On the surface, the “One Oberlin” plan to replace 108 UAW members with cheap labor seems straightforward and rational. As the administration has communicated many times, Oberlin is in a deep financial crisis and needs to make cuts to save the institution. Therefore, wouldn’t it be sensible to make cuts to what makes up the majority of the budget — personnel? Shouldn’t all parties make some sacrifices?

If workers and managers were equal in power, we could talk about sacrifices. Clearly, that is not the case. When we take a clear look at the power dynamic at work in Oberlin, we see that this threat of layoffs is a power move, not merely a matter of crunching numbers. The administration does not just want to pay workers less, but views the UAW as a barrier to its administrative schemes. In the College’s short-sighted vision, organized labor is a mere inconvenience.

Of course, Oberlin is currently in difficult financial straits. But we have to ask ourselves, what is the “Oberlin” worth saving? There are only two real choices forward. One is austerity, meaning the acceleration of administrative power, the destruction of unions and collective decision making, and the transformation of Oberlin into a soulless career training center. In The Shock Doctrine, Naomi Klein highlights how administrators tactically capitalize on moments of crisis and austerity programs, using these moments to impose unpopular marketization policies that erode democratic decision making.

Oberlin has attempted to destroy the UAW since the 1990s. With the current financial crisis, the Oberlin administration is enacting a state of emergency in which they consolidate their power. Despite the fact that administration got us here in the first place, labor pays the price. Why don’t we focus our scrutiny on our administration, whose misguided decisions have made Oberlin’s finances unsustainable, not the working people who sustain it?

Post-AAPR, Oberlin’s administration has limited its horizon to “fiscal management.” They have used the rhetoric of “One Oberlin” to protect one particular Oberlin — that of administrators. The truth is, there is no “One Oberlin”: the interests of the workers and the administration are diametrically opposed. One stands for exploitation and top-down control, the other stands for the dignity of labor and an egalitarian community. The rhetoric of unity only obscures the conflict between the administration and its labor force.

Instead, let’s expand our horizons and reimagine what “Oberlin” is. In her email announcement and her comments at the General Faculty Meeting, Ambar admitted that Oberlin’s academic mission and the “long-term health of the institution matter more than its commitment to social justice. Ambar is right that Oberlin College is at an important juncture.

The right path forward for Oberlin excludes College presidents, vice presidents, deans, and, most importantly, Trustees. Oberlin’s transformation should center the people who make this institution work: its employees, and expand their power over their working conditions. At this important moment, Oberlin could transition away from market-oriented management to a democratically run and democratically minded institution. Oberlin should rededicate itself toward advancing social justice, not market competitiveness nor academic prestige — a move that would shore up its institutional integrity instead of jeopardizing it.