Editorial: Involve Students in Search Process
Sometimes, numbers can tell stories. You can learn a lot about the plot of Oberlin’s presidential search process through the numbers: 2,800 students; one student on the Presidential Search Committee; five progress reports from Trustees Chair Robert Lemle about the presidential search; zero opportunities for students to meet candidates so far.
Lemle’s latest letter notes that the PSC is “guided by two goals: to identify and recruit the best possible candidate for Oberlin...and to help the next Oberlin president arrive on campus with the broadest and most enthusiastic support all of us can give.”
For Lemle and the PSC to achieve the latter goal, it is crucial that students are sincerely involved in every phase of the presidential search process. Having one student on the PSC is a good start, but this alone will not reach the PSC’s goals.
Too many College decisions are made without adequately considering student opinion. Sometimes, the College does not solicit student input at all. In other cases, the College pursues only the opinion of already-represented students (such as Senators or other campus leaders), or requests student input only in the late stages of the decision-making process (when sweeping changes are rendered impossible or too costly).
We have seen the effects of what can happen when students do not feel adequately involved in the College’s decision-making process. The closing of Biggs Computer Lab and the suspension of the London program, for instance, were met with anger, disbelief and mistrust by the student body.
Still other decisions have been made after consulting with only a small segment of the student population. While campus leaders and focus groups may provide helpful insights to administrators, these consultations should not be the extent of opportunities to voice student opinion. The consequences of limiting the chance for all students to voice opinions results in students feeling frustrated and undermined — and perhaps poorer decisions too.
Additionally, the opportunity for student input is often relegated to the final part of a decision-making process. The “Fearless” viewbook comes to mind here. When students were given an open forum to voice their concerns and ask questions of marketing consultant Mark Edwards, more than a hundred students showed up. But by that point, the viewbook had already been created, making many student concerns irrelevant and even useless.
We understand that the PSC must exercise appropriate sensitivity to the confidentiality of applicants, but we urge the PSC to be creative in seeking student opinion. While the PSC might not be able to put up posters advertising candidates and soliciting student feedback, they also cannot expect the student body to automatically embrace a president that it had no part in selecting.
Finally, we encourage students to be involved in this process. Lemle’s March 8 update provides us with two e-mail addresses where we can direct our questions (email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org). By e-mailing the PSC, we can remind it that student opinion is important and that students are willing to give it. We also commend Senate for sending a letter to the PSC encouraging greater student involvement in the search process.
If the PSC wishes to achieve its goal — broad, enthusiastic support for Oberlin’s new president — it cannot afford to ignore or only cursorily acknowledge student opinion. And if students want a president who meets their expectations, they cannot afford to be silent.