September 4, 2018

To: The Oberlin College & Conservatory Community

From: The Academic and Administrative Program Review Steering Committee

Subject: Update on the Academic and Administrative Program Review


We write to update you on the progress of the Academic and Administrative Program Review (AAPR), an initiative that seeks to address head on the challenges facing Oberlin and many of the nation’s top-tier liberal arts colleges and conservatories. Our goal for AAPR is to address current and future financial needs within sustainable frameworks that preserve and enhance Oberlin’s academic excellence. In so doing, we aim to demonstrate leadership in addressing the changing landscape for higher education. We are confident we can do this work in a manner that is true to Oberlin’s mission and core academic values, centered on students’ success both here and in their future endeavors.

The steering committee has heard the concerns about this review voiced last spring by many campus constituents and, in response, this summer we revised our procedures to make the process more transparent, more responsive to community input, and more integrative with our governance practices. As we enter the new academic year, we write to outline the commitments that will guide the steering committee, and indeed the entire review process. Specifically, we are committed to:

  1. making this review authentic to Oberlin’s history, culture, and distinctive modes of excellence; 
    Steering committee members have agreed to act as citizens of the entire institution, thinking together about what is best for the long-term health of Oberlin, rather than as advocates for their specific area. The AAPR process will be guided by the chairs of working groups and the chair of the steering committee, on behalf of the entire committee. Our consultants, Stevens Strategy, will function in a supportive role for the review.

  2. faculty oversight of the curriculum and faculty appointments;
    AAPR working groups and the steering committee will consult early and often with the appropriate faculty governance committees for advice and perspective on the academic program review.

  3. a broadly inclusive process that taps the full range of Oberlin’s wisdom, creativity, and experience;
    AAPR working groups and the steering committee will consult early and often with the faculty, the President and senior staff, the appropriate divisional heads, A&PS Council, Student Senate, alumni, and the Board of Trustees for advice and perspective on the administrative and academic program reviews. The steering committee will communicate frequently about its activities and will share its recommendations for campus feedback before finalizing them.

  4. a thorough and transparent set of recommendations that respects our governance processes;
    All final AAPR recommendations will include specific proposals for implementation through the appropriate governance structures, including faculty governance protocols relevant to academic programs.

  5. recommending long-term solutions that will help Oberlin thrive as a college and conservatory.
    The final set of AAPR recommendations will demonstrate how—when implemented together—they are financially sustainable, safeguard the endowment, and will generate balanced budgets that avoid a state of structural deficit over the long run.

Background:

Oberlin’s Board of Trustees and President Ambar have outlined the disparity between current revenues and the resources needed to further build academic excellence and to attract and retain outstanding faculty, staff, and students, now and for decades to come. The Board established the AAPR last March, directing President Ambar to launch this first-ever comprehensive and integrated review of all academic and administrative programs and areas.

Through a thoughtful and rigorous process of research, deliberation, and broad consultation, the AAPR Steering Committee is to make recommendations to the President on areas for prudent contraction and also on areas for investment that will build on Oberlin’s distinctive strengths. This past spring, the General Faculty decided to discuss the final AAPR report and recommendations on the floor of the General Faculty, and to vote on whether to endorse the Report.

The AAPR Steering Committee:

The 31-person AAPR steering committee (members listed below) is comprised of 16 members of the faculty, 9 administrators, 3 students, 2 trustees, and 1 member of Alumni Council. President Ambar proposed an open nomination process with steering committee members being appointed by the President in consultation with the General Faculty Council. The protocol for the selection of the steering committee was discussed at the March 28, 2018 General Faculty meeting. A motion for an alternative selection process for the steering committee came to the floor of the General Faculty, but the majority of General Faculty members voted to affirm the selection protocol outlined by our President.

AAPR Working Groups:

The steering committee has six working groups, comprised of steering committee members, focusing on essential elements of the program review: Mission Centeredness, Quality, Financial Viability, Potential Student Interest, Survey Design, and Administrative Review. These working groups were established to collect and carefully assess information and advice for the program review on behalf of the steering committee. The steering committee, as a whole, will consider all of the information and advice and formulate and explain its findings.

Over the summer, the six working groups, along with a data collection team, have begun to gather information for the program review and are developing plans for their work through the academic year. The chairs of the working groups and the chair of the steering committee meet regularly to coordinate the work of the steering committee. When practical, the working groups will collaborate to gather essential qualitative and quantitative information from administrative offices and from the chairs of academic departments. This information will be important for a fair and thorough review, but we recognize that compiling such information from administrative offices and academic departments can be time-consuming for offices and departments. The working groups will do their best to request information in the most efficient way possible, and we extend in advance our thanks to those offices and staff for the work required to assemble the requested data.

