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Records of the Dean of Students (Group 12)
[30] Records of the Dean of Students, 1928-1990, 228.25 l.f.

Administrative History

The Office of the Dean of Students was created by the board of trustees in 1964 in response to findings developed in a 1961 trustee report, which proposed changes to simplify and improve Oberlin College’s administration. Previously, student affairs was the responsibility of the principal (for women until 1894), the excusing officer (for men until 1895), and the dean of men and the dean of women in the twentieth century. The dean of students, reporting to the president, directs and coordinates all offices concerned with student services. In order to create functional rather than gender-oriented job divisions, the offices of dean of men and dean of women were eliminated in 1971. Bernard S. Adams was dean of students between 1964 and 1966; George E. Langeler, his successor, served as dean between 1966 and 1989.

The Office of the Dean of Students merged with the Office of Student Support Services on January 1, 1990. Patrick Penn headed this new division as dean of student life and services between 1990 and 1995. His office was responsible for coordinating student life and support services, along with ensuring the timely graduation of all enrolled students. Charlene Cole ’74 replaced Penn as dean of student life and services in July, 1995.

Scope and Content

Organized into eight subgroups, each with several series, the records date from 1928 to 1995. Three subgroups, I. Administrative Records, V. Student Union, and VI. Housing and Dining, are especially useful in studying the architectural history of Oberlin College. For the researcher interested in cooperatives, dining facilities, dormitories, and the student union (Wilder Hall), this collection is not to be missed.

The records from the Dean of Students’ office are most valuable in revealing the importance of the campus’ physical environment to students’ educational, political, recreational, and social activities. Records explore the relationship between architecture and philosophy, psychology, values, and quality of life. The desire for a sense of community, harmony, utility, and comfort is repeated throughout these papers.

The first subgroup, “Administrative Files,” contains some folders that relate tangentially to Oberlin architecture. The dean of students was involved in the campus’ built environment only in ways that directly affected student life. Thus, when housing is discussed in this office’s annual reports and by various committees, such as Institutional Research and Space Allocation, architecture is only important as a facilitator or an obstacle to programs and policies. For example, students wanted dormitories to promote “studying, thinking, and sharing,” according to the 1974 Institutional Research Committee report. Physical arrangements, such as noise-reducing carpeting and new kitchenettes, were means to those ends. Structural changes to facilities were also important to the Committee for Interests of the Physically Disabled to promote accessibility. Other valuable committee files include those of the Subcommittee on Dorms and Housing, 1968, and the Living and Learning Committee, 1971. Various other folders in “General Files” have a similar philosophical and utilitarian approach to Oberlin’s built environment.

While one is likely to find mention of the facilities in sections of the Student Union annual reports, the bulk of architectural information in subgroup V is in Series 3 “Student Union Committees,” and in Series 4 “Wilder Hall.” As early as 1955, students suggested converting the Men’s Building, or Wilder Hall, into a student union. In 1956, the Student Union Committee was formed to plan and establish this building. This group considered finances, facilities, government, and the philosophy and purpose of student unions at other campuses when making recommendations. For instance, the folders relating to Wilder Hall detail the planning and activities—including budgets, floor plans, and plans for the snack bar—surrounding Oberlin’s student union. In 1990-1991, the main lounge of Wilder Hall was renovated after several years of planning with input from the Architectural Review Committee and from architectural firm Van Dijk, Johnson and Partners, Cleveland, Ohio. One planning binder, 1987-1991, contains budgetary information, correspondence, meeting minutes, and negotiations with architects and construction personnel regarding this project. Also included are copies of 50 architectural drawings of Wilder Hall by J.L. Silsbee, 1905; six by J.A.B., 1944; and eight by J. Sondles, 1955. Duplicate drawings exist for the Silsbee blueprints of Wilder Hall.

From the details of dormitory decor to long-term planning, subgroup VI documents housing and dining at Oberlin College from the perspective of the students and their deans. Included are series of annual reports, budget records, committee papers, correspondence, dormitory files, building administration and use files, building maintenance and renovation files, and feneral files. The administration and use series, and the maintenance-renovation files, detail the relationship between architecture and functionalism at particular buildings. Occupying about 8 l.f., these records primarily document a wide range of renovation and construction activity in the 1970s and 1980s, but also include material on the refinishing of Dascomb and Barrows. In 1985, an $11 million bond issue made possible dormitory renovations—including 1986 improvements to Baldwin Cottage and to Talcott, North, and Tank halls—and the construction of the North Campus dining/ social facility (Stevenson Hall). Files in this collection include information gathered before the bond’s approval. For example, the Building Audit of 1984 describes and evaluates individual dormitories’ foundations, internal supports, HVAC systems, windows, and other structural features. Similarly, a Facilities Notebook compiled by the Housing and Dining Halls Office between 1983 and 1985 provides the maintenance history, special building characteristics, floor plans, renovation needs ranking, custodial questionnaire, and dormitory facts for every dormitory from Allencroft to Zechiel. Meanwhile, the dean of students office was actively planning improvements to the dining program, culminating in the opening of Stevenson Hall in 1989.

The correspondence, planning documents, meeting minutes, reports, facilities evaluations, cost projections, budgets, and floor plans in the records of the dean of students are rich in information on housing and dining facilities, and on the student union, at Oberlin College.

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