The Board of Trustees’ first meeting for the 2015-2016 academic year took place on campus October 8 and 9. At the October meeting, the board welcomed five new trustees, including class trustee Gifty Dominah ’15, whose election to the board was ratified during the meeting. New trustees undertake an orientation program through which they gain knowledge about the issues facing the college. I thank the many people who contributed their time to this process as well as the new trustees who have agreed to serve Oberlin College.
The work of the Strategic Planning Steering Committee continued during the board meeting. As always, the committee’s website contains a great deal of information about its progress. This effort demands much from committee members, and I wish to take this opportunity to thank all of them—faculty, students, administrative staff, community representatives, and board members—for their generous gift of time.
Most of the board’s committees met, approved their charters for the coming year, and conducted normal business. The Capital Planning Committee reviewed the various building projects and concepts currently under development. Trustees toured the Peter B. Lewis Gateway Center on Friday. Fundraising efforts continue for the health and wellness center and the Hall Auditorium renovations and black box theater. The board was happy to announce that the health and wellness center will be named the Pat and Merrill Shanks Health and Wellness Center, in gratitude for the lead gift for the project from Pat Shanks ’63 and Merrill Shanks ’61. At the Student Affairs Committee meeting, the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life provided a comprehensive update on religious life on the campus. Six students representing a wide diversity of expressions contributed to the meeting.
During the board’s plenary session, the board reviewed the progress of the Strategic Planning Steering Committee. The administration updated the board on the various college rankings that have been published recently. The board also reviewed new methods to organize its meetings so that some members may be better accommodated. The board considered and approved various nominations for honorary degrees.
Just prior to the meeting, the board received a resolution from the A&PS Council requesting that William Cosby’s honorary degree be rescinded. The board discussed this request at length and considered it carefully. While the board ultimately declined to take action at this time, it will continue to monitor the situation closely.
On Thursday evening, many trustees met with students in small groups for the Trustee-Student Forum. In each location a trustee is charged with taking notes that may be used to report back to the board in the plenary session. These reports are usually the first matter of business at the board’s Friday afternoon plenary, as they were this time.
Among the topics that emerged during the forum, students raised concerns about:
- endowment transparency and proposed cuts to the endowment payout
- international students’ experience on campus
- advising (particularly for first-year students)
- housing and dining costs and student fees generally
- the process of identifying a presidential successor
- sustainability commitments and the transition to natural gas
- and the new federal college scorecard.
In particular, in each of the student-trustee groups, students expressed dissatisfaction with the lack of response from the board to two proposals for endowment fund divestment. Although these responses have now been issued, the board sincerely regrets the time that this has taken; developing responses that accurately represent the consensus position of the board proved to demand considerable time and effort. In addition, in concert with the class trustees, the administration will be closely reviewing all the concerns that students identified during the forum to determine how best to raise awareness of existing programs and services and to solicit input about potential improvements for the future.
The board meeting ended with a dinner and concert that celebrated the work of retiring board member Karen Flint ’67. Karen served on the Board 34 years. All of us are extremely grateful for her service to Oberlin. She has set a great example for us to follow.
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