by Joshua Kaye
Our college is stagnating. Caught in the grip of an administration that is anything but progressive and stymied by a disinterested faculty and impotent student government, we are privileged to watch the choke hold of moralism and political inbreeding that has seized Oberlin tighten its leash still further.
Emblematic of the withering of our institution's ideals are the new risks students face as a result of the alterations made covertly to one segment of the Rules and Regs that actually serves to protect students. I am referring to a clause formerly located under Title X, section J, reading: "Any evidence discovered during such room entries may not be used in any College judicial proceeding." The effect of this clause was to insure that students were protected, in the case of surprise room inspections (e.g. fire inspections, life safety inspections), from liability for possession of contraband (e.g. "controlled" substances). Section J also provides the correct procedure for initiating probable cause search if possession of contraband is suspected, which requires that a 24 hour notice be served by mail or in person.
To the best of my knowledge after consulting with members of last year's Student Life Committee, the body through which such a change would have had to be passed, no such change was proposed or passed. In fact, it seems that the Dean of Student Life, whether of hr own accord or acting with others, rewrote the policy in the privacy of her office or home, avoiding the established channels, and endeavored to have the old policy stricken from this year's publication. As a result, this clause no longer appears in this year's Fussers. It does, however, appear by accident in the Student Handbook, where you may find it on page 277. It can also be found in last year's Fussers. The upshot of this is that the protection formerly extended has been removed. Room searches may now take place for any reason. Evidence found in an illegal search may still be used against you in J-board. A number of students are already facing charges for possession of materials discovered during a close-down inspection, charges they were formerly (still are?) protected from. Furthermore, Security saw fit to inform the police in at least one of these cases, setting a new precedent for the role of Security.
How can this be a college that has had such a long and noble tradition of laissez faire in these matters? It was only in 1995 that it was first stated, due to stricter federal funding regulations, that Oberlin prohibits the use and possession of illegal substances. Formerly we stated only that we could neither condone such use or possession nor protect students from prosecution in criminal court.
The truth is that this is part of a larger move to substitute administrative dictatorship for civil liberties. We've seen Tribe 8, Coed rooms, and the overall Puritanization of Oberlin's values and "community standards." In committee and in practice, in loco parentis is the modus operandi. The fact that a student co-chairship of the Student Life Committee was met with such hostility by the faculty illustrates perfectly the tacit resistance at Oberlin to student self-governance. It is one thing to maintain that our faculty, experts in their fields, ought to determine our academic requirements and regulations. It is another thing to suggest that they, or indeed anyone but we students, ought to direct the social circumstances in which we will live. Whether the Dean of Student Life and Co. oppose us confrontationally or merely intimidate and eliminate our potential supporters, they are choosing to exercise inappropriate control over our liberties.
Here this takes the form of persecution of partakers of "controlled" substances. Consider the practical implications, keeping in mind our new lack of protection, of the monthly surprise of fire inspections to be executed by Area Coordinators, starting immediately, for which "there will be no further warnings of any kind" according to posters. Consider the timing of this charge: aside from the aforementioned missing clause, Dean Cole-Newkirk is busy rewriting the rules and regs for the alcohol and drug policy. At least three revisions, ostensibly, will pass before the SLC.
Consider further how this will affect the Oberlin constituency if one possible scenario for the revision of residential life plays out and mandatory residence in college owned townhouses for students, including juniors and seniors, is required. This would effectively subject all Oberlin students to random search and expose them to disciplinary sanctions.
The saddest part of all this is that our student government cannot execute its role as watchdog because of lack of student support. It is my belief that this inability rises from Senate's weakness as a representative institution and the obscurity of its powers, both of which arise from flaws in the Senate's constitution. We are in need of a voice in the workings of the administration, but student opinion, sadly, has been tokenized and disempowered.
Who will stop Oberlin from becoming Obey-land? One thing you can do is write to your area coordinators to complain about the new fire inspections. Then let's work to make a representative and significant student government so that this doesn't keep happening.
Copyright © 1997, The Oberlin Review.
Volume 125, Number 14; February 14, 1997
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