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Oberlin Announces Public Phase of Fundraising Campaign

Sep. 21, 2012

Amanda Nagy

Each year on the evening before Commencement, the entire Oberlin community gathers in Tappan Square, where hundreds of colorful Japanese lanterns cast a multihued glow across the green. A distinctly Oberlin tradition, illumination night is a celebration of the closing academic year and all that has been accomplished. As a tradition, illumination represents several layers of meaning: Oberlin illuminates spirit, ideas, possibilities, and actions. Oberlin illuminates the lives of those who come here to learn.

Oberlin Illuminate: A Campaign for College & Conservatory is a fundraising and engagement effort with a $250 million goal. The seven-year campaign aims to broaden access to an Oberlin education, strengthen the campus community, enrich the academic program, provide meaningful opportunities for alumni engagement, make Oberlin more competitive, and better position students for success after they graduate.

“These values have defined Oberlin for decades, and it is the gifts of alumni, parents, faculty, staff, students, and friends that will help ensure that Oberlin will continue to meet its challenges and commitments in the years to come,” says Bill Barlow, vice president of development and alumni affairs. “Oberlin Illuminate will sustain our commitment to academic, artistic, and musical excellence, and will advance our position as a humane and courageous leader in higher education.”

Four days of celebration and special events (September 20 to 23) kicked off the public phase of Oberlin’s fundraising campaign. During that weekend, the college held a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the reopening of the Apollo Theatre. The historic theater has just completed the second phase of renovations to restore and refurbish the main theater space while adding a state-of-the-art home base for the college’s cinema studies program.

Other campaign kickoff events included a panel discussion with four of Oberlin’s MacArthur fellows— Ralf Hotchkiss '69 (awarded 1989), Richard Lenski '77 (awarded 1996), Diane Meier '73 (awarded 2008), and Thylias Moss '81 (awarded 1996—and a conversation with alumni authors, including Ishmael Beah '04, Melissa Fay Greene '75, James McBride '79, Megan McDonald '81, and Josh Neufeld '89, moderated by Dan Chaon, Delaney Associate Professor of Creative Writing.

On Friday night, the college held a special September Illumination with music, pie, and festivities in Tappan Square to mark the fundraising campaign. Earlier in the evening, Jerry Greenfield ’73, cofounder of Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream, hosted an ice cream social and served up select flavors on the green.

Steering the vision and direction of the campaign is an executive committee, which includes campaign co-chairs Patricia Fabry Shanks ’63, Chesley Maddox-Dorsey ’81, and Harlan Waksal ’75; as well as Clyde McGregor ’74, chair of the Board of Trustees; Alan Wurtzel ’55, chair of the Development and Alumni Affairs Committee; and Oberlin College President Marvin Krislov.

The campaign will raise funds to support the following priorities:

  • Scholarships—$90 million
  • Faculty and faculty-student experience—$35 million
  • Curricular and co-curricular innovation—$40 million
  • Green Arts District—$20 million
  • Physical and emotional health and wellness—$15 million
  • Oberlin annual giving—$30 million

The $250 million goal includes $20 million in completed funding for the Bertram and Judith Kohl Building. Made possible by gifts from Stewart ’77 and Donna Kohl and others, the Kohl Building is home to one of the nation’s top jazz programs.

During the quiet phase of the campaign, gifts of $1 million or higher raised more than $80 million—surpassing gifts of this size during the entire duration of Oberlin’s last campaign that ended in 2004. To date, the campaign has raised $143.1 million.

Access and excellence

“This campaign is about the people who come to Oberlin — the experience they have here, and what they become,” says Krislov.

Oberlin’s $90 million target for scholarships—more than a third of the entire campaign goal—underscores both the commitment to access and the crucial role of fundraising in making good on that commitment. This additional funding, which will support both endowed and outright scholarships, will make millions of new dollars available for student scholarships each year.

Faculty and student experience

The campaign seeks to raise funds for new professorships and to broaden the ways faculty engage with students in and out of the classroom. Funding for faculty and faculty-student collaboration will create up to 12 new endowed professorships in the college and conservatory, and will provide support for collaboration, research, and performances across all departments in the college and conservatory, from astronomy and political science to musicology and opera.

Curricular and co-curricular education

“When students leave Oberlin, what’s important is that they can approach new questions, come up with new ideas, and constantly push at frontiers,” says Sean Decatur, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and professor of chemistry.

The campaign goal for curricular and co-curricular development will advance efforts to integrate the resources of Allen Memorial Art Museum and the conservatory into all areas of learning. Campaign dollars will support curatorial positions and internships to broaden use of the museum collection in teaching and research, and will fund the creation of cross-disciplinary course development. New funding also will accelerate the creation of a Center for the Advancement of Music and Related Disciplines, which will expand opportunities for students to perform with professional ensembles and promote interdisciplinary work and collaboration between students and faculty.

The total $40 million target will also endow the Center for Creativity and Leadership; support the new Center for Languages and Cultures; fund the creation of a new center whose goal is to integrate quantitative analysis and data-informed reasoning into all majors and programs; fund the development of writing-intensive courses across the curriculum; increase the potential for intriguing winter-term projects and unpaid internships for all students; and revamp the Career Center.

Green Arts District

The Green Arts District is a bold and visionary plan to transform a 13-acre site adjacent to Tappan Square in downtown Oberlin into a thriving and environmentally sustainable center for community and the arts. The first phase of the project is a far-reaching regional partnership with the city of Oberlin that involves urban revitalization, sustainable agriculture, the creation of green jobs, and development of a carbon-neutral energy strategy.

New funding will transform Hall Auditorium into a first-rate performing arts center, broadening opportunities in dance, theater, music, and opera. The project includes the replacement of Hall Annex with a new facility that will provide much-needed space for set construction and other uses. Included in the $20 million campaign goal is the renovation of the Oberlin Inn. The inn will become a LEED-rated hotel, conference center, and restaurant anchoring the southern end of the Green Arts District.

Health and wellness

The health and wellness goal will improve fitness facilities, as existing buildings and fields aren’t adequately meeting demand. Renovations will bring the Jesse Philips Physical Education Center — built in 1971 as a men’s gym — into the 21st century, creating well-equipped spaces for varsity athletics, physical fitness, and wellness. The renovation of Carr Pool will improve the aesthetics of this important resource and prolong its life. The campaign target of $15 million also will fund construction of a new Health and Wellness Pavilion[1].
New funding will convert the football field to synthetic turf and install new stadium lights, as well as broaden physical and mental health programming and increase staff, including the addition of a full time staff person with a social work background to enhance and better coordinate the outreach of the Counseling Center and Student Health Services.

Annual giving

Annual giving provides direct support for Oberlin and is vital to supporting everything from curriculum projects and library resources to microscopes in the science labs and music stands in the performance halls. Most annual giving—nearly 90 cents of every unrestricted dollar donated—supports scholarships and financial aid, making an Oberlin education possible for those who otherwise could not afford it.

Unlike capital giving or an endowment gift, which are oriented toward the future, the impact of an annual gift is immediate. In recent years, the college has made great strides in both the amount of annual giving and alumni percentage participation. To maintain that momentum, the campaign has a target goal of $30 million to help launch new programs and priorities.

To learn more about ways of giving, visit the Oberlin Illuminate campaign website:

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