Gf accepts document with some reluctance
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GF accepts document with some reluctance

PLanning document debated at special session

by Susanna Henighan

The General Facutly (GF) accepted the "Broad Directions for Oberlin's Future" on Tuesday in a packed special session after almost two hours of debate. Faculty voiced both strong reservations about the document and its implementaion as well as enthusiasm for it. The GF accepted the document in a voice vote with a handful of nays.

During the course of the debate most of the concerns that were voiced addressed the lack of a clear plan for implementation or prioritizing of the goals in the document. Other concerens were about the percieved de-emphasis of academic excellence in the humanities anbd social sciences from the goals.

The motion which ultimatly passed reads: "The General Faculty of Oberlin College accepts with appreciation the report, 'Broad Directions for Oberlin's Future.' The General Faculty urges the administration and faculty committees to develop appropriate and timely strategies for realizing the goals laid out in the summary report."

At the last GF meeting the faculty debated the appropriate wording for a motion; ideas ranged from endorcing, to affirming, to accepting, and to receiving and noting.

The motion was introduced by Professor of Philosophy Daniel Merrill. During the debate Professor of Chemistry Terry Carelton proposed an amendment that would have struck the second sentence from the prosal. The proposed amendment ultimatley failed, but close to a quarter of the faculty voted for it in a voice vote.

Carelton argued that by urging the administration and committees to use the goals, current diagreements about some of the goals would go undiscussed and simply become policy. "There's quite a bit to be resolved," he said. "The changes [that come from the document], for good or for ill, are of a major sort."

Another faculty who spoke in favor of the amendment said, "Words matter a lot and once they are approved they will not be changed."

Professor of English Dewey Ganzel summed up the concerns he heard being raised and responded to them. He singled out concerns about whether the goals were congruent with the College's direction, whether the goals excluded certain areas of the College and how directive the plans are for the future.

Ganzel responded to these concerns by saying first that he felt the goals were congruent with the College's current thinking about itself. "It's not a change form where we are going now," he said. He also said the goals are flexible enough that changes could be made in them in the future. "There are things that are left out of the goals but I'm not worried about that," he said.

Others disagreed with the idea that the goals could be accepted without agreement about their relative importance or details about the goals themselves. One faculty said, "It is dangerous for a set of faculty to affirm goals when they don't know the details."

During much of the debate faculty refered to a set of letters which had been distibuted to the entire faculty by Dye and Professor of Economics David Cleeton. It includeded a letter writted by Cleeton to Dye after the last GF meeting and her response. The letters adress many of the issues that were debated. (see excerpts of the letters, this page)

Kathy Linehan, xxx, expressed her agreement with a lot of what Cleeton wrote in his letter. Linehan spoke in favor of the amendemnt, saying her main concern was the lack of priorities among the goals. "There will have to be priorities set," she said citing the limited resources of the College and its inability to fulfill every goal in the document. "It seems a rather chatic vision," she said.

Faculty speaking against the amendment argued that the document may not be entirely inclusive, but that it provides a good guide for future decisions. Many also argued that in order for the planning process to mean anything the goals need to be implemented as well as simply recognized. Some also critized the level of distrust and cynism among the faculty.

Chris Barker, mens soccer coach, said, "To leave out the second paragraph is very dangerous. Too many great ideas have been left to float away at Oberlin." He went on to cristisize the negativity and distrust some people had about the document and their colleagues.

"I'm a little stunned by the level of suspicion in this body today...Quite frankly these are bland," Professor of Sociology Bill Norris said holding a copy of the planning document. "It's extraordinary. Why can't we trust each other that little bit?"

After the meeting, Koppes, who was chairing the meeting, said he thinks prioritizing goals a this point would not help the College. "I can't image that we would want to set a list of prioroites in 1997 that would lock us in for 20 years," he said.

Ganzel said that although the College would now have clearer purposes, the implementaion of those purposes leaves a lot of space for intrepresttion and evolution. "No statement of purpose creates that purpose," he said.

Some factlty who cristized elements of the document felt that their voices were not heard in the document and felt the GF's approval was simply token. "The thing I find disturbing about this is that it is being taken to us as if our role is to just nudge it along," Carelton said. "I don't think this is the way the faculty ought to help shape future directions."

Steve Volk, professor of history, spoke to this critism. "The document has gone through an adequate community process," he said. He also said that the governance structure of the College is designed to priorotize and clarify broad goals like those in the document. "This is what we are always asking for," he said.

"To delete this second paragraph is to say 'Thank you but no thank you,'" Volk said.

After the meeting Dean of Student Life and Services Charlene Cole-Newkirk expresed frustration with some of the debate. "The process was probably one of the most involving processes I have ever been a part of," she said. "If you didn't choose to participate I have a problem with you saying it's not a worthwhile project."

Devit Theriot-Orr, college senior, spoke against the amendment and in favor of the principle motion. "The student body would see that this long process came to basically nothing [if the amandment passed]," he said.

Some faculty also echoed concerns that had been voiced in the last GF meeting about the perceived de-emphasis of academic excellence in the humanities and social sciences in the goals. One faculty said he counted 29 uses of the word "diversity" in the beginning of the document, but only eight uses of the word "excellence."

"I'm most concerned with the underrepresentaion of excellence and over-emphasis on diversity," the faculty said.

Dean of the college of Arts and Sciences Clayton Koppes said after the meeting that academic excellence is central to every aspect of the College and that the College needs a broad understanding of excellence. "Excellence isn't just something that occurs in the 50 minutes a student is in class," he said.


Copyright © 1997, The Oberlin Review.
Volume 125, Number 25, May 23, 1997

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