by Josh Robinson
[Note: The following is an open letter to Dean Cole-Newkirk. This letter was circulated as a petition and was signed by 230 students.]
Dear Dean Cole-Newkirk:
The undersigned lack confidence in you and your abilities to perform the job for which this college has hired you. This profound absence of trust stems from your newly announced attempt to toughen Oberlin's policy about drug use by its students, and the improper and possibly illegal actions this attempt has prompted you and those under your command in Residential Life to undertake.
The reason your attempt to enforce local, state and federal drug laws leads us to this decision is that it seeks to criminalize many vibrant contributors to the Oberlin community. You are trying to fight a battle in the War on Drugs on this campus, where many intelligent people make educated decisions about their consumption of psychoactive substances. As a war cannot be fought against an inanimate object, the War on Drugs is truly a war on drug users. This makes it a war on us, our friends or our neighbors and we do not want to fight such a war.
This nascent offensive against marijuana and other illicit substances had already led you and others in the ResLife organization to act entirely without prudence. Specifically, this occurred in the case of a student against whom charges of in-dorm marijuana smoking were filed but never fully substantiated or adjudicated.
The first such illogical and improper action you took was the eviction of the student from his room, and the reasons this action can be described as such are numerous. First and foremost, you lied to this student in writing in the notice of eviction. You claimed that the procedure for dealing with situations like this student's was first to transfer the student from one room to another, and then to evict him or her, should further problems arise. You claimed that this student had already been transferred as a disciplinary measure. This should not be the case, as the student's recent room switch was completely voluntary.
Secondly, the procedure by which the eviction notice came to fruition shows signs of highly unsound methodology. Most obviously, the student in question received only 36 hours to find somewhere new to live and completely vacate his dorm room. According to the Regulations Book, a student whose housing and dining contract is broken by suspension or withdrawal has 48 hours to vacate the premises, and it seems that the student in this situation should be given the same notice. Less obviously, and more importantly, the eviction was enacted with a complete lack of any signs of due process. None of the charges against this student have ever been substantiated, and there is no evidence whatever of any wrongdoing.
Finally, your handling of the situation arising from this improper eviction seemed to lack entirely any introspection. The student and a number of friends and supporters barricaded themselves in the evicted student's room for 10 hours on Saturday, March 9. You and other members of ResLife used threats and chicanery. You personally threatened the protesters on two separate occasions. First, you claimed that the students were threatening their enrollment status by protesting an administration decision. Later, you told the students that you were going to call the evictee's parents and get them involved in the situation. This was your second lie, as no such call was ever made.
After you and the other administrators left the scene for the final time Saturday afternoon, members of the staff of the Oberlin Review arrived to cover the story. Brad DeCecco, the RC for the section of South Hall where this incident took place, informed us that "his boss" told him the Review was not allowed to cover the story, and that the photographer and reporters had to leave. When pressed about the authorization for his attempted violation of the First Amendment to the Constitution, he stated only that by his boss he had meant ResLife. At the very least, you are largely responsible for this attempt at committing a highly illegal action, as you are in charge of ResLife.
Through all these actions, you have shown us you cannot fulfill the responsibilities we pay you to fulfill. There is no indication that you will be able to do so in the future. That is why we consider you a threat to us as individuals, to this campus, and to the tradition of Oberlin College as a place where authority can be questioned. This is why we have no confidence in you and your abilities.
Copyright © 1996, The Oberlin Review.
Volume 124, Number 18; March 15, 1996
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