Commencement

2010 State-of-the-College Address

2010 State-of-the-College Address

President Marvin Krislov's 2010 State-of-the-College Address

Thank you, Dwan for the kind words.

And thank you, Ian Tomesch for that magnificent performance. Would you please give another round of applause for Ian Tomesch?

I am delighted today to report that we have had an incredible year filled with landmark achievements, and that Oberlin’s future is bright.

Before I go into detail, allow me to introduce some of the people whose counsel, expertise and support are crucially important to Oberlin’s continuing success.

Would Robert Lemle, Class of 1975, and chair of the Oberlin Board of Trustees, and any other trustees and honorary trustees who are here today please rise and be recognized?

Please join me in thanking our trustees for their tremendous service to Oberlin.

Thank you.

 

Now to the many highlights.

We have had another superb admissions year. Applications for admission to the College of Arts and Sciences reached a record high for the twelfth consecutive year, topping 6,000 for the first time. The Conservatory had another outstanding pool of 1,365 young musicians. The quality of students admitted to the College and the Conservatory is excellent. Our incoming class will be one of the most racially and ethnically diverse--and most accomplished--in Oberlin history.

Here on campus, the intelligence, talent and drive of our students have earned them many awards and honors for their academic, artistic, musical achievements. To date, our graduates have been awarded 14 Fulbright Fellowships, as well as Coro, Truman, Compton Mentor, Goldwater, and National Science Foundation fellowships.

Financially, we are in much better shape today than we were one year ago. Our endowment has risen to approximately 630 million dollars, from the low 500s last year. Thanks to the diligence of our board of trustees and our financial staff, Oberlin is coming through the recession in better shape than many other colleges and universities.

Our relatively sound financial health meant we did not need to freeze hiring. In fact, the candidate pools for our faculty openings were stronger because other schools stopped hiring or cut positions.

Unlike many institutions we moved ahead with several landmark projects, all emphasizing sustainability. On May 1st, we opened the Bertram & Judith Kohl Building, new home to our jazz studies program. It will soon be recognized as the first music building in the world to receive the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design—or LEED--Gold rating. On May 3rd, our Williams Field House became Oberlin’s first LEED Gold building.

The current renovation of the Allen Memorial Art Museum is lowering its carbon footprint while upgrading its heating, cooling and storage. And in August, we will open our new North Professor St. Residence Hall--a 17 million dollar, first-year dormitory which we expect will earn at least a LEED silver rating.

Those exciting developments are just the beginning. Thanks to the efforts of our students, faculty and staff, Oberlin is receiving recognition from media around the world. Their reports spotlight the excellence of our programs, our people, our art, and our contributions to the cultural and intellectual life of this nation and the world.

At the White House in February, President Barack Obama awarded the National Medal of Arts--our nation’s highest arts honor--to the Conservatory of Music. That award is a tribute to the Conservatory’s faculty, students and leadership--past and present.

I want to acknowledge Dean David Stull for his extraordinary leadership of the Conservatory. David and I would like to thank a man who has made enormous contributions to the Conservatory’s success in his time as dean and as a professor of organ. David Stull and David Boe, would you please rise?

I would like now to ask all faculty, students, staff, alumni and parents associated with the Conservatory to please stand and be recognized for your role in winning the National Medal of Arts.

Thank you!

Oberlin also made news for our leadership in combating climate change and promoting sustainability. In March, Oberlin was selected as one of 18 projects to be a partner in the Climate Positive Development Program with the Clinton Foundation and the U.S. Green Building Council. The other projects are in cities such as London, Johannesburg, Stockholm and San Francisco.

The goal of this program is to reduce the impact of urban areas on global warming. Oberlin was selected because of the unique partnership that has evolved between the College and the City of Oberlin. The Climate Positive program showcases Oberlin as a global model for sustainable economic development and environmental education.

The Allen Art Museum is making news even though it is closed until next spring. While we are renovating the museum, some of the collection is traveling. Twenty of our pieces are currently on display in New York in Side by Side: Oberlin’s Masterworks at the Met. The New York Times raved about that exhibition, writing—“almost every Oberlin piece is something the Met would probably love to own”. The show is at the Metropolitan Museum of Art until August 29th. An expanded version will open at the Phillips Collection in Washington D.C. in October.

Those museums jumped at the chance to show our art works. That tells you how highly they regard our collection. No other college or university art museum I know of has received such royal treatment from two of America’s finest art museums. Stephanie Wiles, the Allen’s director, and her team did a brilliant job in making this happen. Stephanie, would you please rise?

We have also been generating news here on campus. On May 1, we celebrated the opening of the Kohl Building. It is a one-of-a-kind facility, combining high-level sustainability with open, free-flowing architecture inspired by jazz. I urge you to tour it.

