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Ted Gest and Trustees

The following report was posted on the Class of 1968 website on January 25, 2023, by Ted Gest '68.


In mid-January, Board of Trustees chair Chris Canavan '84 and Vice Chair Lillie Johnson Edwards '75 spoke at an in-person meeting of the Oberlin Club of Washington, D.C. Because the program lasted only an hour and included discussion of about a half dozen major topics, there wasn't much time to go into detail. Judy Klavans and I may have been our only class members present. I'll give a brief summary here of what I heard:

* In general, the trustees said the college is in good financial and academic shape. Yield among admitted students is higher than expected, meaning that the dorms are crowded. This still is being debated but it's possible enrollment will go up in the coming years to 3,200 from 2,900.

* We are still able to attract good faculty members, but Edwards said we lose some minority candidates to other colleges because of stiff competition to hire them.

* On the staff level, Oberlin outsourced custodial and dining services on the ground that we had too many employees and they were being paid too much above average for the reason. Canavan denied that this was "union busting," as some alums have complained.

* Regarding Gibson's bakery, Canavan said it is a myth that the college did not try to settle the case and that when it was over, we tried to delay paying Gibson's. Canavan said we offered a high amount but the bakery refused to settle. The college was told it had a good case in court, but that obviously didn't prove to be true. The college still is talking to its insurers about how much they will pay. Canavan didn't divulge specifics.

* Some of you know that the trustees last fall changed the bylaws (and the historic Finney Compact) to clarify the administration's power vis-a-vis the faculty. Both trustees said there was a thorough discussion of all this with the faculty, which retains considerable power over the curriculum. One practical result is that the president may name the deans of the college and conservatory without being blocked by the faculty.

* Edwards described the “One Oberlin” plan as successful so far, removing the college's deficit while enhancing the curriculum. One program she praised is the Junior Practicum, described by the college as providing third-year students with a “unique and engaging opportunity to gain the skills and confidence to launch into a high-quality summer internship successfully.” Students who complete the program get up to $4,000.

* Both trustees agreed that there should be better communications from the trustees and the college administration with alumni about major developments on campus.

* One alum who has a son or daughter attending the college complained strongly about the inability of current facilities to handle the enrollment overload, citing students assigned to live in lounges and other crowding issues. The trustees were somewhat defensive about this, agreeing that dorms need to be improved but saying that major construction projects were delayed during the pandemic.

Overall, the trustees gave an upbeat and optimistic account of what was is happening at the college. As a member of the Alumni Leadership Council, I'm glad to provide more info or point you places where you can get it.