by Andreas Pape
We students are told that we are entering a year-long period of thinking about the future. We are told figures to the tune of 3 percent of students having participated in the long-range planning process, 60 percent of faculty and 20-30 percent of the administration having participated. I, like others, was not surprised; that statistic seemed to fit into my idea of the level of apathy in the student body. However, as I thought about the process more, I became doubtful, then enraged. First of all, there was a campus convocation at the beginning of this year, featuring Cornel West, at which President Dye spoke a few words about Long-range planning, we've received two all-campus mailings and five student volunteers have sacrificed their academic time to try to talk to student groups on campus. That has been the extent of the effort on behalf of the administration and faculty to pull students into the process.
Secondly, as students we have been trained that our opinion has no real effect on the administration and faculty and the policies that run this school. Last year, Wendy Hesford, a professor of Expository Writing who was popular among students, was axed with no real explanation given to the student body. The College Faculty Council did not bring students together in Finney and explain their decision. They didn't say "this is why we decided the way we did, and we are explaining this to the student body because we feel your opinion is important." Instead the unstated message to the student body was clear: "it's our right to choose on this issue; we have the power; you don't. Don't fuck with us." This fall, a candidate less popular among students was chosen to serve as Associate Dean of Students; instead of Dean Cole-Newkirk requesting that concerned students come together so she could explain her decision, because student input is important to her, instead she brought students together to convey the tacit message: "Why are you mad at me? I had the right to make the decision that I did. I have the power here, not you. Don't fuck with me."
These circumstances of differences of opinion being settled by pulling rank, instead of offering respect to the students, are not the exception here at Oberlin College. They are the rule.
We students are not stupid. We know when we are wasting our time. We've learned that voicing our opinion only works when it mirrors the opinion of a decision-maker on this campus. We've learned that student power doesn't exist; it is only student influence that exists, and that's nothing more than charisma at the hands of a few students who like to schmooze with the faculty and administration. However, the administration and faculty seem to believe that two campus mailings will cause the student body to think that those days of not being listened to are done, and we are entering a new age.
I don't think that's good enough.
If the Long-range planning Advisory Committee is attempting to write a report that the decision makers - administration, faculty, alumni, and trustees - will agree with, than the present system is perfect. If they are looking for a system under which they feel they can feel good about a lack of real student input, in which they can say months from now "well, students, you had your chance," then the present system is perfect. If, however, they are looking for a real community decision, one that reflects the attitudes and opinions of the student body, they are not trying hard enough. Five student volunteers cannot contact the entire student body. President Dye needs to make bold steps to show us, the student body, that she's serious about reaching out to us. She needs to hire students, give them a copy of Fussers, and ask them to call every student in this school and talk to them about what this process means. She needs to announce a day off from classes, a day exempt from academic responsibilities, to provide a time for students to participate in `focus groups.' She needs to knock on our doors, and solicit our opinion as students, and not expect us to come to her. We students have run to the administration and faculty for years. And we've been ignored.
We Oberlin students are not apathetic. We've just learned that participation is a waste of time.
Copyright © 1996, The Oberlin Review.
Volume 125, Number 8; November 8, 1996
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