Our celebration of the Kohl Building was one for the ages. There were many fantastic events and moments. Awarding honorary degrees in Tappan Square to Drs. William and Camille Cosby and to Dr. Stevie Wonder was inspiring. Dr. Bill Cosby’s tales of family life were funny and thought-provoking. And the concert here in Finney Chapel featuring the Oberlin Jazz Ensemble directed by Professor Wendell Logan—lifted audiences here and in packed overflow sites at the Apollo and Warner Concert Hall.

Professor Logan could not be here today. But he deserves great credit for building our superb jazz program. What a treat it was to see him on stage leading an all-star cast of current Oberlin jazz students and illustrious jazz alumni.

Did I mention Stevie Wonder was here? He played the second half and was spectacular. Leaving the stage, he said, “Dr. Stevland loves Oberlin.” And we love him.

Media around the world reported on our celebration. But many reports overlooked one key fact. The Cosbys and Stevie Wonder, who have no direct ties to Oberlin, came and performed at their own expense. They did that because they understand Oberlin’s special role in American higher education. They appreciate the positive effect Oberlin graduates have on the world. And they want to ensure that students from every walk of life can come here to develop their minds, talents and creativity.

The historic Apollo Theater is also garnering media attention. This past October we reopened the renovated Apollo with help from television’s super star writer and producer Jim Burrows, from our Class of 1962, his wife Debbie, and Oberlin parents Danny DeVito and Rhea Perlman.

The College purchased the Apollo because we knew how much it meant to this community. We wanted to ensure its survival as a movie house. We also saw its educational potential.

Just a few days ago, we screened our first student film showcase there. Now we are working to create a media education center at the Apollo where Oberlin school children and community members can learn to tell their stories in film and video. On June 14th, the Apollo Outreach Initiative is launching its first annual summer media workshop for teens.

As if that weren’t enough excitement, we are currently celebrating the opening of the East College Street project. This mixed-use residential and commercial development—located just east of the Apollo—was the brainchild of three Oberlin environmental studies graduates--Naomi Sabel, Class of 2002, Josh Rosen, Class of 2001, and Ben Ezinga, Class of 2001

Naomi, Josh and Ben, would you please rise?

The project testifies to their entrepreneurial drive and determination. Just two weeks ago, their first tenant, a café featuring live music, opened to great fanfare. Our new Alumni Association Center and several student art galleries will also open this fall in the complex.

Last but not least, Ms. Yoko Ono was here two weeks ago for a fascinating Convocation lecture as part of our Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month celebration. She visited Oberlin because her grandfather—Mr. Yeijiro Ono—graduated in 1887 with a bachelor’s of philosophy degree. Her great-uncle also studied here. Mr. Yeijiro Ono also created an annual prize that promotes East Asian Studies at Oberlin. Ms. Ono’s visit reminds us of Oberlin’s historic ties to Asia through Oberlin Shansi’s exchange programs.

Oberlin’s positive effect on the lives of people around the world is the thread that connects our distinguished history and our dynamic present. Over the years, our values, vision, and actions have improved the education, the health and the lives of millions of men, women and children on every continent.

At the end of his performance, Dr. Cosby praised Oberlin’s many contributions. He is proud to support Oberlin, he added, because this place was not a done deal. Dr. Cosby meant that when Oberlin’s board voted in 1835 to encourage a policy of admissions inclusion, it was not at all clear that this policy would be supported and would survive.

Dr. Cosby knows his Oberlin history. The historic resolution to encourage and sustain the education of people of color was passed only after a tie vote by our board of trustees was broken by that board’s chair, John Keep.

That decision, and Oberlin’s decision in 1841 to award bachelor’s degrees to women in a co-educational program altered the course of history. Of course racism and gender bias did not suddenly disappear because of Oberlin’s actions. But our leadership laid the foundation for the civil rights, women’s rights and human rights movements. That is our legacy, our identity, and our pride.

No, Oberlin is not a done deal. Our mission and success are not guaranteed. They require ongoing support from all of us, and help when needed from others who share our belief that an Oberlin education transforms lives for the better.

Since this college was founded in 1833, the visionary thinking and actions of Oberlin graduates have positively affected millions of lives.

Think of Charles Martin Hall inventing aluminum. Or Robert Millikan measuring the charge of the electron. Or John L. Dube founding the African National Congress. Or abolitionist Lucy Stone leading the fight for women’s rights. Oberlin has never stopped leading the way. If I were to read off all the honors and accomplishments of just our current faculty, alumni and students we would be here into the night.

Suffice it to say we are deeply proud of the fact that three Nobel laureates and seven MacArthur Fellows graduated from Oberlin. Two MacArthur Fellows, Julie Taymor, from the Class of 1974, and Dr. Diane Meier, from the Class of 1973, will receive honorary degrees in Tappan Square tomorrow.

