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

Fearless is Not Enough

The College’s new image and marketing strategy based around the concept of “fearless” have been met with anger and confusion by many students who worry that this metamorphosis might conflict with the Oberlin that they chose. Yet the College must also be fearless in revamping existing problems, such as housing issues and the College’s website.

First priority must be the updates on dorms and program houses that are in dire need of repairs. Many of these dorms have been slated for renovation, but that promised renovation has been pushed back numerous times. The sewage leak in Afrikan Heritage House last semester indicates that the condition of dorms and program houses mandate expedient repairs. Theme and program houses are an exciting and unique feature of Oberlin, but a step inside Asia House or Spanish, Third-World and German House is enough to discourage a prospective student.

In addition, housing that the College might build in the near future — such as Phase B in the Strategic Plan — must be sustainable and environmentally friendly. The Strategic Plan recognizes the need for such housing, but the College needs to consider seeking student involvement. As it became clear on last week’s Class Trustee meeting, there are many students interested in assisting the College with these goals.

Not only does the need for housing updates continue to increase, but Oberlin’s website is long overdue for a facelift as well. A visit to reveals that Oberlin’s website has not seen a substantial revision since 1999. Harvard, Princeton and Mt. Holyoke’s websites have been completely renovated at least once and Bard, a competitor for potential Oberlin students, has revamped its website twice since 1999. In the light of these statistics, it is sobering that Oberlin was among the first colleges to have frequently updated news clips on their front page.

Redesigning the website would not be as high a priority if the website were more user-friendly. Yet, the website is notoriously difficult to navigate. Its search engine seems more likely to produce user frustration than a coherent result. For instance, in order to arrive at the Registrar’s webpage from the homepage, visitors must first go to a page that gives general information about the Registrar’s Office and then click on a link that will actually take them where they want to go. Department websites are also maintained with varying degrees of frequency. The African-American studies department website, for example, still shows Fall of 2002’s course offerings.

The college should centralize control of Department websites with the Office of College Relations and remove whatever obstacles are preventing College Relations from creating a more user-friendly and modern website. This includes ensuring that the Office of College Relations has sufficient funding, qualified staff and autonomy to produce actual change.

In an increasingly competitive environment, Oberlin cannot just appeal to the idea of a statement of marketing strategy. If Oberlin wants to be fearless, it should continue to be the progressive leader that first admitted women and African-Americans, instead of pursuing a marketing strategy designed to follow instead of lead our peer institutions.


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