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Feven Getachew
May 6, 2024
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Michael Lozada
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Harvey Wilhelm
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No Limits Project incites debate through list of demands

Shortly before students left for spring break, fliers appeared across campus listing grievances and demands by the No Limits Project, a new organization of students seeking immediate administrative action on a variety of social justice, administrative, and institutional initiatives.

The group collected over 200 student signatures on a petition addressed to President Russell K. Osgood, Vice Presidents of the College, and the Board of Trustees outlining 14 requests and a timeframe in which each should be accomplished.

While most students were busy working on midsems the week before break, a group of student activists came together to create the group and push for changes they thought the administration had been too slow to enact.

“The No Limits Project came out of a lot of different people having the same conversations about being frustrated with the College [not] following up on social justice commitments, specifically things that had been promised and then not followed through on,” said Leah Krandel ’09, who was involved with the Project from the beginning.

The group describes itself as non-hierarchical and has named no individual leaders, aiming instead to make decisions communally in meetings open to all students. The group met each night of midsems week, crafting a list of 14 demands on a wide range of social justice issues, including issues of greater diversity on campus, socially responsible investing, and the school’s environmental commitment, all of which included specific dates by which the group expected results to be implemented.

The group looked at both the history of activism behind a topic and its relevance for their social justice mission when creating the list. “There needed to be either a history of student activism around them or it needed to be an obvious pressing issue that could be addressed relatively simply,” said Brian Perbix ’09, who was involved in all the meetings. “In the final stage of demands we were actually looking at concrete action that could be taken, and we had to be able to provide a time frame.”

On March 13, the list of demands was delivered in a letter to the President’s office andsent to the Board of Trustees and seven other senior members of the administration. The group also placed posters around campus listing their demands and encouraging students to become involved and visit their website,

On March 24, Osgood sent a response letter to the group, acknowledging the issues it addressed and concerns shared between him and the group. However, he expressed his inability to immediately fulfill demands. Osgood cited budgetary constraints due to the current economic downturn, and institutional limits to his authority.

In an interview, Osgood reiterated the positions in the response and underscored the boundaries of presidential power. “There were a bunch of things [in the letter] that looked like non-money things, but a lot of them involved [changes in] governance or me overriding committees,” he said.

Osgood maintained that students should feel comfortable communicating directly with administrators and expressed enthusiasm over No Limits social justice agenda. “It seems to me that’s exactly the kind of thing we will probably talk about when we move into the next strategic plan, which is probably a year off,” Osgood said. “[But] you can’t do everything new all at once. Some of the things we haven’t been able to do because the budget cuts have been tighter.”

Osgood stressed that with a smaller budget the College needs to focus on the parts of the current strategic plan it is already attempting to implement, such as filling the four faculty positions in the Expanding Knowledge Initiative.

“I didn’t see any recognition of where we are in the College’s budget,” Osgood said of No Limits’ letter. “I will tell you that if we add a bunch of positions, something will have to give. It will have to be the core academic program, financial aid, or we’re going to have to lay off people.”

Osgood also said that while he supported some of the issues the group put forth, the College cannot implement these changes without sustained student work on the projects. “When people come to me and they haven’t invested a lot of time or effort in doing committee work and spade work it’s hard for me to assess, should I throw out our strategic plan and do these things,” he said.

While many students have supported the group through signing the petition, others have shared Osgood’s concerns. Evan Ferrier ’08.5, who did not sign the petition, took issue with the tactics used by the group. “It is too idealistic, especially considering what’s happening to the budget and endowment,” Ferrier said.

He also said that the demands ignore support already offered by the administration. “I don’t think it’s productive, and it seems a
little bit ungrateful for how many things Grinnell students do have.”

“I have a lot of respect for people in the No Limits Project,” Ferrier said. “I’m sympathetic to a lot of their concerns. Their methodology is my biggest criticism.”

Gretel Carlson ’10 originally signed the petition, but now worries that the group might worsen tensions with administrators. “They need to be aware that if we have this adult-versus-kid kind of mentality that I see going on, or administrator-versus-student, then it’s not going to get us the things that we want,” Carlson said.

But students involved in the project have defended the approach taken, and particularly the use of the term ‘demands.’ “People have promised up front to do things, but have failed to follow through and have continually maintained this outward demeanor of agreement, but underneath is just a lot of resistance,” said Joe Hiller ’12. “It’s sort of setting a new paradigm in student-administrator relationships by reasserting a voice that is more strong and less willing to accept excuses as to why these things aren’t met.”

The group’s members plan to continue the efforts they started before break, and met throughout the past week to discuss how to encourage the administration to implement their demands. While still in the planning stages, according to the minutes from a group meeting that took place on Monday the group is focusing their future efforts on furthering campus education among students, reaching out beyond students to faculty and alumni, and discussing their complaints with prospective students during the upcoming prospective student weekends during the month of April.

“We’d really like to work with the administration and move forward,” Emily Stiever ’09 said of the group’s future plans. “But if there’s not movement on these different issues, we’re definitely planning on sticking with it, and sort of escalating our responses. That’s not a threat … but it’s important that this isn’t something that will just get dumped to a committee and go away, because that’s what kept happening in the past.”

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