This article is also available in print: Quaker Campus, Volume 19 – Issue 6, dated Nov. 17, 2021, on the Whittier College campus.
President Linda Oubré missed student contact the most after a year and half of being away from the campus. While her office hours this semester offered a chance for some students to meet with her and discuss campus life, some questions remained in the student community. The Quaker Campus sat down with President Oubré to discuss the questions and concerns floating around campus. With Whittier College making national headlines this year due to a donation from MacKenzie Scott and facing shifts in the environment of private higher education, President Oubré stressed the importance of communication in maintaining a transparent relationship between the Community and the College.
Where is the MacKenzie Scott Money Going?
In December of 2020, MacKenzie Scott donated over $4 billion to 384 organizations, including 35 colleges. Whittier College was among these, receiving $12 million from Scott in recognition of the College’s work to diversify higher education. A year later, the College has set many plans to help nurture the community into motion using these funds.
When the College announced the donation, administration reached out to alumni, students, staff, and faculty to get suggestions as to what the money should be used for. Some requests were slightly outlandish, such as giving the full $12 million to the football team, but, in the end, a plan was created to spend the money over a seven-year period on initiatives that promote racial, gender, LGBTQIA+, environmental, and general equity on campus.
Over the seven years, $6 million will be allocated to need-based scholarships. In the 2020 – 21 academic year, $1.1 million was distributed to 194 students with a family income under $50,000. Another $1 million was distributed during the 2021 – 22 to 240 third-year and fourth-year students with a family adjusted gross income of $100,000 or less. The scholarships typically ranged from $2,000 to $5,000 per student and were created to help close the gap of unmet financial need.
Each year, $300,000 goes to the Bayard Rustin Fellowship, which allowed for the hiring of English professor Douglas Manuel II and research fellow Daniel Harris. The College states that the fellowship is “a multi-year program aimed toward diversifying the faculty body and creating structural change to the College’s academic practices via a lens on equity.” While the Fellow is only one year, it has the potential of being renewed.
Students who were active on Handshake probably noticed the influx of Scott Internships for Whittier College students this year. Approximately $100,000 per year for six academic years has been allocated to new internships that are meant to provide professional experience and development for students who may not have had the opportunity to accept off campus internships. In addition to helping ready students for their post-graduation careers, the Scott money allows them to be financially compensated for their work.
For five consecutive years, $10,000 of the Scott money will be allocated to “Our Shared History” project, which is a way for students, working under paid internships, to interview Black alumni in order to unearth the Black history of Whittier College. Currently, three students — third-year Jai Battle, third-year Jayson Smith, and second-year Danni Salinas — are collaborating on this project with the Black Alumni Association and the Office of Alumni Relations. More students will join them in the Spring semester.
The Scott fund is designated to multiple other programs, as well — for example, $285,000 was allocated to staff who had pay cuts due to COVID-19. A total of $240,000 each is going to the Gender Equity Center and efforts toward Title IX and Sexual Misconduct Prevention by the 2026–2027 school year. $300,00 will be dedicated to the mental health and wellness of the Whittier College community; $450,000 will go to the Office of Equity & Inclusion; $180,000 will go to the Center for Environmental Justice. A hefty chunk of the money — $500,000 — will be dedicated to equitable access to technology for students.
The remainder of the Scott fund, a total of $1,345,000, is being put away in a discretionary fund for the President and CFO. Part of this money will pay for Nate Oubré’s position as the Director of Innovations and New Ventures.
What is the Office of Innovations and New Ventures?
The Office of Innovations and New Ventures has been in the works since 2018; Vice President of Innovation and New Ventures Timothy Anderson, who worked with President Oubré at another institution, was originally hired for this reason. He joined Whittier College with start-up experience; he took over fundraising and marketing, and added certificate programs (i.e. bilingual programs, education certs, etc.) to attract adult learners to WC and to expand the College’s student pool.
Currently, one of the goals of the Office is to find ways to avoid raising tuition costs. This could require new sources of revenue, and donations are a part of this. Bringing the office to fruition included nine months of meeting every other week to generate a business plan, which was finally presented in February of this year. One suggestion included the addition of online school to Whittier College as a permanent option rather than a side effect of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Regarding the hiring of her son, Nate Oubré, President Oubré said: “I did not hire my son. I did not make a position for him.” Rather, Nate Oubré applied through a public posting. He had nine years of start-up experience and an Ivy League degree to bring to the table. The hiring decision came from VP Timothy Anderson and Vice President and Chief Administrative Officer Cynthia Joseph. President Oubré explained that the Board approved of the funding for the position, and Human Resources confirmed that there was no conflict of interest in the hiring process. President Oubré also informed us that there is a history in higher education of trailing spouses, and many presidents have the right to hire family members as part of their hiring agreement. President Oubré removed herself from the hiring process, allowing VP Anderson and VP Joseph to hire without her inquisition. She has hope that the position will pay for itself.
How is President Oubré raising money for the College?
Whittier College hired President Oubré so that she could create revenue for the College. So far, according to Oubré, this has been a great success. Whittier College is currently $56 million in debt, and much of that debt has to do with the building of and maintenance of the Science & Learning Center. The building has created donor fatigue, as there is still so much left to pay off, which led to the need for new sources of revenue.
Speaking about diversity, equity, and inclusion with Whittier College alumnus has motivated more donations — i.e. the Annenberg Foundation donation, and, of course, the Scott fund; in addition to these, $50,000 has been raised for LGBTQIA+ scholarships thus far.
Questions about how to use funds that are not specifically dictated are usually directed to the Associated Students of Whittier College. There has been an overlapping interest between administration and ASWC in need-based scholarships. This need gap is closing for nearly 200 students thanks to the Scott fund; WC has seen its greatest retention in five years following the $12 million donation.
Whittier College currently has its largest endowment of $130 million. The CFO is actively closing out audited financial statements, and the $56 million in debt is being paid off with plans to move forward.
President Oubré has hosted two office hours this semester — one on Tuesday, Oct. 26, and the other on Monday, Nov. 15, both in a two-hour window in the afternoon, in which students could sign up for a 10-minute Zoom meeting. She encourages students to check their emails for office hours and come talk to her one-on-one. She is also available via email, firstname.lastname@example.org. One thing she missed most last year, during the quarantine portion of the COVID-19 pandemic, was student contact. She also believes that these office hours, and other points of communication with students, is a great way for students to get to know members of administration.
Featured Photo: Courtesy of www.whittier.edu