Associate Dean of Student Life and Services Deborah McNish will resume her duties beginning next week. Former Dean of Student Life and Services Charlene Cole-Newkirk fired McNish on June 15, citing personal differences.
The firing was widely criticized by students and staff. Many observers felt the process was unfair and badly timed, since the decision was made while school was not in session.
"It doesn't make sense to lose your job because you don't get on with your boss," Associate Professor of Politics Chris Howell said in September. "There's nothing illegal about it. The question is, was it handled in the most humane possible way?"
"I felt it was the right and fair thing to do to invite Deb back, and I'm delighted to have her back," said College President Nancy Dye.
"I'm excited as all heck," McNish said.
After meeting with Dye in June, McNish was officially placed on a one-year sabbatical. Dye and McNish met over the weekend to discuss the possibilities of McNish returning to Oberlin. According to Associate Dean of Student Life and Services Bill Stackman, some members of the division knew of McNish decision by Monday. McNish's intent to return was officially announced by Dye on Tuesday.
"I think we were surprised," said Director of Security Keith James.
"It's wonderful that she decided to return and that President Dye and the administration realized they made a mistake," said senior Kirti Barnawal. "It was the wrong thing to let her go in the first place."
"I'm personally very happy she's coming back," Stackman said. "People definitely recognize her value to the department."
McNish's position had been temporarily filled by Assistant Dean Barb Mehwald.
"She's doing a good job," said Diana Roose, special assistant to the president. "She'll continue to do what she's doing now."
McNish's responsibilities will be phased in over the remainder of the semester. According to Roose, McNish will most likely begin working full-time next semester.
"We haven't had time to talk about it in great detail," Roose said. "It will be very slow and careful."
"We have a lot of irons in the fire," Stackman said. "It's important to bring Deb up to speed as soon as possible."
McNish said she is currently in the process of reorienting herself to the department.
"Nancy has made Oberlin the place I was committed to," McNish said. "She has recommitted me to Oberlin."
According to Dye, Assistant Dean of Students Yeworkwha Belachew will also return to Oberlin. Belachew departed on a medical leave during the summer. According to administrative sources, Belachew became emotionally distressed following McNish's forced departure, a factor which contributed to her decision to take a leave of absence. A date for Belachew's return has not yet been set.
Belachew could not be reached for comment.
In forums and meetings, students consistently referred to McNish and Belachew as important sources of support.
After years of providing support for students, McNish became the beneficiary of an outpouring of support over the past few months.
"I've never had so much support in my life," McNish said. "It's overwhelming. I just appreciate it so."
"I'm really happy," senior Raquel Olivo. "She is someone people can talk to. I'm really excited the administration saw they made a mistake. But does this mean we always have to fight for these things?"
Barnawal expressed similar concerns. She questioned whether similar situations could occur again. "My question," she said, "is now what?"
Copyright © 1997, The Oberlin Review.
Volume 126, Number 7, October 31, 1997
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