Oberlin Alumni Magazine: Summer 2001 Vol.97 No.1
Feature Stories
When Worlds Meet
Visions of Oberlin
Safety Man
[cover story] Caught in the Act
Round Robin Takes Flight
Message from the President
Around Tappan Square
Extending Our Mission
Oberlin College has never built a wall around its campus. In this it is significantly different from many other American colleges. This lack of a wall gives architectural expression to Oberlin's conviction that an excellent education is grounded in engagement with the larger community. The New York Times put this well in 1983 when commemorating Oberlin's 150th anniversary: "In its century and a half, while Harvard worried about the classics and Yale about God, Oberlin worried about the state of America and the world beyond."

Last year I had ample occasion to appreciate this remarkable aspect of Oberlin's mission. Griff and I spent the fall and early winter of 2000 on sabbatical in Asia. Wherever we went, we found people who knew Oberlin.

Closer to home, many of us are thinking anew about the College's original covenant with its surrounding community and the ways in which the College's future health and the health of this small town are inextricably intertwined.

Oberlin, Ohio, is a town of some 8,200 people. Since the 1830s it has been a richly interracial community. But Oberlin has never been affluent, and over the past decades, due to the deindustrialization of much of the Midwest, Oberlin and all of Lorain County have suffered chronic economic stagnation.

A year ago we launched the Oberlin Partnership. This initiative, ably directed by Daniel Gardner '89, is a systemic effort to engage the College and community together to improve local education, recreation, housing, and economic development. Our most notable success over the past year has been the collaborative effort to keep the Allen Memorial Hospital in operation.

Nowhere are Oberlin's economic and social problems more apparent than in our public schools. Forty-five percent of our school children are eligible for the federal free-lunch program; 45 percent live in single-parent households; and up to 10 percent are growing up in foster care. Two years ago the State of Ohio declared Oberlin's public school system to be in a state of "academic emergency" based on student performance on state proficiency exams. This past spring test scores improved significantly, and our schools' rating was changed to "academic watch." But clearly, much more needs to be done.

One of the College's recent contributions is the Oberlin High School Scholarship Program. Starting this year, any four-year graduate of Oberlin High School who is admitted to the College or Conservatory will receive a tuition-free education at Oberlin College. This is one way of giving back to our community while helping to raise the expectations and aspirations of Oberlin children.

Another long-term goal is the reintroduction of a teacher-education program at the College. The confluence of a severe national teacher shortage, the vocational interests of our students and the needs of our local schools make a new and innovative teacher-education program a good fit for Oberlin.
By 2003 we hope that at least 20 of our graduates each year will stay on at Oberlin for a fifth year of teacher preparation and thereby be eligible for certification. In so doing, they would participate in a rigorous and experimental program grounded in the belief that a liberal education is the best preparation for teachers. They would also gain rich experience as student teachers in local public schools.

Given the critical shortage of teachers and the needs of our local community, many of us on campus are very enthusiastic about extending Oberlin's contemporary mission to include teacher education and, more broadly, a far greater College presence in Oberlin's public schools. I hope that you, as Oberlin alumni, will agree with me when I say that every child growing up in Oberlin, Ohio, should have an education immeasurably enriched by our College.
Nancy S. Dye
President, Oberlin College
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