A college president’s duties focus increasingly on fundraising and budget management, especially in these challenging economic times. That certainly holds true for me. But in nearly a decade as a college and university administrator, I have chosen to teach at least one course a semester, usually to undergraduates. Some of my peers have questioned my sanity for doing this, but I plan to continue.
Teaching undergraduates, especially the outstanding students Oberlin attracts, is as rewarding as anything I have ever done. It reaffirms my belief in the importance of liberal arts education and stokes my enthusiasm for my primary duties.
Oberlin’s central mission is teaching. That mission is carried out by our faculty of superb teacher-scholars. By teaching students, rather than meeting them in the course of my duties, I better understand what our faculty and students do most of the time. I experience the pressure of taking and grading midterms, finals, and research projects. I share the disappointment when the only copy of a text disappears from closed reserve, or the research librarian comes down with the flu as the assignment due date nears. Teaching helps me feel the pulse of campus life, even as I devote most of my attention to matters such as endowment returns, capital campaign preparations, and campus parking.
Teaching also compels me to stay current with my subjects. Courses I teach cover the evolving areas of campaigns, elections, and public education as viewed from a public policy/legal perspective. In my classroom discussions, I encourage students to draw upon current events and their own experiences. I often learn new things from them or gain insights on ways to approach issues differently.
Being in the classroom and meeting with students on academic topics broadens the range of students I get to know. Too often administrators know only the student government leaders, the star athletes or performers, the campus activists, and students with personal issues or challenges requiring an institutional response. By connecting with a broader range of students, I come to know their life stories, which can be compelling.
I continue teaching because I know that after two hours in the classroom, I will walk out inspired. Inspired by Oberlin’s students, who are applying their idealism and talents to the challenges we face. Inspired to tackle the college’s financial and fundraising concerns. And inspired to tell the world about the remarkable people—teachers, scholars, students, and you, our alumni—who make Oberlin one of the world’s great colleges and conservatories.