Notes: Dye’s Letter to Faculty
In the first days of the summer break, President Nancy Dye sent a letter to the General Faculty covering a spectrum of topics ranging from admissions statistics to the Strategic Plan and its various manifestations to Oberlin’s finances. The information contained in this letter would have been presented at the end-of-year general faculty meeting, had it not been cancelled.
The most potentially contentious issues are found within the section referring to the Financial Plan, which calls for faculty cuts from both the College of Arts and Sciences and the Conservatory.
In total, there are to be twelve positions eliminated from the Oberlin faculty by 2010: seven in the College and five in the Conservatory. So far, the Conservatory has eliminated three and a half positions: one from Music Theory, one from Piano Pedagogy, a composer in residence, and half of a previously full-time Composition position. The College has thus far cut three positions, one each from Religion, Sociology and Mathematics. A fourth has been frozen in Economics.
The elimination of faculty positions has been a source of tension between Oberlin’s student body and its administration. Last fall, many students protested the elimination of a position specializing in Asian-American history.
The General Faculty letter later recognizes a sentiment among faculty that may run at odds with a reduction in positions: the desire for a reduced workload. The letter recognizes that “Oberlin faculty members have higher teaching loads, fewer leaves, and less pay than those at most other leading liberal arts colleges.”
The issue of workload reportedly has divided the faculty into two camps — one favoring a lighter teaching load, the other more frequent sabbaticals. In response, the administration has created ad hoc committees to examine ways to reduce workloads and to move toward the “long-standing goal of having the salaries of all faculty ranks comfortably situated in the top third of our benchmark institutions.”
Perpetuating the problem of faculty workload is the number of students presently enrolled. The Financial Plan called for the reduction of the student body from 2883 in 2003-2004 to 2720 in 2010. The projected enrollment this fall was 2818. This year’s graduating class however is “unusually large” and once they have graduated, the administration hopes to “make considerable progress” toward the target enrollment.
These enrollment figures come after what was a record setting year for admissions, according to the letter. Having received 5554 applications to the College of Arts and Sciences and 1265 to the Conservatory, the College admitted 36 percent of its applicants, making this the most selective year since 1970. No figure was given on the acceptance rate for the Conservatory.
SAT scores of incoming Arts and Sciences students also reached a record high this year with a combined mean of 1368, broken down into scores of 701 in Critical Reading and 667 in Mathematics. Additionally, there are nine John Stern Science Scholars (tying Oberlin’s past record) and 48 national merit scholars in this freshman class. Seventy-three percent of new Arts and Sciences students were in the top 10 percent of their high school classes.
These numbers, however, are paired with disappointing statistics on the diversity of the new students. After receiving fewer applications from African-American students than last year and admitting more of them, the final yield totaled 24 percent as of June 6 – the same rate as last year. This means that there were a total of 40 African American students enrolled in the incoming class by the end of the admissions season compared with 39 the year before. Additionally, there are 51 Asian Pacific American, 39 Latino/Latina and five Native American students in the class, compared to 57, 33 and three respectively last year.
Regarding international students, the letter to the General Faculty reports that there are 41 foreign nationals, 31 dual citizens and two permanent residents in the combined College and Conservatory classes, which totals to “fewer international students than any class in recent memory.” The letter goes on to observe that this is due largely to the fact that the majority of international students require “very substantial financial aid.”
A few pages after this lament however, in reference to the Financial Plan, the administration recognized its achievement in having “significantly improved net tuition revenue” for the classes entering in fall of 2005 and now 2006. The letter quotes the Financial Plan: “Currently [Oberlin’s] most critical financial priority must be to realize more net tuition revenue per student and to do so in ways that honor Oberlin’s long traditions of racial and socioeconomic diversity.” It might appear as though the first part of that goal has been achieved at the expense of the second, with a direct connection to the number of international students.
The letter also referred to several other areas of the Strategic Plan. Projects that fall under this heading include integration of a College-Conservatory-Art Museum curriculum, the creation of a new Law Scholars program (similar to the existing Business Scholars program), the plan to transform the main floor of Mudd Library into an Academic Commons, the desire to internationalize Oberlin, and movement toward environmental sustainability.
Outside of the Strategic Plan, the letter spoke of efforts to strengthen Oberlin’s appeal to prospective and current students. These were listed as the “fearless” campaign, improvements in housing, and two new construction projects, the Phyllis Litoff Jazz Studies Center and a new outdoor track and field facility.
The 2005-2006 academic year was financially strong, as reported in the letter’s conclusion. The budget yielded a $200,000 surplus, the endowment grew to $688.9 million from $621.7 million the year before, and the Annual Fund was projected to close at between $4.8 and $4.9 million.