OBERLIN — Dozens of Oberlin College students, staff and alumni walked Monday from the student union to President Carmen Twillie Ambar’s office in hopes of saving the job of a staff member that was lost to budget cuts.
The Committee to Reinstate Tom Reid, led by 2014 graduate Johnnie Kallas, submitted a petition of about 1,100 signatures from community members, former and current students as well as others seeking Reid’s reinstatement.
Students Jody Shanabrook, a sophomore, Millie Frankel, a junior, and James Peake, a 2006 alumnus, also gave testimonials of Reid’s impact in their lives.
“Tom was a beacon of hope for students,” Shanabrook said. “You could go to Tom with any concern, with any accomplishment, with any idea, and he would respond with the utmost empathy and sincerity.”
Reid served about 38 years as faculty associate director of the student union and manager of Oberlin College Lanes as well as teaching two bowling courses. In the summer, Reid was chosen by the Board of Trusteesas as one of multiple staff members to be eliminated due to budget cuts.
After his termination, he found work at the Oberlin Public Library as a circulation clerk.
Kallas said he and others started gathering support from the community through the petition in September.
Ambar said the staff cuts were needed to improve the institution’s finances. Staff members were cut, pay raises were frozen and retirement benefits were curbed in order to address the need.
The college had a projected deficit of about $5 million for fiscal year 2018, according to a letter from Ambar, Board of Trustees Chair Chris Canavan and Vice Chair Chesley Maddox-Dorsey. If the budget was not addressed, the deficit would have grown to $9 million, the letter said.
A deficit that size is unsustainable, Ambar told the crowd, and could threaten the future of the college.
Additionally, Standard and Poor’s as well as Moody’s Investor Service downgraded the college’s outlook rating from stable to negative in July. Although the college’s long-term credit rating of AA from S&P — the second-highest rating that defines it as having a very strong capacity to pay money back — remained unchanged, the outlook only shows the rating as a possibility.
In order to ensure that outlook rating doesn’t come true and the deficit doesn’t increase, difficult choices must be made to improve the school’s finances, Ambar said.
The worst part, she said, is that they’ll probably need to do it again.
“I wish I had a different answer for you, that we didn’t have to do those things,” she said. “But it’s going to be difficult for us to ensure the longterm resiliency of the institution.”
Kallas told her that she has the power to reinstate Reid, but Ambar said it wouldn’t help the reason why he was cut. Kallas said Reid’s value was much greater than his cost.
“Nobody here is doubting that the administration has to make difficult decisions with regards to cost-cutting measures,” he said. “(But) we need to do that in a different way that does not involve taking away the position of someone who has worked here for 38 years.”
Kallas said the committee at least wanted its concerns heard and possibly get leaders to reconsider. Ambar said there will be times where she and the students and alumni will not agree, and this is certainly one of those times.
Ambar said in the future that she, the trustees, the community and faculty will try to make the cuts as thoughtfully as they can for the whole interests of the college. What she hopes they understand is that she does see the impact Reid has made in their lives and in the school, but the decision is for the greater good of the college.
The group left the office as Ambar was called to another meeting and regrouped in front of the administration building. Despite the setback, the group discussed making plans to research the school’s finances to confirm the trustees’ reason for terminating Reid’s position and strengthening the group. Kallas said the group also is organizing hundreds to call the administration and the Alumni Affairs Office to advocate for Reid’s reinstatement.
Although he understands the financial situation is difficult, Kallas said it will not stop him and his group from trying to bring Reid back.
“No matter what, this isn’t going away,” he said. “We’re not going to stop.”
Ambar couldn’t be reached for comment after the meeting.