The Oberlin Review
<< Front page Commentary May 5, 2007

Professor Urges "No" Vote on New Ohio Tax, other letters

To the Editors:

Election time is rolling around again, and once again the Oberlin School District is asking for more money. This time, the District wants to raise taxes by more than $350,000.

With that money, the District wants to undertake an extravagant experiment. The District wants to give a free laptop computer to each middle school and high school child it teaches. The District wants to do this, furthermore, without so much as a pilot program to show that it would improve education in Oberlin schools.

Of course the District promises much. Free laptops would increase reading and mathematics scores, spur enthusiasm in our students, and reduce truancy — or so the District’s pro-tax increase website tells us. But let’s be serious for a moment. These are just laptop computers, hardly unfamiliar items. If laptops really were such revolutionary devices, there would already be scarcely a student anywhere in academic trouble.

The experience of some other school districts gives reason for skepticism, too. In school districts in Maine, students with laptops tested no better than those without them. Stanford education professor Larry Cuban has studied laptop giveaway programs across the country and found that there is no evidence that they increase student performance.

So why would we consider — even for a moment — a district-wide computer giveaway, funded by a permanent tax, without some hard evidence that the program would be worth the costs in our schools and among our students?

To the District, of course, it’s all free money. But the rest of us have no excuse. We are the ones who would have to pay for all of this.    

Even more frustrating is that the Oberlin School District can ill afford distractions. In 2005-6, the District met only 13 of Ohio’s 25 minimum goals for student achievement. Just a few years ago, most of the schools in the District were failing to meet Ohio’s (very) minimum standards for schools as a whole. The state tells us that the District is not yet making acceptable yearly progress, and that the District is still “at risk.” It doesn’t take a luddite to wonder whether there might be one or two more urgent priorities for the School District than giving away laptop computers.

And why does the District need any tax increase at all? The Oberlin School District already spends more than $10,800 per student per year. That is more than $1,400 above the Ohio average. If the District thinks it can do a better job, through whatever means, it has plenty of money for that already. That is precisely what its existing budget is for.

The proposed levy is no minor matter, either. According to the Plain Dealer, an owner of a $200,000 house would pay more than $100 a year in tax

This new, permanent tax would be on top of the substantial school tax we already pay. It’s a safe bet that the District has underestimated the cost of buying and maintaining portable computers for hundreds of adolescents, too.

So, pay a stiff new tax, so our troubled school district can give away free computers? Absolutely not. Let the District do the job it is already supposed to do. Or, if it must get into the computing business, let it run a financial spreadsheet on the computers it has, instead of spending more tax money to give computers away.

–Timothy Hall
Department of Philosophy

To the Editors:

Earth Day was a fun celebration for Oberlin. Residents of Talcott, like myself, were recognized for achieving a greater reduction in electricity and water than any other monitored residence on campus and awarded popsicles (organically processed, of course).

Ironically, Dorm Energy Competition was won not by succumbing to the craze of energy gutting that empowers ‘environmentalists’ to circumnavigate negotiating energy within a community. Instead Talcott residents began reducing their energy long before the Competition began.

At the beginning of the semester energy was discussed in terms of community standards at a meeting attended by almost all residents in Talcott.

Without the expensive technology or computer feedback systems, residents were empowered to discuss energy issues and alter their behavior as a community as a component of other aspects of communal life in our dorm.

 The Dorm Energy Competition encourages radical temporary changes, instead of the negotiated and sustained reductions.

 If matters of energy or any aspect of life at Oberlin is important to you, I encourage you to speak about the issue in the communities close to you to create measureable change. Either that, or do it for unexpected popsicles.

–Ben Shapiro
College junior

To the Editor:

All of you will soon be alumni of Oberlin College. As an alumnus from the Class of 1969, and one who greatly appreciates all Oberlin has meant to me in the last 38 years, I want to be sure you know how you can help others — from the day your graduate — have the same opportunity.

Oberlin College has an Alumni Recruiting Network (ARN) that includes folks from all across the country and the decades. We happily offer prospective students interviews as part of their admissions process. Many prospective students either can’t afford to travel to make a campus visit, or they just don’t know enough about Oberlin to include it on their list.