We are also proud that Oberlin is one of the top contributors to programs like the Peace Corps and Teach for America, and that Oberlin graduates have excelled in science, business, medicine, law, music, and so many other fields.

But our past and current success raises important questions about Oberlin’s future.

  • How do we sustain our momentum?
  • Where do we go from here?
  • How do we make Oberlin an even more attractive and interesting community for prospective students, faculty, staff, and residents?
  • How do we ensure our students have access to an Oberlin education and to opportunities for meaningful careers and lives?
  • And how do we, as our forebears did, confront the pressing issues of our time in an educational context?

Looking at what we have achieved, I am convinced that Oberlin will remain a leading force in liberal arts education, music, and social progress for generations to come. Achieving this depends on our working together as a community and reaching out to those outside Oberlin who share our vision for this College and this town.

Even as we savor our current success, we are facing many challenges. The biggest is financial. That is not news. Raising money has always been a challenge for Oberlin. Its visionary leadership came at a price. Four years after the historic vote in 1835, the College was nearly bankrupt.

We have come a long way since 1839. The near-term survival of the College is not in doubt. But the future of liberal arts education is at risk. Liberal education, particularly in colleges like ours, is expensive. Some critics argue that liberal education is too costly and that it is increasingly irrelevant in our post-industrial society. They say we need more technicians and narrowly focused specialists.

But we also need leaders who possess what Professor Louis Menand calls the “imaginative and dynamic eclecticism,” provided by liberal arts graduates.

That is what we teach. We educate well-rounded men and women. Our students are thought-leaders and creators. They graduate with effective research, writing, critical analysis and problem-solving skills. They gain deep and broad knowledge of multiple subjects. They learn a holistic approach to academic inquiry that applies to many endeavors. They learn to see the world from a nuanced, global viewpoint. And they learn to work extremely hard as individuals and in teams.

In practical terms this means when employers and graduate programs see Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Music, Oberlin College 2010, on an application or a resume they read that one closely. We know this because employers and graduate schools tell us that an Oberlin degree jumps out.

An Oberlin degree means this woman or man knows how to learn. And he or she knows how to place information into a broad and meaningful context. A professional school, for example, will teach you what you need to know to succeed in that field. But a liberal arts education provides awareness of the layers of history and culture that can mean the difference between a successful product launch and a failure. At Oberlin, our students develop that understanding.

We are mindful of how competitive the job market is. To help connect our students to prospective employers we have been building co-curricular opportunities. These include the Cole Scholars internships for electoral politics, Oberlin Business Scholars, Oberlin Law Scholars and our entrepreneurship program Creativity and Leadership.

We chose that title because it exemplifies what Oberlin graduates bring to any endeavor. The New York Times recently wrote a positive piece about the student fashion design competition organized by our Creativity and Leadership program. You can purchase the winning designs at the College bookstore, although I am told we are running out and need to restock because they are so popular.

These programs give our students an inside look at specific fields and direct contact with alumni who are leaders. Such opportunities did not exist here in the past. Our students value these programs. But providing them costs money.

The cost of an Oberlin education is, to my mind, the best investment you can make. From the first day your son, daughter or grandchild sets foot on this campus, he or she is taught by full faculty members—not graduate teaching assistants.

Our faculty members are recognized for their excellence and innovation in the classroom. They are passionate about teaching, and are very, very accessible to our students.

Oberlin professors are also recognized as experts in their fields. Their scholarship, writings and research are first-rate. The grants they receive from organizations such as the National Science Foundation often open research opportunities for our students. Oberlin produces more graduates who go to earn PhDs than any other baccalaureate college in America. That is a tribute to the enduring value of our tradition of student-faculty collaboration on research.

Oberlin’s achievements testify to the relevance and the importance of this College and Conservatory. But where do we go from here? Building on the success of our Strategic Plan, we are looking ahead to the next stage in our development. Our plans for the future are visionary. But realizing their full potential is going to require a new level of investment in Oberlin’s future.

That is why we are preparing the Oberlin Campaign. This will be a seven-year, comprehensive campaign to raise the financial resources needed to secure the College's core educational mission for at least the next decade. Its focus is on key priorities essential to our future success.

Access is a top priority. Oberlin meets the demonstrated financial need of every admitted student. Due to the weak economy, we are seeing unprecedented demand for financial aid. This year, we will provide 52 million dollars in financial aid to about 71 percent of our students. That is a huge commitment considering our annual operating budget is about 160 million dollars. We are also committed to minimizing the loan burden on our least-advantaged students—those qualifying for Federal Pell Grants.

