Professors and Students Organize Teaching, Protest Ahead of Board Settlement Vote – The Oberlin Review
Editor’s note: The board voted to approve the bylaws amendments earlier today. They also made other adjustments to Article I of the Bylaws, which can be found here.
Students, faculty, alumni, staff and community members gathered at Wilder Bowl for a lesson and protest against the Board of Trustees’ proposed changes to the College’s bylaws. Hosted by faculty and the Student Senate, the protest featured speeches from members of the campus community articulating the potential outcomes of approving the changes.
Under the revised statutes, professors would no longer have the right to vote on non-academic matters. Faculty were previously free to introduce, deliberate and vote on matters relating to the general internal management of the College – these decisions would then be subject to the guidance and approval of the Board of Trustees.
“These statutes stipulate that the [General Faculty] are essentially in charge of the governance of the internal management of the College,” said Assistant Professor and Chair of Art History Christina Neilson. “And the new statutes remove all reference to [General Faculty] and replace it with a reference to the divisional faculty.
Various sections of the Oberlin community have spoken out against the proposed changes to the bylaws. Members of Oberlin College’s Senate, faculty, and clerical and professional workers’ union all took turns speaking about their own experiences. The protest, although centered on the statutes, also addressed different issues such as teachers’ salaries, restrictions on reproductive health care and recent austerity measures, such as the 2020 disbandment of the United Auto Workers union within of the College.
“I feel like people are really angry and they want to see changes happen in school,” said Anokha Venugopal, a third year at the College. “It’s an accumulation of a lot of different issues.”
Professors fear that without authority in the general management of the College, the overall student experience will suffer.
“It comes back to this idea of ’How are you going to interpret academic issues right now,'” Neilson said. “We all know that academic matters can mean something beyond what happens in the classroom, but what worries me is the future – could someone please say that the only thing faculty really should be involved is our curriculum and educational issues in a very narrow sense?… And how do you separate student well-being from student learning?”
Students raised the fact that professors are constantly interacting with students and hearing about the issues they face.
“So many people are upset because the professors are the ones who are with us every day,” said Natalie Dufour, Vice President of Student Senate and College sophomore. “They see us, they understand our struggles and they know what we are going through. Board of directors [doesn’t] live here.”
Attendees watched as administrators left the Mudd Center to observe the protest. After the speeches were over, a student carrying a megaphone led a group of students to Mudd, where the crowd continued to chant as board members entered the Center for Engaged Liberal Arts for a meeting.
“It was really inspiring to see,” Venugopal said. “When people started gathering around Mudd, it was crazy. It was so crazy because I feel like I haven’t seen a protest since I’ve been here in Oberlin. It was simply incredible.
Protesters eventually decided to try to enter CELA and descended the interior staircase in an attempt to confront the trustees. They were greeted by campus security officers and Dean of Students Karen Goff.
Goff then agreed to facilitate a meeting between a council member and the students in the stairwell. Chief of Staff David Hertz and Vice Chair of the Board Lillie Edwards, OC ’75, entered the stairwell, where Edwards answered questions from students.
The students discussed various concerns with Edwards, including College investments and faculty power to provide mental health resources. Edwards answered questions over a megaphone while the other board members remained at CELA.
“I have had meetings with administrators who have assured me that nothing will change with these regulations, and that … the regulations only name what is already happening at the College and clarify that for legal purposes,” said From the oven. “And while it makes sense to have simpler regulations, it doesn’t clarify the role of faculty in the new administration, which is why so many people are mad.”