Oberlin and Michigan--Working Together
When classes started this fall, Oberlin welcomed a new type of faculty member--the first two postdoctoral fellows in the partnership between Oberlin and the University of Michigan. Timothy von Compernolle, whose field is Japanese literature, and Peter Kalliney, a specialist in modern British fiction, received their PhDs from Michigan last year. They are in the vanguard of a new program that builds on the relative strengths of a premier college, on the one hand, and a major research university, on the other. The program may become a national model for collaboration between colleges and universities.
The partnership, in which Kalamazoo College is also a member, is designed to produce synergies for mutual benefit. Universities excel at research. Colleges are preeminent in teaching. But since each type of school engages in both, each can benefit from the strengths of the other. Michigan graduate students can profit from the rich teaching environment of a liberal arts college. Oberlin faculty can benefit from Michigan's extraordinary research riches.
The partnership's centerpiece is an exchange by which recent Michigan PhDs come to Oberlin (or Kalamazoo) for a two-year postdoc. While at Oberlin they teach two classes per year and are carefully mentored by teachers from the college faculty; the fellows are also able to work on converting their dissertation research into publication. In return, college faculty have the opportunity to go to Ann Arbor to engage in research-related activities with Michigan faculty and use the university's incomparable library and laboratory resources. They may spend as long as a year in residence there, or as little time as participating in a graduate seminar--the program is designed to be flexible. The first Oberlin faculty member to participate will be James Dobbins, professor of religion and East Asian studies, who will be in residence in Ann Arbor in spring 2002.
It is the differences between these institutions that make this type of collaboration beneficial. Oberlin faculty step into a ready-made program that enables them to expand and recharge their research and teaching by taking advantage of the cutting-edge advances in knowledge that university faculties produce. Oberlin also enhances its faculty with more fresh doctorates, who can expand our curricular coverage and contribute to intellectual ferment on campus. Conversely, Michigan benefits by using Oberlin or Kalamazoo to provide an intensive teaching experience that graduate programs usually cannot attempt.
The partnership reinforces the historically strong ties that have made Oberlin a prime recruiting ground for Michigan's graduate and professional programs and, conversely, made Ann Arbor a place from which the college often recruits professors.
The seed for this Midwestern partnership was planted on a Rocky Mountain peak. I proposed the idea to James Duderstadt, Michigan's president emeritus. (We were attending a conference on educational technology at Snowmass, Colorado.) An imaginative analyst of the future of higher education, he knows Oberlin well. Colleagues on both campuses embraced the idea and helped craft the program.
The partnership has already attracted national attention. The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has helped seed the collaboration with a generous grant of $900,000 over three years. Additional federal and foundation support is being sought. The three institutions also are committing their own resources, and a number of other liberal arts colleges have inquired about setting up similar programs with universities near their campuses. The promising partnership under way on the three campuses demonstrates how different types of schools can work together to further their common enterprise--teaching and research.
Clayton R. Koppes
Dean, College of Arts and Sciences, Oberlin College