The first Dean of the college of Arts and Sciences student forum was held Wednesday night with Geoffrey Feiss, one of the three candidates for the position. Only one student was present at the forum.
Feiss, currently a professor of geology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, was not daunted by the almost empty room.
He said that when he was a student he did not know the exact duties the dean performed, or what kind of questions he would have asked of someone in that position. Feiss also said he felt students are more likely to attend a forum that is related to a defined issue. "Is there an issue that can be tied to an event?" asked Feiss.
Feiss also discussed ethnic studies, cultural diversity requirements, advising and long-range planning.
Discussing the role of the dean at Oberlin, Feiss said that because of the way President Nancy Dye has defined the position, the dean has many responibilites.
He said, "Oberlin's new dean will have a great amount of responsibility, including the implementation of courses and curriculum and the overseeing of the Library system and the Computing System."
When asked about his stance on ethnic studies and student demands for more comprehensive programs, Feiss responded that he did not want to conjecture about the actions that he would take as dean.
"I'm sure there's an enormous amount of history....I'm not sure where the President stands on these issues," he said. Feiss said the job of the dean is to find out student needs and try to, "translate that into courses and curriculum."
Feiss said that it may be a difficult process. "There has to be an evaluation [done by] the faculty and the intellectual core," he said, and that it may be beneficial to include alumni and other outside groups in the process.
One of the problems Feiss foresees in the implementation of more comprehensive ethnic studies is their sustainability. He believes that ethnic studies could best be addressed as an aspect of Oberlin's long-range planning.
Feiss said that he wants students involved in the process. "It involves...developing a consensus and bringing everybody to the table," he said.
"This college is really looking to redefine itself….[Oberlin] has a history of progressiveness in dealing with racial issues and now is the perfect time to re-evaluate that history," he said.
Feiss said that his role as dean in the planning process would be to "develop the means of implementing [what the college wants to do] in an appropriate manner."
Asked about the inclusion of foreign language as a cultural diversity credit, Feiss said that he found it interesting that the college considers languages as meeting the requirement.
Feiss said understanding what it is like not to be part of a culture is a powerful experience, and that the learning of a foreign language can be a way to understand culture. Discussing whether or not Oberlin's language classes create a true understanding of another culture, Feiss said, "It could be done. It might not be being done well."
The topic of improving the role of the academic advisor also was brought up.
Feiss said that there are two aspects to the relationship of advisors and advisees: the technical and the more personal role of mentoring. He said that he thought the mentoring process, which he described as "....the aspect of getting to know a faculty member in a non-institutional setting" where the power structure is equal, was very beneficial.
"There are teachable moments, there are advisable moments," Feiss said. He also said that there needs to be a system where it is easy for a student to feel comfortable with the advising system
The next student forum will be on Nov.13, at 8:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. in King 106. Dean candidate Clayton Koppes will be present.
Copyright © 1996, The Oberlin Review.
Volume 125, Number 8; November 8, 1996
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