Oberlin Blogs

Fall 2009 Student Senate Referendum: Struggle, Success, and Results

January 25, 2010

Isaac Yoder ’13

After a semester of toiling to finish the Student Senate Referendum, the other senators and I finally collected enough votes to reach quorum in the final days of the semester.

One of the Student Senators' many duties is to hold at least one referendum per semester--it's basically a collection of questions, submitted by student senators or any 100-signature student petition, combined into an online survey to gauge the student body's opinions on relevant issues.

To complete a referendum, half of the student body plus one have to vote; that's 1,514 people this semester. It's a tough number to get to--though the referendum is one of Oberlin students' best opportunities to voice their opinions and see real changes based on them, many students rebel against our nagging or simply never get around to it. Often times referenda won't even reach that quorum in a whole semester, making the results void.

This semester, we decided to hold a green-themed referendum--there have been a bunch of hot-button environmental issues on campus and we thought that this would be a great place to see how Oberlin felt about them.

Because this semester's referendum had some really important and timely issues, we didn't want to risk missing quorum, so we decided to be more proactive in collecting votes--knocking on doors in almost every dorm, tabling around campus, and sending several all-campus emails reminding students to voice their opinions. When we were tabling or knocking on doors, we got a couple nasty faces, people who ignored our presence entirely, and the occasional nasty word, but we knew that it was a worthy cause to bug people for.

One of the most important issues on this year's referendum was the new first-year dorm's parking lot. There's a rule that the college has to provide one parking space for every two beds when building new dorms--this would mean building an 80-spot parking lot for this specific building. Building a new large parking lot like this would not only be costly, it would be an eyesore and certainly not environmentally friendly. And, though some will disagree with me, I think we already have plenty of campus parking for a school of our size--plus there's really no real reason for a freshman to bring a car to school. The idea for the referendum's role in this issue was that, if current students agree to make the new dorm a sustainability-themed dorm, and if its residents next year agreed to not bring a car to school, then the administration could try to get a variance from the city to reduce the size of the parking lot.

In addition to this issue, opinions about the future of our Office of Sustainability, campus composting, energy sources and other issues were collected.

Take a look at the results:

Are you in support of a sustainability theme for the North Professor Street Dorm?

Yes: 92.72%
No: 7.28%

Do you support adopting the "North Professor St. Green Dorm Sustainability Pledge," which all incoming First Years seeking residence in the North Professor Street dorm would have to sign and adhere to?

Yes: 75.05%
No: 24.95%

Are you aware of the College's efforts to construct the Green Arts District?

Yes: 38.32%
No: 61.68%

Should Oberlin College compost more food waste, perhaps through an institutionalized system similar to the OC Recyclers?

Yes: 97.54%
No: 2.46%

Should Oberlin College sign on with Oberlin Municipal Light and Power System (OMLPS) to purchase 4MW of green energy, which would replace 30% of Oberlin's coal-based energy, from a wood-burning boiler from Green Circle Growers and commit to moving the college away from coal and fossil fuels?

Yes: 95.34%
No: 4.66%

Would you be more willing to actively participate in the Ecolympics if there were more desirable incentives available?

Yes: 71.98%
No: 28.02%

Should Oberlin College abolish paper towels from restrooms in exchange for more environmentally friendly hand-drying alternatives?

Yes: 76.16%
No: 23.84%

Should CDS stop purchasing take-out containers for Dascomb and DeCafe? (Alternatives include improving the quality of reusable containers at Dascomb, use of washable dishware rather than paper plates at DeCafe, and reusable containers that are exchangeable between DeCafe and Dascomb.)

Yes: 67.71%
No: 32.29%

Do you think Oberlin College should offer an outdoor-intensive, environmental awareness themed Pre-Orientation program to incoming students?

Yes: 78.17%
No: 21.83%

Should the Office of Environment Sustainability's senior staff be composed of...

Abstain/No Boxes Checked: 286
A full time Administrative, Professional Staff position: 919
Recipient of a student internship or recent graduate fellowship: 1,011
A Sustainability Coordinator: 901
Other (See Appendix): 134

Do you support reaffirming the Student Senate's compensation for the next two years?

Yes: 80.45%
No: 19.55%

Do you support reaffirming members of the Student Finance Committee's compensation for the next two years?

Yes: 81.82%
No: 18.18%

If the College and City established a local circulator bus that serves Oberlin destinations including IGA, Drug Mart, CVS, downtown Oberlin, and that also runs past or near campus housing, how often would you be likely to use the bus if there were no cost?

Never: 21.81%
1-4 times per week: 64.26%
5-10 times per week: 10.65%
More than 10 times per week: 3.28%

What do you feel is the most preferable waiting time between buses? (How long would you be willing to wait between buses?)

10 minutes: 23.33%
20 minutes: 30.47%
30 minutes: 28.63%
1 hour: 12.51%
2 hours: 5.07%

When would you use the circulator most?

Weekdays: 520
Weekends: 976
Daytime: 570
Evening: 573

How early in the morning would you need the circulator?

Earlier: 1.20%
8:00: 7.88%
9:00: 21.83%
10:00: 30.99%
11:00: 38.10%

How late in the evening would you need the circulator?

