Now that the dust from the recent faculty governance scuffle over the Asian-American history position has at least somewhat settled, observers have the opportunity to assess what this flap shows us about this highly contentious process and make some predictions for the future.
Despite what some faculty members may claim, student action did matter. It is hard to imagine that dozens of students peaceably demonstrating in Cox lobby did not have some effect on the College Faculty Council’s thinking. No matter how many forums are organized and letters are written, there is no substitute for direct action when students are pushed to the limits of what they will tolerate from the College.
President Nancy Dye remains both unpredictable and controversial. Almost immediately after the cut was announced to the Comparative American Studies department, President Dye publicly criticized the decision and urged the Committee to reconsider. This breaks Oberlin’s longstanding tradition of the president not playing a role in faculty governance. Dye claims that this is a very particular occurrence when she felt moved to act, but it is now clear that the opinions of Dye as well as the Strategic Plan she championed will be very much a part of this reduction process.
The process for these cuts is evolving. College Dean Harry Hirsh announced several new procedures at last Wednesday’s faculty meeting. However, it is probably safe to assume that the precise roles of CFC and Educational Plans and Policies Committee will change depending on the particular cut.
Whatever happens, there is more controversy to come. It is unlikely that faculty will once again cut a position as culturally-sensitive as this one. However, as administrators involved have admitted, most department heads view all of their positions as necessary; any cuts are likely to be controversial.
It is also unlikely that the process will involve the kind of transparency for which students and faculty hope. As our This Week in Oberlin History column demonstrates, the Oberlin of today is a far more reserved and closed place than in years past. For better or worse, news of cuts will only reach students and general faculty after they have been made. The deliberations will take place behind closed doors and without outside comment.
These recent events, therefore, should be cause for both concern and optimism
among students and faculty. While this process remains opaque, concerted group
efforts by the Oberlin community can make a difference. All in all, it should be
interesting to observe.