Students Protest Job Cuts; Dye Charges Facts Skewed
By Michelle Sharkey

Concerned members of the Oberlin community took part in a demonstration outside the Cox building Thursday afternoon to protest the College’s decision to eliminate 11 staff positions. Displaying signs and chanting “stop the layoffs,” the demonstrators expressed anger with the Administration’s decision, announced last week, to ease the College’s financial burdens with staff cuts.
“We consider this a mini-Enron,” Socialist Alternative member Jyo Bhatt, who helped organize the event, said.
College President Nancy Dye returned fire in an interview Thursday afternoon, calling the protesters’ numbers “utterly and completely inaccurate.”
“Both the leaflet and the e-mail about the protest had serious factual errors,” Assistant to the President Diana Roose added.
The protesters, consisting primarily of College students and employees, numbered around 40 at its peak. Some expressed frustration with low turnout, and as time went on, students decided to drum up more support for their cause by marching to spread their message across campus.
The group marched into Cox, which houses several administrative offices, to protest outside the office of the President. They then marched outside Wilder Hall, Mudd Library and eventually into the King building, entering a lecture hall to spread the message to a bewildered group of psychology students.
Along the way, students passed out flyers to passersby, hoping to spread awareness of the layoffs before they are finalized on Nov. 30.
“We’d like the College to change its position, but it depends on how much support there is,” and Socialist Alternative member Ted Virdone OC ’02 said.
The College announced last week that it would eliminate 11 positions from among the Administrative and Professional Staff and OCOPE staff. As reported in the Review last week, the College projects it will save $430,000 by eliminating these positions.
Many of the demonstrators expressed frustration with the College’s financial planning and emphasized that money could be saved without ousting staff members. “There’s going to be a financial crisis no matter what, but a crisis doesn’t have to mean layoffs. It might mean having fewer $70,000 parties,” Virdone said, in reference to the Science Center dedication.
Dye’s office said the Science Center dedication cost at most $20,000, mostly for speakers’ fees. Vice President for College Relations Al Moran asserted that the union’s figure for the annual holiday party, of $75,000, added an extra zero. The actual cost was $7,500, he said.
Others questioned the decision to eliminate jobs rather than make cuts in other areas. “Labor is not a liability,” College junior Will Miller said.
College employees in attendance also questioned the College’s financial decisions. Wearing black armbands in support for staff members who are being laid off, some staff members perceive the Administration’s cost-cutting decisions as hypocritical.
One staff member cited the recent remodeling of the second floor of Peters, the location of the Office of the Dean of Studies, as a questionable expense.
“If we’re having such a crisis, why are we remodeling a building that was just remodeled five years ago?” the staff member, who chose to remain nameless, said.
Another staff member commented that the College’s choices on allocating funds are irresponsible and seem to favor the well-connected. “It’s who you know, not what you are,” the employee, added.
The question of which expenses are justified in light of the financial troubles has been hotly debated among students and staff regarding the decision to make staff cuts. Debate on the issue is limited, because the College’s financial decisions and figures are confidential.
The College has been forced to lay off workers in the past to ease financial burdens, most recently in 1996.
However, this round of staff cuts may hit workers harder, according to staff members present at the demonstration.
Some of the staff laid off in 1996 were able to move into comparable positions within the College. This may not be the case, however, for those staff members who lose their positions later this month.
“This time around, there aren’t good jobs to place into,” one staff member said. “All the open positions are for lower pay, and only two are full time.”
With few large employers in the area, being laid off from the College may mean significant challenges and changes for those who have to find employment at another establishment. In light of this, OCOPE members scheduled a demonstration for Friday, to show their displeasure with the College’s choice to eliminate positions.
Demonstrators expressed disappointment with Oberlin’s decision to cut staff as a way to ease financial burdens.
“It’s sad that Oberlin has always stood for being catalysts for change… financial problems are a reality for every institution… Oberlin is supposed to have more integrity and character than is currently being displayed,” Executive Assistant to the Secretary Kristen Jones, one of the recently terminated employees, said.
The demonstration was sponsored by several student groups, including the Student Labor Action Coalition and Peace Activists League.
These groups plan to take further action in opposition to the staff cuts in the coming weeks.
“[Today’s demonstration] turned into a campus-wide thing, and we hope we can turn it into a town-wide thing,” Bhatt said.
President Dye said she was out of her office when the protest happened, and declined to comment. “I frankly wasn’t here,” she said.

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