As Oberlin alumni recruiters, we provide an easy way for prospective students to learn more about Oberlin right in their home town. I wasn’t truly aware of the fact that I was an alumnus, much less of the many ways I could support Oberlin, until quite some time after I graduated. We would like you to become active as alumni right away.

The ARN is one of many volunteer opportunities offered by the Oberlin Alumni Association. Some of us also serve on the Alumni Admissions Advisory Committee, providing support (and sometimes even guidance!) to the Admissions Office based on our personal experience. Other opportunities range from serving as a class officer or class agent to serving on committees dedicated to communications, the Conservatory, and other areas.

It is, of course, a great advantage to be familiar with Oberlin today when talking to prospective students, so we would really like to have recent alumni join us in the ARN. I return to campus several times a year for alumni activities and interact with students, faculty, and staff from many different programs in order to be as informed as possible; however, there is no substitute for current knowledge and experience.

Volunteering is really fun! We not only get to interview some of the most interesting high school students in the world, but we get to attend college fairs in our local areas and speak to parents.

You can join us by contacting Josh Levy in the Admissions Office at You can also express interest in being an alumni interviewer (as well as many other things) when you register on OBIEWeb, the Oberlin College alumni online community.

One person can make a difference right here at Oberlin. Join us in keeping Oberlin fearless for generations to come.

–Walt Galloway, OC ’69
Chair, Admissions Advisory Committee
Executive Board Member
Oberlin Alumni Association

To the Editors:

Jonathan Bruno (“The Death of a Speech Code,” April 20) takes me to task for trafficking in hate speech and, “adding insult to injury,” hypocrisy. He argues that the bumper sticker on my office door (Rice 224 — come one, come all!) proclaiming “Lobotomies for Republicans: It’s the Law” intimidates and threatens physical harm, while also violating the College’s hate speech code which faculty like me supported and from which we exempt ourselves.

First, I agree with Mr. Bruno about speech codes. I disapprove of them — not, incidentally, for the usual and perfectly justifiable first-amendment reasons, but mainly because they give yet more power to administrators to control students’ lives.

Now that we have such a code, though, I would welcome being brought up on charges, precisely so I could show how absurd they are. My first line of defense would rely on common sense: Any sentient person would see that the bumper sticker is humor — black humor to be sure, and, depending on one’s sense of humor, perhaps not even that funny, but clearly humor nonetheless. (What jury would deem it a serious call for setting up an operating table in Wilder Bowl, bonking hapless GOP passersby over the head and yanking out their frontal lobes?)

Second, in political speech, context is often almost everything. Mr. Bruno did not bother to mention that my office door is also rife with all manner of humor aimed at the left. Prima facie, the clear intent here is to laugh at politics, not engage in it.

Of course many of us at Oberlin, including Mr. Bruno and me, are political activists each in our way. And politics is usually serious business, as it should be. We’d all do it better, though, and enjoy it more, if we could offer ourselves and each other a bit of comic relief from time to time.

–Marc Blecher

Professor of Politics and East Asian Studies

To the Editors:

Thank you to the students who met on Saturday, April 28 to construct 800 Safer Sex Kits for all first year students entering fall 2007. These kits contain safer sex supplies and valuable information on safer sex practices. The kits are funded by the Center for Leadership in Health Promotion with support from the Robert James Frascino AIDS Foundation. Thank you to student coordinators Katie MacBride and Helen Travis and to our volunteers for their time, help, and support: Kate Boyd, Mia Signs, Becky Cassler, Ben Goldsmith (OHS ’08), Anjali Chaudbury, Nora Schuchat, Lindsay Olson, Chris Rice, Ileana Font-Soloway, Rachel Birch, Connor Goldsmith, Kristin Braziunas, Cody Flood (OHS ’08), James Chamberlain, Evan Paul, Julia Metzner, Krissy Ferris and Liz Morrison.

–Lori K. Morgan Flood
Assistant Dean/Director of the Center for Leadership in Health Promotion


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