The Oberlin Review
<< Front page Commentary October 14, 2005

Committee roles must be clarified

It seems like it wouldn’t really be Oberlin if there weren’t some fight brewing over the notorious Strategic Plan. As the Review reported last week, an e-mail sent by Provost Al MacKay struck fears in Senate that the students sitting on strategic planning committees would be advisory rather than full-voting members and that Senate’s role in selecting these students would be somewhat more marginal than originally thought.

While this particular spat seems to be on its way to being resolved, we share Senate’s concern that the role of students in the planning process will be to help justify and explain decisions made rather than actually to participate in them. However, we also sympathize with the desire of administrators for expediency and efficiency in the process and urge Senate to do all it can to make sure that committees are filled as quickly as possible.

The larger issue that this dispute illustrates is just how vague the original Strategic Plan is. Surely, before the plan was voted on last year, the exact nature of student representatives on these committees is something that could have been worked out. Beyond the issue of students, to an outside observer, it seems quite unclear exactly what these committees are charged with doing.

To the benighted few who were not on campus last year or simply weren’t paying attention, the Strategic Plan is a brand new document approved by the faculty and trustees last year which lays out a series of “strategic goals” for the College. These range from “supporting the faculty” to “internationalizing Oberlin.” These are all admirable goals, but the plan itself does not have any specific recommendations for carrying them out.

This is where the implementation committees are supposed to come in. These six new bodies are entrusted with deciding how the goals are to be made into reality. However, it has not been made clear yet when these committees will report, to whom they will report, what form the report will take or what exactly will eventually be done with them.

In the waning days of the strategic planning process, faculty spent meeting after meeting furiously amending the final document before voting. Line by line wording was changed and whole sections on environmental sustainability and minority concerns were added. (Another whole editorial could probably be written about why no committee has been created specifically to deal with questions of minority representation.)

The overall impression one got from watching the proceedings was that faculty were frantically struggling to figure out how to perfect a document the exact purpose of which they have never understood.

We fear that the same thing may be happening again in the implementation process, that the final proposals may simply be another series of organization-speak platitudes, which will in turn be reinterpreted once again by future generations of Oberlin administrators.

We do not wish to attack a process that has still barely just begun. We simply wish to stress how important it is that the goals and agenda of these committees be made clear before they begin discussions rather than in the waning days when faculty members are struggling simply to get a document put together.

We urge Oberlin’s senior administrators to keep students and faculty in the loop as the process goes forward, so that input from the wider Oberlin community can be solicited before important decisions about the institution’s future have already been made.

Oberlinians have always proved unparalleled advocates for what they believe; it’s time to prove that they also have the foresight and organization to transform these ideals into policy.


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