It’s the great divide, right here at Oberlin College. The Conservatory. The College of the Arts and Sciences. As a student of the College, entering the Con is like entering a whole new, self-contained world, one building large. For one who has most classes in the Con, leaving that world can be just as scary.
“We’re so individually governed that going across the street can be a daunting task,” said Associate Professor of Music History Charles McGuire.
In addition, the competitive nature of the Con can cause Arts and Sciences students to shy away from it.
“I feel like a lot of college students are sort of intimidated by the Conservatory and the students in it. The Con is an excellent resource but the general consensus is that it’s only for Connies,” said College sophomore Anjali Chaudhry.
This feeling is less strong for double degree students who straddle the split.
“As a double degree student, I don’t feel like there’s much of a divide,” said double degree sophomore Keith Yoder.
Conservatory Dean David Stull believes that the rift is caused by the fact that the Con is a professional training program, while the very nature of liberal arts is to allow for flexibility and exploration in regards to career choice. He and his collogues, however, ensure that much of the mystery surrounding the Con is folklore.
“Oberlin is a place that’s interested in crossing boundaries and asking questions about those boundaries,” said Associate Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences Nicholas Jones.
A committee has been formed with the intent of crossing the divide through interdisciplinary classes.
“This is a time when we can start to dream about the incredible assets of the college as a whole,” said Jones.
Museum Director Stephanie Wiles, Associate Professor of Russian Timothy Scholl, Associate Professor of Art History Eric Inglis, and College sophomore Sara Krugman, along with McGuire, Stull and Jones, are working to create courses in which students can benefit from all that the Con, Arts and Sciences and the Allen Memorial Art Museum have to offer.
“The ethos of these courses is to provide a superlative education experience for all Oberlin students with a focus on understanding the relationship between music, art, liberal education and the evolution of culture,” said Stull.
Whether the interdisciplinary classes take the form of team-taught courses, first-year seminars, or large intro classes that all students take, there is a strong sentiment that this is something that will not only improve the quality of students’ education, but will also allow the different departments and schools to have more of a dialogue.
“[All the disciplines] are filled with great people who sadly have little time to talk to one another,” said McGuire.
In addition, faculty will try to tie course topics in with people coming to campus.
“The plan is to bring in visiting artists, professors and musicians to relate to the subjects,” said Krugman.
The Allen Memorial Art Museum is also an essential part of the program.
Students could potentially utilize the print studies room in the museum, giving them access to art not currently on display. According to Jones, the museum is an integral part of what he calls “live learning.” The sciences have research and the musical arts have performance, so making full use of the museum would only increase this full-bodied, sensory-style learning. Although the museum already offers classes, many students are unaware of their existence.
“The involvement of the art museum is what I think is most interesting,” said Yoder. “I know that art students use it all the time, but it would be good to have other students use it too.”
It is in many ways an issue of visibility. While some students are in the dark regarding the resources at their fingertips, other students already take advantage of all three institutions.
“We want to develop a curriculum that more explicitly reflects students taking part of these resources,” said Jones.
Oberlin already offers an enormous benefit to students: the option of majoring in a subject in the Con as well as a subject in the Arts and Sciences.
“Why don’t we amplify that so that it’s not just double degree,” said Jones. “We want to help support and develop interchanges that benefit students.”
The general sense is that the two schools already improve upon one another.
“The College and the Conservatory really do feed off one another,” said McGuire, citing groups such as the Obertones and Nothing But Treble, as well as the many collaborative Winter Term projects.
The committee members agree that there is a point of unity between the institutions from which to start. Each institution’s respective strengths allow for great potential.
While the initiative is still in its most premature stages, the enthusiasm with which it is being addressed promises change.
“The one thing I’m excited about is that we all want to make it happen,” said Wiles.
The proposal as it stands right now recommends that there should be a faculty seminar in the spring to talk about possible courses and set up the “teams” for team-teaching.
The committee in existence now must send its completed proposal to the Educational Policy Committee at the College of Arts and Sciences, and the Educational Planning and Policy Committee at the Conservatory. Should the two planning committees approve the proposal, it will be given a trial run before taking off into full-fledged existence.