Mary Ella Feinleib said shehas not been comfortable making major budget decisions at Oberlin before being fully familiar with the college's operations. She also felt the workload as dean was too much, she said.
Feinleib's tenure as dean of the College of Arts and Sciences will end next Friday after less than eight months on the job as the college's top academic officer besides the president. Feinleib announced her resignation last Wednesday and has since sent two all-campus mailings explaining her decision.
Her decision to step down, Feinleib said, was not a result of a health problem as some people had speculated.
"I have had cancer," she said. "Now, I've just celebrated my 10-year anniversary [of beating cancer]. The fact is that I'm in excellent health. The only problem is sleep deprivation. I'm tired."
Feinleib said she made the decision to leave Oberlin completely on her own, though she consulted with the President on the timing of the resignation.
Feinleib had been thinking about resigning for several weeks and originally intended to stay through the current academic year at Oberlin, but said that she resigned effective at the start of Spring Break in order to let the college move ahead with a search for a new dean.
"The quick part wasn't what I had originally hoped. I feel that I owe a lot of people obligations that I haven't completed," she said. "It would have been nice from my point of view to honor those obligations. I understand the reasons for me to submit my resignation with that timing."
The job of Oberlin's academic deans - both in the college and in the Conservatory - have been expanded since last year because the provost position was eliminated. The provost's non-budget-related tasks have been reassigned to the academic deans. The two deans now oversee computing and the libraries as well as their traditional tasks of acting as an administrator for faculty members. In addition, the dean of the college is now responsible for the Allen Memorial Art Museum.
"I know that President Dye's vision and my original vision is that this could be done, and under ordinary circumstances, this could be viewed as an ordinary workload. That was complicated by the fact that I was new to Oberlin," Feinleib said.
But there were some extraordinary circumstances. One was that in her first semester, Feinleib was given the responsibility of trimming more that $300,000 from the college budget as part of Oberlin's budget restructuring.
"I was uncomfortable here coming in and making such decisions before I understood who did what and how various structures operate," she said.
Feinleib also said it was especially difficult for a newcomer to adopt as much responsibility as she was given. "I devoted a lot of time - and that was my plan - to getting to know Oberlin in my first semester. There were a lot of urgent and confidential crises. They're part of the dean's job, but there were quite a few of them per square millimeter," she said.
Traditionally, the dean of the college has been selected from Oberlin's faculty and though she didn't last at the job, Feinleib said there are benefits to hiring someone from outside of Oberlin as well as disadvantages.
"A dean from the outside has the possibility of bringing in a fresh perspective," she said. "Coming in new to a place that is as unique as Oberlin is a challenge."
"Obviously someone who comes from within has a thorough familiarity with the culture."
Classics Professor James Helm will serve as interim dean. The faculty is currently electing a search committee for the next permanent dean. That committee will determine whether the search will be national in scope or open only to current Oberlin staff members.
Besides work on the budget, one of Feinleib's biggest tasks was trying to smooth out the Oberlin governance process, something she said she worked on with the College Faculty Council.
Feinleib said that in addition to not being able to fulfill the obligations she made, one of her biggest regrets was not getting to know students better. "I think Oberlin's got the most intellectual, lively, argumentative students I've ever seen," she said. "I wanted to have a student-friendly office."
Before coming to Oberlin, Feinleib had served 30 years on the faculty at Tufts University in Medford, Mass., where she taught biology and was the dean of liberal arts for 12 years.
Feinleib said she does not know exactly what she'll do when she leaves Oberlin, but she plans to research some issues in higher education such as faculty development and mentorship and incorporating research into undergraduate programs.
Feinleib said that even though her stay was short, she came to like Oberlin. "I care about Oberlin. That may sound strange from someone who's leaving," she said. "I came here in the first place because I thought Oberlin was an extraordinary place. I wish Oberlin well and I wish myself well."
Feinleib also said she supports Dye's goals of using financial aid improvements to increase diversity and increasing faculty salaries to attract and retain top-notch faculty.
Copyright © 1996, The Oberlin Review.
Volume 124, Number 18; March 15, 1996
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