Consultation:

The academic program review will involve extensive consultation with the College’s Educational Plans and Policies Committee (EPPC) and the Conservatory’s Educational Policy Committee (EPC), as well as other elected faculty governance committees. The chairs of both EPPC and EPC have agreed to reserve time this Fall and over Winter Term to consult with AAPR working groups and with the steering committee. The chairs of the College Faculty Council, Conservatory Faculty Council, and the General Faculty Council have also agreed to make their committees available for consultation and advice on the academic and administrative reviews.

The steering committee will provide regular updates on its work at General Faculty meetings, beginning with the first General Faculty meeting on September 5. Comparable updates will be provided to our administrative and professional staff and also for interested students. These updates will be overseen by the chair of the steering committee and the chairs of the working groups. There will be regular informal opportunities for campus conversation on the program review sponsored by the AAPR steering committee. There will also be frequent consultations with the President and senior staff, the appropriate divisional heads, A&PS Council, Student Senate, and the Board of Trustees, especially after information has been collected for purposes of the review in November, 2018.

Surveys:

The Survey Design work group has crafted surveys for current students, prospective students, faculty, staff, trustees, and alumni who have graduated in the past five years. You should expect to receive these surveys on (or around) September 7, 2018. Please note that survey design must strike a difficult balance; we are seeking to collect a maximum amount of useful information, while at the same time keeping the survey concise to increase the likelihood of response. We will ask questions addressing potential student interest and perceptions of quality and mission centeredness. The survey is an opportunity for everyone to participate in the review process and allows for cross comparison, and we strongly encourage you to participate. The feedback collected by these surveys will be an important source of information, along with all the other information gathered, to support the AAPR analysis. In consultation with relevant offices, campus representatives, and governance committees, the steering committee will carefully interpret the survey data and seek additional information as appropriate.

Thank you!

Because of our belief that we are all stewards of Oberlin’s mission and Oberlin’s future, the members of the steering committee and support staff have committed—and indeed will continue to commit—a substantial amount of work over many months to this process. We are grateful to all members of the Oberlin community who share the same commitment to stewardship, and we ask for you continuing contribution to the AAPR process.

Best wishes for the start of the new academic year!

The AAPR Steering Committee


Oberlin College AAPR Steering Committee Members

  • Brian Alegant, Professor of Music Theory, and Chair of the AAPR Financial Viability Working Group
  • Corey Barnes ’98, Associate Professor and Chair of Religion
  • Cristina Briboneria ’05, Alumni Leadership Council at-large member 
  • Ron Cheung, Professor and Chair of Economics
  • Kameron Dunbar, Class of 2019
  • Sebastiaan Faber, Professor and Chair of Hispanic Studies
  • Cindy Frantz, Professor of Psychology and Environmental Studies, and Chair of the Survey Design Working Group
  • Mary Garvin, Professor of Biology, and Chair of the Mission Centeredness Working Group
  • Aaron Goldman, Assistant Professor of Biology
  • Alexia Hudson-Ward, Azariah Smith Root Director of Libraries, and Chair of the AAPR Administrative Review Working Group
  • Ben Jones ’96, Vice President for Communications
  • Leslie Joseph ’06, Director, Audiovisual Services
  • Andrea Kalyn, Dean of the Conservatory
  • David Kamitsuka, Interim Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, and Chair of the AAPR Steering Committee
  • Sadie Keller, Class of 2019
  • Wendy Kozol ’80, Professor of Comparative American Studies
  • David Krischer ’78, Trustee
  • Minsok Pak ’91, Trustee
  • Michael Parkin, Professor of Politics
  • Charles Peterson, Associate Professor of Africana Studies
  • Nick Petzak, Director, Fellowships and Awards
  • Meredith Raimondo, Vice President and Dean of Students
  • Greg Ristow ’00, Assistant Professor of Conducting, Director of Vocal Ensemble
  • Renee Romano, Professor of History, Comparative American Studies, and Africana Studies, Chair of History, and Chair of the AAPR Quality Working Group
  • Alexa Still, Associate Professor of Flute
  • Peter Swendsen ’98, Associate Professor of Computer Music and Digital Arts, Chair TIMARA, and Chair of the APPR Potential Student Interest Working Group
  • Rebecca Vazquez-Skillings, Vice President of Finance and Administration
  • Joe Vitale, Chief Human Resources Officer
  • Natalie Winkelfoos, Delta Lodge Director of Athletics and Physical Education
  • Jeff Witmer, Professor of Mathematics
  • Janet Wu, Class of 2020