The Oberlin Review
<< Front page Commentary February 10, 2006

Referendum Leaves Doubt, other letters

To the Editors:

The results from this year’s referendum pose serious questions to the student community and to Student Senate itself.

Some results cry out for immediate action: over two thirds of all students who voted want Credit/No-Entry restored and want the College to build all buildings to the LEED Gold standard. These statements must be pursued, and not just by Senate; individual students and faculty members must step up.

Yet how is it that a community that claims to have such high moral convictions can overwhelmingly vote not to pay a little more so that the less well off among us can continue to have health insurance? On question after question, the abstentions or nos have it.

My first instinct was that our community has become burned out or apathetic. Last year was a year of activism among the students and the faculty — the London program, the dean search and the vote of no confidence come to mind. This year, the greatest source of campus anger has been...ResEd? No doubt Residential Education needs work (I should know, I worked for them for two years). But of course there are two simpler answers, both found in a simple fact: most failed questions concerned money.

At first, when cries of “financial crisis” are made, people are skeptical. Especially when the cries accompany the addition of new professorships and raises for administrators. Yet sooner or later that fear permeates us, and we become, against our better wishes, conservative.

Moreover, these referendum results reflect Senate’s own failures. This referendum was simply too long, and too full, especially in the later half, of questions that interested no one but ourselves. Senate, granted great access but little power, has always risked becoming isolated. In the past, Senate had referendums when people brought questions, not at a pre-scheduled time.

There was wisdom in this. Referendums are useful, but not all the time. They should be only for questions we all really want to weigh in on, not for any question that strikes senators or activists as something worth adding to a referendum that is happening by default. Furthermore, the ability to e-mail all the students should not be abused in the way it has been (for my part in that, I apologize).

It is also my personal opinion that Student Senate spends too much time trying to work together as a single body, rather than being a platform for individuals and groups to advocate change.

Clearly, there is a balance to be struck here. But when Senate only talks to itself, it ends up only representing itself. The student body needs a leadership capable of challenging a sidetracked and pointless “strategic planning” process. You can help us get one by running for Senate (did you know nominations were currently open?).

There is an uncomfortable silence in this community. We should know better than to think that the road to the future will emerge magically from pointless and bureaucratic strategic planning working groups. We should know better than to think that in a time when the words “financial crisis” still hover we cannot still be bold. And we do know better. We need only to speak.

–Marshall Duer-Balkind
College Senior

Dear Editors:

The Office of Health and Life Skills Education, the Office of Judicial Affairs, and the Office of Residential Education partner to support the College’s mission to provide students with educational programming in an environment that encourages personal growth and individual well-being. In particular, we seek to support students in making choices that avoid the risks associated with unhealthy or dangerous use of alcohol and other substances.

We recognize that students are adults, and can be expected to obey the law and take personal responsibility for their conduct. Collaborations with students, faculty, and others help address community issues related to the misuse of alcohol and other drugs. Various administrators, faculty and students serve on the Alcohol, Tobacco, and Other Drug Committee focusing on concerns such as substance free living and events, policy and sanctioning, prevention and education, and campus awareness.

As the semester begins we would like to draw your attention to the following policies and initiatives related to alcohol and other drugs:

1. All students are expected to familiarize themselves with college policy related to alcohol and other drugs. A complete summary of the rules and regulations related to alcohol and other drug use and abuse can be found at

2. All on-campus parties held in residential spaces must be registered through Residential Education in advance. Students should call x58472 to schedule an appointment. It takes up to five weeks for an alcohol permit to be approved by the state. To host a party with alcohol, a $30.00 fee is required to receive the temporary alcohol permit. Parties not approved through the party planning process will be held accountable to college policy.

3. Substance free housing is available for any student wanting to live a lifestyle that includes abstaining from the high risk use of drugs and alcohol within their residential community. Please contact Residential Education at x58472 for application information.

4. AA and Al-Anon meetings take place both off- and on-campus. For complete information, visit

–Lori K. Morgan Flood
Assistant Dean/Director of Health and Life Education
–Kimberly Jackson Davidson
Associate Dean of Students /Dean for the Class of 2009
–Adrian Bautista
Associate Dean of Students/Dean for the Class of 2008
–Molly Tyson
Associate Dean/Director of Residential Education

To the Editors:

I hope it is obvious to Oberlin students that anyone referring to today’s debate over the validity of evolutionism as “religion vs. science” is out to deceive their audience.

Evolutionism fails the tests of science. Lawrence Krauss was quoted in US News and World Report saying a real scientific theory is a “comprehensive, logical explanation of natural phenomena.” This can be used to filter out Darwinism’s assertions that “all life evolved from a common ancestor through the process of natural selection” and that mere mindless minerals made that first microbe.

To test this, we could recall the “blueprint” molecule in our cells, DNA, serves as a chemical storage medium for the instructions to manufacture, operate and repair one of us from conception to old age. The DNA library of information is encoded in a form of language. The protein-making machines in the cell can interpret this language.

US News tells us, “Learning to think scientifically is not a skill solely for the domain of science.” In witness of which Henry Pollack, a professor of geophysics at the University of Michigan testified, “In any field, it’s important to learn to differentiate between what’s real and what’s phony. You ask: ‘Can this be true?’”

For DNA, we reason that mere matter can’t generate the software that drives the hardware in our cells. Rocks don’t write, as has been universally observed with and without microscopes.

Real science still starts with observation and seeks a sufficient cause for every effect seen. The one observed source for any artifact of language is a conscious mind. The theory of man-from-molecules utterly fails the test.

Gratuitous assertion of scientific falsehood is the mainstay of evolutionism. Think of it as “say-so science.” As the public immerses itself in the raging debate over the credibility of evolutionism, they will either decide to return to the tested first principles of reality-based science dealing with all the evidence seen or they will continue in Darwin’s fanciful exercise in yarn spinning instead.