5:00: 3.88%
6:00: 5.95%
7:00: 10.07%
8:00: 21.64%
9:00: 28.49%
Later: 29.98%

Approximately how many car trips to Oberlin destinations would the circulator save you?

1 or 2 per week: 77.10%
3 to 5 per week: 17.29%
6 to 8 per week: 3.64%
9 or more per week: 1.96%

What mode of transportation would this circulator replace for you?

Car (taxi, friend's car, own car): 37.61%
Walking: 35.82%
Biking: 26.57%

Would you be likely to sign up for a car-sharing program that offered more available cars, different models, rental periods of up to 1 week, Sirius radio and iPod hook up, and the opportunity to car-share in Paris, London and NYC with your membership?

Yes: 57.15%
No: 42.85%

A sampling of the free response answers for what the Office of Environment Sustainability's staff should be composed of:

A community coordinator/liaison - perhaps this should be part of the sustainability coordinator position, but I want to see more talk about how the word "gentrification" fits into this context - are we pushing lower class folks out of their town further? Are we defining sustainability as community building? Who is making the decisions - how open is this conversation - whose voices are being left out, who is benefiting and how.

A council of elders who meet in secret and perform arcane rituals

A monkey

A school wishing to maintain its reputation for sustainability must have a developed office of environmental sustainability with suitable staff and professionals, who are also given the power to influence major decisions made by the college.

Admiral Akbar

After working with the above office, I think it would also be important to simply improve communication between different sectors of college administration.

ALL OF THE ABOVE. THIS ACTUALLY NEEDS TO BE INSTITUTIONALLY SUPPORTED. Additionally, the President's Agreement is all nominal - it's only so we can SAY that we're carbon neutral. Currently the College is planning on just buying green tags, essentially. That's idiotic. Those will be green for only about 30 years. We need to actually reduce our energy spent, improve the dorms, and change how we live. Not just sign some silly agreement to look good compared to other colleges.

An Office of Environmental Sustainability seems superfluous at best

Anything that isn't controlled by ResEd.

Captain Planet

Crusty Punx

Current students. Also, the holder of the full-time APS position must have any actions that could lower Oberlin's sustainability standards vetted by student staff before taking those actions.

Delegate from Student Senate

Do not eliminate Nathan's job!!! He is very important!!!

dolla dolla bills yall

Full-time paid staff = important for institutional memory!

Great Job!

I am intrigued by the various positions, but I don't know what each position would do. I think it would be nice to know what each position would require and whether it is possible to have someone hold multiple positions in order to decrease spending. In my mind, this would help ensure that the senior staff is composed of people who care about environmental sustainability. Until I know the job descriptions of each, I won't check a box.

It should also include an energy consultant or engineer, a full-time compost and recycling coordinator, and interns as well.

Keep Nathan On!!! Nathan is the bomb.

Kermit the Frog


No one who will be working simply to preserve their own position/job

No recent graduates. We need someone who can hold their own against the administration when the going gets tough.

NONE- the entire sustainability project should be abandoned. It's a pathetic waste of money.

Oberlin College is an institution of staff, faculty. and students. As such an institution it should strive to represent each group with horizontal equality: faculty, staff, and students should be involved in the Office of Environmental Sustainability. Instead of graduates, current students should be given the opportunity to participate in the OES through college credits (preferred) or monetary compensation.

One of the draws for Oberlin is our great Office of Sustainability. Nathan Engstrom has done a lot for this school. He keeps the sustainability program together and running efficiently. Please keep him!

People with backgrounds in green architecture and design, historic preservation, and sustainable practices. We should hire specialists not bureaucrats or hippies.

Sarah Palin

Someone who is capable, for the love of god, capable.

Student/recent alum participation is great, but we need a professional sustainability coordinator with experience that has clear responsibilities, mandates and resources. The college's current attempts to replace it only with the student interns/recent graduates is just a cynical ploy to cut costs on a thing as important as the environment.

Sustainability coordination might best be accomplished by students, who are more aware of the campus dynamic and popular events. A full administrative staff is necessary in order to keep consistence and counteract the amount of turnover that is common in student involved organizations.

The notion of "sustainability" sidesteps the question of "at what cost?". Getting off coal or what have you is a cheap source of virtue for students who will inevitably pay the higher energy costs through tuition and housing fees.

There absolutely needs to be a full-time Coordinator position (not a student, but a qualified professional such as Nathan Engstrom). Without such a person, the sustainability efforts of Oberlin College will be seriously hampered.

There should be a credential-heavy official Administrative position that answers to a student assembly and can be elected, censured and impeached by students with environmental credentials

There should be an equal balance between students and staff/ Professionals who understand what hoops need to be jumped through to actually get things accomplished on this campus.

These are honestly all good possibilities and when it comes the creation of green jobs, I say the more the merrier.

This is all well and good, but it is all going to cost $ that most of us just can't afford to let be passed into our tuition fees.

This office represents one of Oberlin's strongest commitments and as such should be comprised of a diverse range of individuals with the knowledge and ability to implement progressive green policy.

This question is confusing; but I say no to fat cats and professionals.


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