London return: College goal
Perceptions of ballooning cost overruns and a $400,000 discrepancy over the budget the Danenberg-in-London program have dominated negotiations between the program’s faculty committee and the administration during the past weeks.
President Nancy Dye declared the program’s revival a goal of the College, but insisted structural changes must precede any reinstatement.
“The program is structured in unusual ways,” Dye said. “We have to make the program more sustainable.”
Changes include shifting where students live and study, virtual givens since the College’s leased facilities in London were not renewed for future semesters.
Dye has also urged consideration of higher enrollment targets and the enrollment of non-Oberlin students in the program.
Possible changes proposed by the committee include eliminating student stipends for food, city transportation and airfare, reducing field trip expenses, housing students in dorm settings instead of flats and cutting a secretary. Students would not pay board fees under the revised program.
“We have a lot of work to do,” London program committee chair Marc Blecher said. “We’re in the process of staking out a terrain in which we can play and make it affordable.”
The momentum to reinstate the London program gained headway soon after Provost Clayton Koppes announced the program’s unexpected disbanding in a faculty meeting late last semester.
Widespread student opposition and faculty accusations suggesting Dye had undermined faculty governance led to a quick mea culpa by the administration.
Dye ended up publicly apologizing to the faculty early in 2005 and promised to work with the London committee to negotiate the program’s possible return.
Blecher acknowledged the president’s responsiveness helped the process get back on track, but acknowledged that she may not have had any choice.
“At the time, her self-criticism could have been read different ways,” he said. “I chose to take her at her word. That was just a choice I made. Subsequent events have made me glad I did.”
Senior Pete Chambers, who organized much of the student response to the initial suspension of the program, agreed.
“I think the whole London program thing is part of the reason that you’re seeing so many forums this semester with Nancy Dye. I think she realized what powerful student response can mean. Now she’s trying to repair her image with students but I wonder if it’s too little too late.”
Despite encouraging sessions between Dye and the committee, the faculty has also proved skeptical of reinstatement in light of the recent budget woes.
In the April 20 meeting, faculty expressed frustration over the lack of hard numbers regarding the program.
“We’ve been telling the administration we need transparency and data, but faculty need to show transparency and data too,” said Professor of Politics Eve Sandberg, member of the Study Abroad Committee.
The committee, which reviews all of the College’s study away programs, has also given her a glimpse at the successes of the program despite its gargantuan budget estimated between $350,00 and $750,000.
“I don’t in any way oppose the London program,” she said. “But it is extraordinarily expensive for what it does.
“[The committee] was asking for faculty support before having the info we needed.”
Part of the problem stems from the inability of the committee and the administration to agree on the program’s cost.
London Committee member Nick Jones contends the College’s projection is inflated by including faculty salaries without any tuition offset. He called the $750,000 in costs estimated by the College an “unfortunate divergence” from the committee’s figure of around $350,000.
Jones said the program committee’s next major task would be selling the program as a priority to the faculty, the administration and the community as a whole.
When asked if he thought the faculty was supportive of the program in the context of the immediate budget concerns, he said: “I don’t know. Frankly, I just don’t know.”
On April 11, the committee made public an “interim report” to the general faculty detailing structural cuts totaling $128,000. The report noted eight students who plan to study in London during the fall with competing programs, costing the College roughly $106,000 in lost tuition revenue.
Blecher said he thinks the program has a chance.
“If we don’t bleed red ink around the College like last semester, “I’m cautiously optimistic,” he said.
“I do think that we will be able to find a sustainable way to bring back the London program,” she said.
In a memo sent to the London program committee, Dye said a decision regarding the program’s future would be made by Oct. 31, 2005.
An additional $1,000 study away fee was recently added to enrolled College
students studying abroad.