Learning and Labor: The Oberlin Factory
At Oberlin we make stuff, things that last. Along with teaching and learning, producing is one of the most important ways all of us here engage with the world. Oberlin is a factory of ideas, knowledge, art, and music. And as it turns out, our annual output is actually quite impressive. The recent senior symposium showcased some of the amazing work our graduating class is doing—and it was only a tip of the iceberg. The faculty has been productive, too. A compilation of faculty output just published by the Dean of Arts and Sciences shows that over the past five years, between 2007 and 2011, we collectively produced 69 books; 675 articles; 124 performances, exhibitions, and documentaries; 37 collections of poetry and 5 more of translations; and 181 reviews. We don't do all of this in a vacuum; our production is closely related to our work with students—but it is also our main way to connect what happens on campus with the rest of the world.
In fact, we are strongly committed to sharing our work as widely as possible. Three years ago Oberlin was one of the first liberal arts colleges to adopt an Open Access resolution, through which the Oberlin faculty committed to making its published scholarship openly accessible to anyone, anywhere. That is the precise purpose of a new web project, Oberlin SHARES. SHARES, which stands for "Sciences, Humanities, Arts: Repository of Expression and Scholarship," keeps track of all of our work, and provides access to full text whenever possible. [Update: As of December 2017, the SHARES repository has migrated to Digital Commons at Oberlin.]
Does the collective output of the Oberlin factory set us apart from other institutions like us? That depends on how you look at it. Most college faculty across the world are expected to be active in their fields. But Oberlin's intellectual engagement is different in a couple of important ways. For one, compared with other liberal arts colleges, our faculty is exceptionally productive. If, on the other hand, you compare Oberlin to research universities, it's clear that our faculty work much more closely with undergraduates. We do so as scientists, humanists, or artists; in labs, in classrooms, in studios, in groups and independent study. It's that intense day-to-day contact with students and colleagues which powers the intellectual and artistic engines of this place.
I also think—and I believe many of my colleagues would agree—that the type of work we do reflects, on the whole, something of Oberlin's ethos: our commitment to the liberal arts, our desire to engage with an imperfect but perfectible world, our aspiration to forge meaningful links across the boundaries of scholarship and art, music and science, learning and labor. This ethos may not be evident in every single individual faculty profile—but it does emerge when you consider all of our work together.
So go ahead, and take a couple of minutes to browse the year-by-year catalogs of faculty scholarship published by the Dean's office, or type a key word into the
Oberlin SHARES Digital Commons at Oberlin search box.