Editorial: The Ironies of “Fearless”
Is Oberlin fearless? Ask senior administrators and marketing consultant Mark Edwards, the corporate outsider who conceived the “fearless” branding.
Last semester, the Board of Trustees voted to approve this fearless marketing strategy in hopes of calling attention to Oberlin’s unique flavor in the competitive college marketplace. The Review questioned administrators, trustees and Edwards, all of whom emphasized that this word would not become a slogan; rather, it would be a concept presented through clear examples of academic ambitiousness.
But with the discovery of the new “fearless” admissions materials — viewbooks and a website (www.oberlin.edu/fearless) — it is clear that this administration misled its students. This singular word stands alone on the catalog cover and in the left-hand corner of every page in screaming neon colors, contradicting assurances that this would not be so.
Students stood up to the administration not because they were fearless, but rather because they were fearful of the ramifications of this new marketing strategy. When a student senator leaked news of the marketing campaign, students demanded a meeting with Edwards before the revamped campaign went underway. The College, in turn, only allowed Edwards to meet with student senators, while representatives from the Review, the Grape and In Solidarity silently looked on.
Students challenged Edwards when he said, “I don’t think we’ll ever see ‘fearless’ on its own.” They challenged President Nancy Dye when she stressed that, “It depends on us to populate the word with what goes on at Oberlin.” Administrators promised that the branding would not stand in place of the much-loved adage, “Think one person can change the world? So do we.” We were assured that we should not expect T-shirts and bumper stickers to be emblazoned with the word; now we’re just waiting for them to show up at the bookstore. Months later, the Office of Admissions defines the student body as, “We are Oberlin. Fearless.”
Students have asked if they could see the results of this summer’s integration of fearless into new admissions materials. They were told it would not be kept a secret, yet not surprisingly, the administration publicized neither the viewbooks nor the “fearless” website on campus.
The lack of transparency in this administration is not new to Oberlin students, but the “fearless” motif now adds an ironic dimension to top-level decision-making. President Dye and her colleagues seem fearful of being forthright with students who they know are not easily pacified. At the same time, these administrators are foolishly fearless in their choices, failing to fully consider the effects on the students.
The College is in crisis, from the sudden resignation of the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, Harry Hirsch, to the financial struggles demanding the elimination of nearly a dozen essential faculty positions. Tensions are so high in the inner workings of College governance that even tenured professors now hesitate before speaking to Review reporters.
Oberlin has much to be fearful of at this crucial turning point. Now is the time for the College to be open and honest with its students so that both administrators and students can unite to work through these tensions. There are problems that affect all of us, but with these increasing instances of miscommunication and distortion of the truth from the College, moving beyond them will only grow more grueling.