the letter, Gregory emphasized that the status of the position remains vulnerable, and that that vulnerability endangers recruitment of students and faculty members of color.
The letter elicited applause from the students present.
Class Trustee Adam Sorkin, OC ’04, addressed the students’ concerns.
“My understanding of the whole process of cutting positions over the next five years [through the strategic plan] is that it is all through retirement,” he said. “Most importantly, there is no way to make cutting seven positions not hurt. Whether it’s one department or another, there is no way to make no people upset.”
Fifth-year Eli Szenes-Strauss said that the Asian-American history position was more complicated.
“I hear what you’re saying, but I also think you’re ignoring a deeper problem, which is why professors leave,” said Szenes-Strauss. “Darryl didn’t leave because he likes the weather better in Colorado. Oberlin has a history of not retaining faculty of color. [Removing this position] sends a message to faculty of color: ‘you’re expendable.’”
Students raised numerous other concerns over the position, including the fact that removing the position would compromise numerous departments.
Several students were also present to raise concerns over sustainability, or as they put it, the “lack thereof,” regarding the plans for the College’s newest housing project near Stevenson.
Students were mainly concerned over the energy efficiency of the potential dormitory.
“All light looks the same but it’s not all created the same,” said one student. “If we continue to rely on the same heating methods we use now in our new housing, we will continue to be inefficient.”
Students advocated for the new housing to use state of the art environmental building standards, explaining that environmental sustainability would pay for itself through increased efficiency.
The trustees responded that the board, having come to similar conclusions in looking at the housing proposal, had recently sent the plans back for reconsideration.
“We also didn’t like the second phase of housing and scrapped the plans for numerous reasons, including their unsustainability,” said Sorkin.
“It’s back to the drawing board,” added Bob Frascino, OC ’74. “Not only was it unsustainable, it was a really ugly building.”
Welch added that students were largely responsible for the high environmental standards in the Strategic Plan.
“A main reason that these provisions are in the Strategic Plan is
because of the conversations we’ve had at these meetings,” she said.