After some initial confusion over who will chair the Student Life Committe (SLC) this semester, Gloria White, associate dean of student academic services, has been officially named chair.
Last semester the committee elected co-chairs, College junior Chapin Benninghoff and Associate Professor of Politics Chris Howell. It was the first time a student had been elected to co-chair a faculty committee.
White said that although Benninghoff is not chair this semester, he is still an excellent resource for the committee. "He is an energetic person and we really need people like that on the committee," she said.
"Frankly, it doesn't matter who's chair. All that matters is affecting positive change. If someone wants to get worked up into a snit about who gets to sit where then let them. How's this for a deal?" Benninghoff said. "The faculty can keep all the chairs in Oberlin, but the students get a junior housing exemption."
Howell said he did not know Benninghoff was not going to be chair this semester. He said he had hoped the co-chair arrangement would continue.
"It is certainly my position that SLC works best when students and faculty work closely together, and the co-chair arrangement institutionalizes that," he said. Howell is in London this semester.
The election of co-chairs was pending the approval of the General Faculty Council (GFC), which would investigate the legality of having a student co-chair. The council met in December to discuss the issue. They heard reports from Dean of Student Life and Services Charlene Cole-Newkirk as well as committee member and Associate Dean of the Conservatory Ellen Sayles.
According to Michael Fisher, a member of the GFC, the council decided White would be chair at that meeting. He said there was not enough information in December for the council to definitively state whether a student co-chair is appropriate for the committee. He said that there is not a rule against it, but there is also no precident for it.
The council asked SLC to come up with a more definite outline of its missions and charge before it officially voted on whether a student co-chair is appropriate, according to Fisher.
The council also asked Secretary of the College Bob Haslun to investigate the history of legislation that might relate to a student co-chair situation.
"We wanted to get a reassessment from the committee," Fisher said. "It came so late in the term that we though it was best to go with White as chair."
Fisher said if the committee returns with a reassessment, and if College Secretary Bob Haslun finds there is no legislation prohibiting a student co-chair, the council could re-discuss and vote on the issue.
Many members of SLC were unaware of this aspect of the council's finding. "No attempt was made to keep me up to date with GFC's reasoning and decisions. I've heard, secondhand, about a dozen different stories," Benninghoff said.
Howell, who was co-chair with Benninghoff last semester, was also unaware of the status of the GFC inquiry.
On Wednesday, Cole-Newkirk said that she had not received a report from the GFC about its position.
Copyright © 1997, The Oberlin Review.
Volume 125, Number 14; February 14, 1997
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