Outside the Cox Administration Building doorway stands a kiosk on
which Dye tacks written responses to student queries. Recent posts
have asked about the Colleges food supplier and contract negotiations
with unionized service workers. Dye answers email, often has students
to dinner at her home, and boasts of her open-door policy. She
does have her critics, but the pervasive sense among students is
that Nancy is part of them, says Ireta Kraal,
a senior visual arts major. Among the administrators, she
is among the most open and respectful of our opinions. She really
listensthats her strong suit.
Dyes remarks to a gathering of Oberlin parents in 1998 inspired
a father to repeat them in his regular television commentary on
ABCs World News Now: At Oberlin College
in Ohio over the weekend, I heard the College President, Nancy Dye,
say one lesson that college students needed to learn was how to
disagree without demonizing those who differ. Thats
a lesson sometimes unlearned at Oberlin, she said. Students
need to learn how to deal with disagreement.
Student relations were given a boost last year with Dyes creation
of an ombudsperson position and campus dialogue center. Both are
designed to foster communication, resolve conflicts, and promote
change through mediation and community building. It was Nancys
vision to offer a place where people are empowered to resolve their
own disputes, says Ombudsperson Yeworkwha Belachew. She
believes that people do better when they own the outcomes of their
Another priority has been the recruitment of first-rate faculty
members to fill the void left by large numbers of retiring professors.
With the blessing of the trustees, Dye has been able to create 10
new faculty positions which will help reach the desired 12:1 student-faculty
ratio and enable all first-year students to enroll in small freshman
She also remains tremendously committed to attracting and retaining
a culturally diverse staff and student body. Diversity is
enormously important to me, says Dye, remembering that the
number of black graduates crossing the stage in 1995her first
Oberlin commencement ceremonywas far fewer than she had expected.
A few months later she commissioned a study on black student retention
that revealed the importance of community service, multicultural
activities, and student government. Even with new programs in place
and Oberlins growing reputation as a best college
for African Americans, Dye admits that there is still considerable
room for improvement.
We have to think about how to build upon our strong reputation
as a college truly committed to diversity, she says. Were
thinking a lot about making ourselves into a more international
institution. Curriculum expansions in Central Asian, Korean,
and African studies have already occurred, and recent winter term
projects have taken students and faculty to China, India, and Indonesia.
Dye is working with the Shansi program to establish an Oberlin center
in Asia, a prospect that has piqued the attention of several major
foundations. She herself spent the fall 2000 semester traveling
in Asiastrengthening relationships that Oberlin already has
in Japan, Indonesia, and China, and looking to create new ones in
Almost any conversation with Dye these days touches on the Colleges
renewed relationship with the city of Oberlin, a partnership, she
says, that is vital to the future well-being of both. The seed was
planted shortly after her arrival in 1994, when the College received
an anonymous $500,000 gift that laid the groundwork for a formalized
avenue of student volunteer opportunities in Lorain Countya
wonderful head start, Dye said then, for our ambition
to revitalize Oberlins historic commitment to community service.
The resulting Center for Service and Learning, a clearinghouse through
which community agencies, schools, and organizations could tap the
services of students, inspired a $3.5 million gift just two years
later to endow its operation. Donors Jane and Eric Nord said they
made their gift to sustain Nancy Dyes vision of the
importance of community service to Oberlin College and Lorain County.
Next, Dye set out to help mend the problems in her own backyard.
A year-long dialogue between College and town leaders concluded
that the Oberlin community, although surrounded by a robust national
economy, was threatened by troubles: a 26 percent poverty rate,
scarce affordable housing, a dearth of youth recreational programs,
declining sales among downtown merchants, and dismal K-12 student
performances on state academic proficiency tests. With the trustees
pledging more than a quarter million dollars, the Oberlin Partnership
was launched in an effort to link the Colleges resources with
community improvement goals.
The College has always done financial things for the city,
but up until Nancys tenure there has never been a will in
the administration to go into active partnership with the schools
and town to improve the entire community, says Dennison
Smith, professor of neuroscience and a member of the Oberlin City
School Board. She does want to strengthen things at this institution
that are good.
In just 18 months, the nascent community partnership has paid off.
The College rescued the citys floundering local hospital by
purchasing the land and leasing it back to the Oberlin Medical Center
for $1 per year. Trustees committed $500,000 to the Lorain County
Metroparks toward the construction of a $4.5 million aquatic center
scheduled to open this summer in Oberlin. Graduates of Oberlin High
School who are admitted to the College can now attend tuition-free;
four are among the class of 2005.
I dont know why we never thought to do this before,
Dye wonders aloud. But she cautions that it will take a significant
and long-term commitment by the College to improve all of the schoolsfrom
grades kindergarten through 12for such a benefit to pay large
and meaningful dividends in helping the community and in creating
new educational sympathy.
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