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Open Forum Dominated by Wahoo

by Alyson Dame

The annual Class Trustee meeting, created to help open dialogue between the Trustees and students, was unusually crowded this year. Amie Ely (OC '99), one of three class Trustees, facilitated a discussion on Dec. 6. Several issues were discussed, but most of the evening was spent discussing the controversial addition of Cleveland Indians Larry Dolan to the Board of Trustees.

After Ely opened the meeting by asking for any student concerns to be voiced, one student explained that students were concerned that Dolan's values were not those of Oberlin College.

Senior Amber Schulz, co-chair of the American Indian Council on campus, read a prepared statement. "I am here representing the American Indian Council here at Oberlin College. I would like to express our concerns with the appointment of Larry Dolan as one of the newest Trustees of the College, he also being the new owner of the Cleveland Indians baseball team," she said.

Later in the statement, Schulz said, "I am only asking this: that you evaluate your own personal feelings on the issue, keeping in mind that members of the race the mascot is made to represent are highly offended. I am trying to open up dialogue in a calm and rational manner so that perhaps we can see all views and perhaps find a happy medium. Please keep in mind that silence is the voice of complicity."

Ely had copies of Acting President Clayton Koppes' statement about the appointment of Dolan and passed those out. Schulz said that many of the people had already seen Koppes' statement and were at the meeting because they wanted the Trustees' thoughts on the issue. Ely opened the floor up to the six board-elected Trustees who had also come to the meeting.

Senior Trustee Bill Robinson, who attended the meeting, was taken aback by the student response to the Wahoo symbol. "Comments were made that kind of threw me a little bit. What you're asking us to do, in my words, is to open up our hearts and think about these things," he said.

In a later interview via e-mail, Ely said that her experiences with Dolan, as a Trustee, had been positive. "Larry Dolan has been, from what I've seen, dependable and present at the meetings. He offers his acuity as a respected and successful lawyer. He offers his perspective as a local businessman and non-Oberlin graduate," she said.

Ely clarified that Dolan had purchased the Indians after being elected to the board. "I offer that not as an apology, but to inform students of a fact that has been given little regard. Dolan was a Cleveland area businessman and lawyer long before he decided to purchase the team. His ties with the Cleveland community interested the board," she said.

Robinson defended Dolan's place on the board, but said that he would ask Dolan to meet with students. "He's got a lot of contacts that we need and don't have access to. Larry Dolan said the right things when we interviewed him and he has followed up on those things as a Trustee. He's been faithful and has come to the meetings," Robinson said. "I'm going to be blunt about it, Larry Dolan has my full support and I will resist any effort to remove him from the Board."

Schulz clarified her concern. "I was not asking that Larry Dolan be removed from the Board. I know how unlikely that would be," she said. Schulz was concerned with the image she believed having an owner of the Indians gave. "To the outside world, I think there's a connection [between Trustees and what Oberlin College values]," she said.

Robinson did not see the correlation as clearly. "How are we condoning Larry Dolan's use of Wahoo as a mascot because he is on our Board of Trustees?" he asked.

Board-elected Trustee Peter Kirsch was also present. "One of the most insidious things for any institution is to have a litmus test. We need to have a vigorous discussion of the issue," he said. Kirsch also defended Dolan, saying, "Is somebody's view so infected the ability to serve the institution that they should not be allowed to [serve as a Trustee]? I try not to associate with Republicans. Does that mean I should use that as a test, that I should not want any Republicans to be elected to the Board? The question is what is best for the institution. We have to be very careful in not defining our criteria on our particular views right now in an intolerant way."

The students present saw a stronger correlation between the values of the College and its Trustees. "If you're running Oberlin by your principles, then how can you separate the institution and personal views?" senior Kerri Greenidge said.

Junior Naomi Sabel said, "The bottom line is you're as good as the people you associate with and I don't think Oberlin students want to be associates of Larry Dolan."

One student said that students should have more of a voice in who is elected to the Board of Trustees. "We should have the power to say we don't want to have this person as the Trustee of our college," she said.

Schulz asked the Trustees what the extent of their influence was. Robinson agreed to encourage Dolan to speak to the students, but said that he could not in any way force Dolan to such a forum. [Dolan later agreed to speak to students Tuesday.] Upon hearing about the protest of Secretary of the Treasury Summers' speech Dec. 4, however, Robinson said, "I am not willing to press Larry [Dolan] to come so he can be vilified. When I invite him it will be under the understanding that he will come to engage in a dialogue."

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Copyright © 2000, The Oberlin Review.
Volume 129, Number 12, December 15, 2000

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