Access is one of the pillars on which Oberlin was founded and stands. Access drives the diverse, inclusive, and vibrant campus culture for which we are famous. The vast majority of our students still come from middle and working class families.

We need to increase scholarship support so that an Oberlin education remains available to all talented students regardless of economic circumstance.

Another top priority is financial support for building the finest faculty and for pursuing curricular and co-curricular innovation. Oberlin is a leader in interdisciplinary study. Our students also acquire valuable skills on their own through student organizations such as the CO-Ops, the Oberlin Review and the O Circus.

We also need new athletics facilities to support essential health and wellness activities and programs. These programs build a healthy community, and allow us to compete with other colleges. While we have made progress on our facilities—such as the new Robert Kahn Track, the Fred Shults soccer field, the Hunsinger Tennis Courts and the Williams Field house, we still need to work on our gym. It does not meet our needs and must be improved.

To make Oberlin an even more attractive destination for prospective students, faculty, and residents, we are also working to create a Green Arts District on the east side of Tappan Square.

This project is critical for the long-term viability of the College and community. Renovating the Allen and the Apollo Theatre are first steps towards this goal. The Green Arts District is being supported by donations, and also by private-sector investment, historic district tax credits and government funding.

In the years ahead we hope to renovate and build new visual & performing arts facilities and a new Oberlin Inn & conference center. The district eventually may include new student residences and academic space. It will support new interdisciplinary curricular development around sustainability themes.

The Green Arts District is part of a broader effort called The Oberlin Project that is the centerpiece of our partnership with the Clinton Climate Initiative and the Green Building Council. This vision will guide the long-range planning for Oberlin College, the City of Oberlin, the local schools, and the surrounding region. Both projects will be implemented in phases over a period of years.

I spoke earlier about the challenges that confronted the college in its early years. Then as now the central issue was raising money. By 1839, Oberlin College was almost broke. Its staunchest financial backers had been wealthy America abolitionists, such as Arthur and Lewis Tappan in New York. But the Tappan brothers had suffered severe financial setbacks. They could offer little help. Oberlin’s funds were dwindling. Its survival was very much in doubt.

So Keep and his fellow trustee William Dawes journeyed to Britain in May 1839, to try and raise funds from the abolitionist community. For the next 18 months, the two men traversed Britain lecturing about Oberlin in private homes, meeting houses and church halls. In June 1840, they participated in the first World Convention of the Anti-Slavery Society in London.

They were greatly aided in their fundraising by some prominent members of the Society of Friends. Many of their contacts and opportunities were created by an informal network of politically engaged, activist women. One of them was Harriet Martineau, a writer and intellectual now considered to be the world’s first sociologist.

Marlene Merrill, a documentarian and expert on Oberlin’s early history, and Roland Baumann, our archivist emeritus, have done considerable research on Keep and Dawes’ mission and the role of women in supporting it. I thank them for sharing their findings with me.

I hope you know how this story ends. Otherwise we would not be here today. The two trustees returned from England with $30,000 in gold. That sum was roughly equivalent to the College’s total operating budget for four years during the 1840s. In today’s terms, unadjusted for inflation, that would be the equivalent of 640 million dollars.

Those donations saved Oberlin. Keep and Dawes also brought back over 2,000 donated books, which formed the core of our great library. In the Oberlin Archives in Mudd Library we have the small, black ledger book in which the two men recorded donations.

The entries speak volumes. Upon learning about Oberlin’s mission and plight, men, women and children donated funds. Some chose to give anonymously. Some were extremely generous. Harriet Martineau gave hundreds of pounds. Others gave whatever they could spare. An entry from London reads simply….Youths……6 pence.

Think about that. Most of these donors never set foot in the United States. Yet some continued to send money to Oberlin each year for the rest of their lives. Total strangers, even children, supported this College and this town.

They gave because they believed that Oberlin’s actions and ideas were important. They gave because they believed that admitting students regardless of their race or socio-economic circumstances was right. They gave because they believed that by educating men and women together, and by opposing slavery, Oberlin would change the world for the better.

They were right. Oberlin did. And we still do. Oberlin teaches men and women to nurture their minds, to nourish their souls, to learn from their differences, and to engage with the most difficult issues. Our students, our faculty and our graduates lead meaningful lives that make the world better.

Now it is our turn to safeguard Oberlin’s legacy. You know how this College changed your lives. You know the profound effect Oberlin’s graduates have had on millions of lives around the world. You know the transformative work that takes place here. The extraordinary year we are having testifies to that.

Now it is our time to carry Oberlin forward. We know this is one of the world’s great colleges and conservatories. We know that our graduates change the world. By working together, by innovating, and by pursuing excellence, we will build an even greater future for our College, our community, and our world.

Thank you.