March 15, 2018

Dear Faculty, Staff, and Students:

I am writing to let you know about the next steps in the academic and administrative program review (AAPR) process which I outlined in my recent presentations to all campus stakeholders.

Board Meeting

This past week, Oberlin’s Board of Trustees voted unanimously to proceed with the AAPR process, specifically indicating that I should convene a cross-functional team that includes representation from important faculty committees and faculty leaders as well as other stakeholders. Additionally, I have been asked to select a consulting firm with expertise and experience in academic and administrative program review to work with the steering committee in conducting AAPR beginning spring 2018 semester. The Board stipulated that a full report on the progress of the AAPR be presented at the March 2019 meeting.

The Board’s decision came after much deliberation with me, our senior leadership team and consultants from Stevens Strategy. This work included a small subset of the board meeting with me and the lead consultant in the early part of the spring term. At the Board meeting, the trustees spent the first day working on their own Board governance with Cathy Trower, a sought-after leader and expert on good board governance. On the second day, the Board continued its study with Ms. Trower, saw a presentation from Stevens Strategy, and worked through a case study about AAPR designed for Oberlin. The case study session was facilitated by Ms. Trower and Brendon Leonard of Stevens Strategy and participants included the full Board and the senior leadership team. The Board had an opportunity to discuss the pros and cons of the process collectively and during breakout sessions.

Thereafter, a resolution was brought forward by the Board’s Executive Committee recommending that the full Board authorize the academic and administrative program review process. The Board again discussed this work, asked deep and probing questions, identified challenges, and assessed opportunities. Later that day, the Board voted unanimously to proceed and asked me to initiate and execute on the AAPR process. I have chosen Stevens Strategy to work with us on this process.

Next Steps

The General Faculty Council has recommended that a representative from Stevens Strategy come to a General Faculty meeting to discuss the process more fully, to talk about the larger timeline, and to discuss how the process attempts to fully engage the full campus, alumni, trustees and even prospective students. I agree this is important. We will likely need to call a special meeting of the General Faculty to ensure this happens. We are working to find an appropriate and timely date.

Our first task is to select and convene the 30-member steering committee, half of which will be faculty, the remainder staff, alumni, students, and trustees. There will also be four or five subcommittees tasked with: mission-centeredness review, quality review; prospective student interest review; and financial responsibility review. The committee might also decide to create a fifth subcommittee specifically tasked with administrative review, although this work can also be done via the first four groups. We hope to have these committees constituted as early as possible in April.

On Monday, I had a robust and wide-ranging discussion with the General Faculty Council about how to do the work of constituting the steering committee. There were varying views raised about the strengths and weaknesses of different approaches discussed. After digesting the views of this group, here is how we will be proceeding with the AAPR process in terms of constituting the Steering Committee.

Steering Committee

A variety of factors will need to be considered when convening the committee, including: broad expertise and a balance of perspectives that represent the breadth of Oberlin’s unique academic experience and the richness of opinions within the body (the faculty body in particular) regarding the current and future state of the overall health of Oberlin College and Conservatory. In selecting the various members, I will be working with the General Faculty Council to do the work of forming the committee.

Faculty

The General Faculty Council will ask the College and Conservatory Faculty Councils for recommendations of faculty who might serve on the steering committee. I have also asked General Faculty Council members to make recommendations as well. Recommendations will be considered at the GFC meeting on April 2. The General Faculty Council, in its discussions about the types of experiences that will inform their thinking when considering faculty membership included broad categories; such as: (1) faculty in a variety of academic disciplines (e.g., Conservatory, Humanities, Natural Sciences, Social Sciences); (2) faculty who have served in a leadership role; (3) faculty who have led or participated in programs that cross disciplinary lines; (4) faculty with experience on EPC or EPPC; or experience leading other program reviews; (5) faculty with the ability to engage fully and consistently on the steering committee through regular meeting attendance and meeting preparation; (6) faculty who represent various lengths of service at Oberlin including junior faculty who are beyond the re-appointment stage; (7) and faculty with the demonstrated ability to be an institutionalist in their service on the AAPR steering committee.

Students

The Dean of Students and I will ask Student Senate to make recommendations to the General Faculty Council about student membership on the steering committee. 

Staff

I will ask the senior leadership team to make recommendations to the General Faculty Council about staff membership.

Alumni

Board and senior leadership will consult with the Alumni Leadership Council about alumni membership. 

Board of Trustees

We will work with the Board of Trustees regarding membership from their ranks and alumni broadly.

Things to Consider

Remember that the steering committee is as its title suggests: it drives the process with support from the consultants. The committee will determine what data is to be collected, how it will be analyzed, what emphasis is important, and will work to draw conclusions.

The committee will work to be transparent. This is done by efforts to consult the campus, through open forums, surveys across a broad group of constituencies, and sharing the data for all to see and review.

Remember that this is not a process that is solely financial although finance is one of the important areas to consider. The goal is to determine the optimal mix of academic programs and to ensure that administrative units are effective (and efficiently serving the institution) so that we can advance Oberlin. It is also an opportunity for the institution to test new ideas that have been bubbling up from campus stakeholders.

The steering committee will ultimately make recommendations to me and then I will make recommendations to the Board.

Preserving and enhancing Oberlin’s identity and academic mission are central to this process. But, we have to do so while we simultaneously make Oberlin’s business model work. Currently it isn’t working—and when it is not working—our identity and mission are significantly compromised.  We all, of course, want to prevent irreparable harm and to build a bright future for the College and the Conservatory.

The AAPR process is complicated. That’s a good thing. The alternative is simply to reallocate indiscriminately and to miss out on the opportunity to improve our performance administratively, to identify areas for strong or new investment, and to move away from areas that may not have the best ability to move us forward.

In a sea of complicated choices, I am excited that this process will broadly engage the campus and a diverse set of stakeholders. Additionally I am moved by the notion that this is not a cookie-cutter framework that simply gets applied to any institution. Our steering committee will have a great deal of leeway in setting the parameters for how to proceed and can tailor the process to fit Oberlin.

Any process will have its shortcomings. I am hopeful that the AAPR committee, in its good thinking, will help us minimize risks and maximize the process’s usefulness. It is also important to me that this work offers faculty the single, strongest position on the committee and that faculty will play the leading role in engaging across campus and seeking data from all stakeholders, analyzing it and drawing conclusions.

The AAPR process will give us a deep, rich trove of data about all aspects of the College and Conservatory. That is valuable in and of itself. What we do with that data is up to us.

I suspect that you, like me, are not expecting this to be easy. But I am hopeful that we will discover that our work together is also exciting as we find the path to Oberlin’s financial resiliency and as we identify areas where we can grow, flourish and lead far into the future.

Respectfully,

Carmen Twillie Ambar, President