–Quentin L. F. Patch
Columbus, Ohio

To the Editors:

So here I am, one and a half semesters out, amused that I have apparently traveled backwards in time. I’m sitting at a school desk behind large glass windows that throw light into the crowded room. A few people are chatting, but most are absorbed by whatever the computer screen in front of them shows. I’m struggling with another writing assignment for Oberlin College, and even the tea I’m sipping is the same brand the DeCafé sells. It’s a trendy coffeehouse and former industrial building, but right now it feels to me like A-level, redux.

I shouldn’t complain. After all, I volunteered for this job. At the Executive Board’s last meeting, I agreed to write our monthly letter to the Review. The people on the Board are a great bunch — all of them possessing tough-mindedness spliced with empathy, that characteristically Oberlin combination of virtues — and I’m happy to put in a little work for them. So I’ll talk a little bit about “post”-Oberlin life.

I live in Atlanta, Georgia, where we have warm weather, flashy dressers, mega-churches and fast-food chains that proselytize conservative politics. (If only Chick-fil-A wasn’t so tasty.) When I set out for a place of my own, I was looking for a climate that was nothing like college. I spent four years in the bubble, breathing the same air, I thought. Better to move from safety, to enter the land of business and the bottom line, where “PC” was either dead or never lived in the first place (see the “Rants and Raves” section of Craigslist: Atlanta for proof) and where a whole lot of people were more concerned with getting through the day than championing an ideology. In short, the Real World.

I’ve found my share of that here, and it has alternately grounded and disillusioned me, which isn’t totally a bad thing. I’ve also met people who care about some of the same things that my classmates and teachers at Oberlin care about: politics, community, social justice, the environment — all that good stuff. At Oberlin, it was easy to take for granted people who have these same beliefs or else cut them apart over quasi-differences. Here, they reassure me that what I learned from Oberlin’s cultural life is indeed relevant. In churches, in coffeehouses, bars, the workplace, I’ve had the fortune to meet and talk with others who never went to Oberlin, never even heard of the place, but whose works are in concert with our institution’s own. Oberlin may be a bubble, but it is also in its own right a reflection of the U.S.

Away from Oberlin now, I find that the things that really matter to me — the health and welfare of immigrants, the state of public education — float to the surface of my attention, while other things sink, unsupported by the expectations of professors or the student community. This rebalancing can be painful. But it is necessary, and it is also pleasantly surprising at times, such as when I learned I did care about Oberlin enough to serve as liaison to the Asian Pacific American Alumni Association. I’m working on establishing a web-based community where APA students and alums can engage and discuss, look for or volunteer mentorship, find Winter Term internships and strategize for larger-scale ambitions.

As part of my service, I also get to return to Oberlin three times a year for the Executive Board’s weekend meeting. The trip is starting to feel like a pilgrimage. Why fight it? I’ll be an Obie till I die.

–Arthur Bueno, OC’04
Executive Board Member
Alumni Association

To the Editors:

In participating in Oberlin’s Strategic Plan implementation process, we have recently become concerned about our priorities. We must be careful to avoid policies that make our admissions look good at the expense of the education and experience we provide students once they actually arrive one campus. Oberlin’s strategic planning process — which continues in so-called working groups even though the Strategic Plan as a document is complete — and its upcoming capital campaign offer opportunities for the college to develop new priorities and programs and perhaps even construct new buildings to support them. Because of the resources that Oberlin could devote to such projects, it is critical that we as members of the Oberlin College community examine our motivations for embarking on them.

Oberlin is beginning to develop indicators for the success of our strategic planning. Many of those developed so far deal with yield, the percentage of students admitted to the college who matriculate. Yield is based in part upon whether prospective students prefer Oberlin to other schools that admit them. It could also be “improved” through changes that actually decrease the capacity for achievement of our students, however, such as the admissions department admitting only the students most likely to enroll instead of the most qualified applicants. In the long term, such changes would have the opposite of their intended effects.

Another project about which we are personally skeptical is the possible development of a “modern student union,” perhaps through gutting and renovating a current building. This idea was apparently inspired in part by the success of the Science Center atrium as a location for study and social activity, and we share an admiration for the atmosphere of the atrium with the members of the Building Campus Community Working Group who are considering such development. At the same time, other areas on campus already support similar (but admittedly not identical) social interactions.

One of these, Stevenson, was built to encourage conversation at meals and serves much of the campus community. Others, such as the computer science labs and the Harkness lounge, serve smaller segments of the student body well. A new space may not be necessary to encourage a positive social atmosphere. In fact, it is worth questioning whether any innovations are necessary to encourage such an environment.

Another motivation for upgrading Wilder is that it might look dull and insufficient to prospies. Fortunately, this does not mean that it actually is. Students bond with the building, and many are upset by the idea of losing it. Wilder is not a perfect space, but it is good for many of the things students need and want in an institution.

Furthermore, keeping Wilder avoids the financial, bureaucratic, and environmental costs of building a new building.

This is not to say that Wilder should not be renovated in minor ways, but that a major renovation should not be based primarily on admissions. The opinions of prospective students are based upon only a shallow exposure to the school. Current students have spent months or years here, while prospective students have usually spent a couple of days at most.

As a result, yield tells us less about our success as an educational and residential institution than do the results of senior surveys and the like. Furthermore, because much of Oberlin’s successful marketing consists of word-of-mouth information spread by current students and alumni, the depth of the Oberlin experience actually aids admissions. If we are to make deep, thoughtful decisions about the future of Oberlin, they should be based and measured primarily upon the deep, thoughtful experiences of current students and faculty.

–Peter Collopy
College Junior
–Molly Lidz
College Sophomore


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