State of The College -
Address to Oberlin’s Alumni

Page 4

Because the visual arts are thriving, we have outgrown the spaces they now occupy. The strength of our studio program and the excellence of our museum will depend upon new spaces. A visual arts building and a new, centrally located black box theater for student theater and dance productions are critical needs. We have engaged Frederick Fisher, a distinguished architect based in Los Angeles, to design a new studio facility and help us prepare for a new addition to the museum and to integrate and make the best use of all our visual arts spaces. Mr. Fisher has a specialty in designing and building art spaces, including the Long Beach Museum of Art, the new studio building at Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles, the P.S. 1 Contemporary Arts Center in New York City, and a current project, the Berlinische Gallerie, in the Berlin Municipal Art Museum.

We selected Fred Fisher as our architect for many reasons: we like the beauty, energy, imagination, and contemporary style of his buildings and his sensitivity to site and context. In our case, this is particularly important, given that our new studio building will be sited cheek-by-jowl with Cass Gilbert’s and Robert Venturi’s contributions to the Oberlin campus. It is also a plus that Fred is an Oberlin graduate, Class of 1971, one of the many who found at Oberlin a great education in art.

Finally, our Oberlin College/Oberlin, Ohio, partnership is going well, particularly our work with the public schools. A proposal for a new teacher education program for Oberlin students that will involve a fifth year of intensive preparation will soon be on its way to Columbus for approval by the state department of education. Our Oberlin Scholarship Program, which provides a full-tuition scholarship for any young person who grows up in Oberlin, graduates from Oberlin High School, and is admitted to Oberlin College, is going very well. Five Oberlin High School graduates will be part of our entering class this coming fall.

More important in the long run is our work with the schools to help raise the expectations and aspirations of young people growing up in this community. As we become more engaged with our local community, we become more aware that the health of Oberlin College is bound up with the health of Oberlin, Ohio.

It will not come as a surprise to many you, given current economic circumstances, that Oberlin, like every other college and university, must now tighten its belt. The recession that we are experiencing began to affect Oberlin in the spring of 2001—about the time that this recession officially began—and the events of September 11 abruptly accelerated the economic downturn we were already experiencing. Like many leading institutions of independent private education, we will run a budget deficit this year; in Oberlin’s case it will total about $3.5 million.

Our endowment has lost ground, as has every major endowment. From its high of about $610 million in the spring of 2000, it fell to approximately $550 million by September 30, 2001. We have recovered some ground since then, but we will achieve only a modest single-digit return by the end of June 2002. We project that the income we will be able to draw down from the endowment over each of the next three years will remain the same. This has real implications for Oberlin’s operating budgets over the next few years. Endowment income—our second most important source of income after tuition—will stay constant at about $34 million a year, while our costs for salaries and wages, health care, energy, library materials, and other necessities will continue to rise, often well beyond the growth of the Consumer Price Index.

Of these continuing costs, rapidly rising health care expenses are especially problematic for us. Our employee health care costs over the past two years have risen by 92 percent, from about $5 million in the year 1999-2000 to more than $9.6 million in this academic year. We are not alone: many American colleges and universities—indeed, many businesses and nonprofit organizations of all sorts—have experienced similar increases, and we are told that we must expect equally steep increases over the next few years. We cannot expect any changes in U.S. public policy to help us solve this problem. We must address it ourselves.

Oberlin is in a very good position, financially and otherwise, to weather this downturn and address what is an entirely manageable set of problems. In no way are we experiencing a financial crisis, but we are in for a few years of significant bother. Over the past several months, we have been aggressively addressing our budget issues and health care costs so we can maintain and enhance the improvements we have made over the past few years. Our primary concern is to preserve and enhance our core mission of teaching and learning. There, too, we are fortunate to have the resources to continue pushing toward meeting all of our strategic objectives in admissions, faculty salaries, and curriculum and academic programs. In all of our decision making, Oberlin is and will continue to be guided by our strong commitment to academic excellence, equity, diversity, and generosity.

The past four years have been critically important for Oberlin’s future. The next few years may well be even more critical. In these years of budgetary stringency, we must consolidate and secure the gains we have realized and build on our accomplishments. Oberlin’s future depends on it.

And so I am unabashedly asking each of you to help us. Whether it is for gifted young musicians or future biologists, student scholarships, faculty salaries, research, or for the new Science Center or our new art building, we need your support now more than ever.

I leave you with one final thought. As some of you know, my husband, Griff, and I spent the fall of 2000 on sabbatical leave traveling throughout Asia. I learned a great deal, including quite a bit about Asian higher education. Everywhere Griff and I went—through Japan, Indonesia, India, China, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan—I was asked to speak to the faculty, deans, and presidents of Asian universities about American higher education.

Interestingly, I was always asked to address two issues. The first of these was governance and finance—in particular, governance of independent American colleges and universities. There is a strong movement throughout Asia to make universities more autonomous, free from the state in matters of faculty, curriculum, and funding.

The second issue was liberal education. This really surprised me. Yet Asian educators wanted to understand how American undergraduate education manages to educate young adults so broadly and prepare them so well for a rapidly changing economy, rapidly developing technologies, and a dramatically changing world.

My encounters with Asian educators made me realize more clearly than ever before of the importance of that unique American contribution to higher education: the liberal arts college. What is more, my experiences helped me realize that the future of both liberal arts education and liberal arts colleges is more important than ever before.

With your help, Oberlin—our College—is exceptionally well positioned for what lies ahead.

I thank you for everything you are doing for this College. It is an honor and a pleasure for me to serve as the president of this great institution.

More coverage of reunion and commencement weekend will appear in the fall issue of OAM.

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