Off the Cuff: Robert Haslun
Robert Haslun, OC ’67, is Oberlin’s Secretary of the College. He is retiring this year after 34 years at Oberlin. The Oberlin Review caught up with him amidst his many duties in Cox.
How did you first start working at Oberlin?
I first came to Oberlin as a student in the class of ’67. Then I went away for five years and worked as a teacher. I came back as the Assistant Director of Public Relations and did most of my work for the Dean of the Conservatory Emil Danenberg. The whole reason I came back was to be with my future wife who was a student at the time. When Dean Danenberg was unexpectedly elected President, he asked me to stay on as his assistant. I became secretary in 1978.
What does the Secretary’s job entail?
I spend about a third of my time with Board of Trustees and a third with the faculty and a third with the President. I prepare for all the Board meetings and faculty meetings. The faculty at Oberlin has had 29 elections in the last year so I’ve been busy with that. I do the agendas, I take the minutes and I’m in charge of planning for commencement all spring. It’s a very detail-oriented job.
How has the way the administration operates changed over the years?
My easiest answer is that it hasn’t changed very much. The faculty governance system doesn’t work as well as it used to and there’s blame for that on all sides. The faculty has become much more department-oriented rather than college-oriented. They also used to take a much greater governance role in student life. In general I think the governance system is weakened. I won’t say if that’s for better or for worse.
One of your primary responsibilities is organizing the faculty meetings. Any interesting stories from those?
They’ve gotten tamer, actually. I remember a college faculty meeting where they were trying to restore D’s and F’s and there were hundreds of students protesting outside. They chained the doors closed. This was before cell phones so we were literally chained into the room.
Has your replacement been selected yet?
No. They’re going to wait until the new president has started working before they find someone to replace me.
You’ve worked for several Oberlin presidents now. How would you compare them?
I didn’t work for Robert Fuller but the place was pretty much in chaos then. There was a huge amount of tension with the faculty and in ’73 they almost unionized. So Fuller’s term was pretty short. He was 33 when he started and was basically driven out. I think he just tried to do too much too fast. With Emil Danenberg they wanted a healer, someone who could pull the place back together. A lot of people think of Danenberg as the do-nothing presidency because he didn’t build any new buildings or anything, but what he did was very important in terms of healing the campus. Fred Starr was a mover and a shaker. He was full of energy. The end of his administration was tough and the campus more or less turned against him. Nancy, I’ve always [thought] the world of, and I think she’s done a great job.
What advice do you have for the new administration?
I don’t have any advice except, don’t push too hard. Take some time to learn the place. It’s a funny place and a different place and you have to learn how to navigate it. In general I think Oberlin needs to be less critical and celebrate itself more. Everybody here is quick to criticize but there are a lot of things we should be celebrating.