Faculty Postpones Decision on Sustainable Construction
Wednesday’s General Faculty meeting ended with frustration on the part of Student Senators, who came with three proposals to receive faculty endorsement but had only one extensively discussed and none voted on by the end.
The first aimed to make building at Oberlin more environmentally sustainable, the second would increase student involvement in campus governance and the third proposal would enact gender-neutral housing.
The option for a vote on any of these proposals ended when Daphne John, chair of the sociology department, called for quorum and found that the majority of professors were not present. Rules state that when any one person feels uncomfortable approving or rejecting a proposal without quorum, voting must be withheld until the next meeting.
“I think that if we, as a faculty, are going to vote on something, we should have adequate representation,” John said later. “The turnout at the meeting was dismal.”
Before John called quorum, most of the meeting was consumed by discussion of the resolution on sustainable building, written and seconded by senators and College juniors Ezra Temko and Peter Collopy, as students and professors voiced support, concern and questions.
Collopy began the discussion by introducing the proposal, which would require the College to conduct all building and construction projects in compliance with the minimum of a “silver” standard as defined by the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Green Building Rating System. If passed, Collopy said, it would be applied to the renovations of Severance Hall and Asia House, which might begin as early as this summer.
Morgan Pitts, College junior and representative of the Environmental Policy Implementation Group, also attended the meeting to voice his support of the proposal. He cited evidence for the importance of environmental sustainability, not just in Oberlin but internationally. He also argued that building according to LEED regulations would help Oberlin’s image in the long run.
“LEED building standards are nationally recognized and would help us [at Oberlin] as we talk about our institution as committed to social issues,” Pitts said. “It would bring clarity to our progress and commitment to environmental sustainability.”
At this point, the discussion was opened to general comments.
Provost Al MacKay expressed concerns that older buildings with historical significance have architectural structures that may not lend themselves to types of renovation approved by LEED. Pitts replied that “there are ways to achieve this” without causing damage to landmark buildings on campus.
The issue of cost was another concern among some faculty members. LEED certification itself costs money, and building to LEED standards can often be a large financial commitment.
Student senator and College senior Dani Levine responded by saying that the housing units on Union Street could have been built with the same budget using LEED regulations if the construction had been differently planned.
Professor of African American Studies Booker Peek asked whether student senators would be interested in adding an amendment “to the extent [that it would be] practical” to the current proposal that would require all buildings to meet the minimum of Silver. Some senators were hesitant as to whether this would be a friendly motion.
Associate Dean of Conservatory Academic Affairs Andrea Kalyn also raised concerns about how LEED building would affect the acoustics of the Conservatory.
Psychology Professor Al Porterfield, the chair of the Strategic Plan Commissioned Sustainability Working Group, then made some remarks.
“I believe the members of the working group believe this is of monumental importance,” Porterfield said. “I believe the members of the working group believe that it is a matter of life and death for the planet and the right thing to do.
“We don’t think the College should make every decision on the basis of nickels and dimes,” he said. “I don’t know where the commitment to saving the planet is going to come from if not from places like Oberlin. It’s certainly not going to come from the current administration [in the White House].”
After such debate, many faculty members felt ready to make a decision. John, however, called for quorum, which ended discussion until May’s meeting.
Student senator and College sophomore Colin Koffel expressed his disappointment.
“While quorum helps ensure an honest vote on issues, calling for quorum to end a discussion is a gross abuse of parliamentary procedure,” Koffel said. “Instead of continuing a discussion on adopting LEED Silver as a minimum standard for new construction and renovation of buildings on campus, [John] singularly delayed any progress towards sustainability for at least a month.”
John, however, emphasized that it was not her intention to thwart the motion’s pass.
“I am in no way against the proposal, but I do feel that something with budgetary implications should be carefully considered, especially at a time when budget cuts are affecting the curriculum,” John said. “My sense was that many people didn’t feel there was enough information to vote at this time. [Also,] the proposal could have been defeated if we had voted [due to the lack of a majority of faculty], which would have been even more disappointing to those who support it.”
President Nancy Dye was unable to attend the General Faculty meeting, but offered her comments in a later interview.
“I find myself warming to meeting the standards of LEED certification at some level,” Dye said. “I would have voted in favor of it had I been there, but I would have voted more enthusiastically with the ‘prudence’ language [suggested by Peek].”
While she acknowledged that financial concerns were valid and that the College had to be “realistic” – which may ultimately mean no LEED certification – Dye said that the College was bringing in planners as early as this summer to look at old residence halls to see what can be done to make them more student friendly, aesthetically pleasing and environmentally sustainable.
Dye also emphasized that the final decision would be made by the Board of