of The College -
to Oberlins Alumni
S. Dye, President
Finney Chapel, May 26, 2002
is good to see so many alumni, parents, friends, and graduating
seniors here today.
always enjoy this chance to talk about the state of the College,
and this year there is a great deal to talk about.
think it will come as a surprise to anyone to hear me say that this
past year has been tough. Our academic year opened just a few days
before September 11. All of us found ourselves in utterly new, frightening,
and unexpected circumstances. We came together as a community to
help one another cope with the social and emotional aftermath of
terrorism and the outburst of ethnic and religious violence that
immediately followed the attacks. We have also struggled to come
to terms with our own ignorance of vast stretches of the world.
It is an anxious and uncertain time for all of us.
the past nine months our campus community has suffered the loss
through death of an unusually large number of its citizens. Just
weeks ago, we lost a student, Conservatory senior Leslie Roberts,
a gifted young composer who died tragically and unexpectedly.
faculty have also died over the past academic year: Geoffrey Blodgett,
member of the Oberlin Class of 1953 and professor of history; Norman
Care, professor of philosophy; Elisabeth Rotermund, lecturer in
German; Calvin Hernton, professor of African American studies; Jay
Humeston, teacher of chamber music; Denes Koromzay, professor of
chamber music and viola; and David Love, associate vice president
for research and development, our chief foundation grants officer,
and a longtime member of our philosophy department. We miss them.
Nor will it surprise you to learn that Oberlin, like virtually every
other American college and university, public and private, is dealing
with the realities of economic downturn, flat endowment performance,
and the need for stringent budgeting. I will talk about these matters
in more detail, but first I want to set this past year within the
fuller context of the last four years. By and large, they have been
extraordinarily successful for Oberlin.
particular, I want to talk about the progress Oberlin has made on
a set of strategic goals and initiatives endorsed by our Board of
Trustees with much enthusiasm in the fall of 1999. I will tell you
first what goals we set; then I will turn to our progress in reaching
admissions. Although Conservatory admissions have been consistently
spectacular over the last decade, it is no secret that College admissions
were sluggish throughout the late 1980s and much of the 1990s. As
late as 1995, Oberlin was admitting almost 74 percent of our applicants.
In 1999, we set what we believed to be achievable goals for significantly
improving our admissions picture over a five-year period. Within
the College, we wanted to attain an applicant pool of at least 5,000
high school seniors, an admit rate of 39 percent, and a yield rate
of at least 33 percent. We reaffirmed our commitment to Oberlins
mission by resolving to enhance the rich diversity of Oberlins
student body, keeping it not just a microcosm of American society,
but also of the world at large. In particular, we wanted to enroll
more international and double-degree students and make our student
financial aid fully competitive with our peer institutions.
Our second set of goals has involved improving and making more competitive
our faculty salaries, which had slipped considerably over a 25-year
period. In 1970, Oberlin stood first among leading liberal arts
colleges in the average salaries of its faculty in each of the professorial
ranks of assistant, associate, and full professor. But over the
next 25 years we steadily lost ground: by the late 1980s, Oberlin
was at the bottom of every professorial rank among our 16 benchmark
colleges, and there we stayed until the last few years. Given the
current major demographic transition under way within Oberlins
faculty, with many senior professors retiring and many positions
being filled by young, new Ph.D.s, we knew we had to address this
critical issue of faculty compensation.
set our goals at moving Oberlins salaries for assistant and
associate professors into the top one-third of our 16 benchmark
schools and making significant improvement in the salaries of our
full professors. This was no easy matter, because we had fallen
seriously behind, particularly with respect to full professors,
and because we have some tough competition, including Amherst, Pomona,
Swarthmore, Williams, Carleton, Grinnell, Bowdoin, Vassar, and Wesleyan,
most of whom have endowments considerably larger than Oberlins.
third set of goals is programmatic: we want to lower the Colleges
student-faculty ratio of 12:1 closer to 10:1, provide more small
classes to first- and second-year students, and implement a new
program of first-year seminars for all new students in the College
and the Conservatory. To achieve these goals, the Board authorized
a modest decrease in enrollment from 2,850 to 2,750 students and
the creation of 10 new faculty positions throughout the College
of Arts and Sciences.
finally, given the declining economic, educational, and social health
of our larger communityOberlin, Ohiowe set the goal
of collaborating with Oberlins government, schools, churches,
businesses, and community organizations to improve the quality of
life in our small northeastern Ohio town. To meet this end, the
Board of Trustees authorized us to work with the town to create
a community-college partnership.
happy to tell you that we have made very substantial progress in
each of these areas over the past four years. Oberlin is a significantly
stronger college today than it was several years ago, thanks in
large part to our Boards commitment to investing some of the
abundant recent growth of our endowment in the institution itself.
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