April 20, 2020 3:15 PM
Carmen Twillie Ambar, President

Dear Oberlin friends,

Despite two recent snowy days in Oberlin, it has been a quiet winter. Even as we continue to cope with COVID-19, it is helpful to pause and note that spring is upon us. Trees and flowers are in bloom. We can take a deep breath even as we adjust for a summer and fall impacted by this pandemic.

Our community is settling into a rhythm of remote coursework and musical practice. We are temporarily dependent upon a network of Zoom-based connections.

In this dynamic, I will begin to send a more regular cadence of communications to a campus that is near and far for the remainder of the term. I hope you will find this outreach informative and in some ways providing levity, as we seek to overcome the distance that this pandemic has forced upon us. I encourage you to visit our COVID-19 web page for ongoing communications and updates.

Finances and our future

Ohio Governor Mike DeWine and others are warning that for the next several months and perhaps longer, all of us will need to adjust our behavior to protect ourselves and slow the spread of COVID-19.

We are preparing for a number of contingencies that will impact us this summer and fall. We already have absorbed a number of extraordinary expenses connected with COVID-19, including the housing and dining-related refunds we offered families. Although Oberlin’s enrollment numbers are promising, most higher education institutions are planning for significant drops in revenue in fiscal 2021. Colleges and universities across the country are implementing or considering budget measures such as salary cuts, hiring and spending freezes, furloughs, and layoffs.

Oberlin will find our way through, but it is only prudent that we plan similarly for the remaining several weeks of the current fiscal year as well as for fiscal year 2021. We will scrutinize spending and take the steps necessary to maintain our fiscal health so that we can protect our ability to offer an extraordinary academic and student life experience. This may require us to do some difficult things, but I am confident that in the end, we will not only survive, we will thrive.

Summer activities

Oberlin usually is bustling with activity during the summer. But the pandemic is forcing us to cancel all summer activities, from on-campus athletic and community events to our Career Communities internship program. Before making these decisions, we sought input from a number of sources, including Lorain County Public Health, our administrators, students, parents, faculty and staff, higher education peers and associations and others.

All the information convinced us that we could not guarantee the safety and health of our students, faculty, and staff. In some cases, the events or activities would have violated Ohio’s guidance to avoid large gatherings.

Unfortunately, the cancelations had wide-ranging impacts touching the Conservatory’s day and overnight camps, athletics camps, clinics and competitions, internships, academic research, and office work. I appreciate that students, faculty and staff, Oberlin’s residents and businesses, even those who looked forward to traveling to Oberlin for events, have been affected. But we are hopeful that next summer, we can resume these activities and once again enjoy the summer months and beyond on campus together.

Commencement

You are aware of our need to cancel Commencement and Reunion weekend, which was to be in late May. (You can read my announcement here.) The changes the pandemic has forced upon us have been difficult for us all, but perhaps no group has been as severely impacted as our seniors. I am so sorry this virus has taken their final weeks at Oberlin and their opportunity to walk across the stage next month.

Last week, administrators and leaders from the class of 2020 met to discuss alternative commencement planning, including a range of activities, communications, and virtual events that will capture and commemorate the journey to graduation. That committee will begin sharing updates with seniors and soliciting feedback soon. In the meantime, please know that we are so proud of you and all that you have accomplished! We will develop a program to celebrate you in the weeks to come.

Enrollment

We have all come to understand that nothing is certain about this post-COVID-19 world. We are taking nothing for granted when it comes to the lifeblood of any college: enrollment. But early indications are promising.

We began the enrollment cycle with a 26 percent increase in applications from last year. When the pandemic landed and prevented prospective students from visiting campus, we quickly implemented a proactive strategy that depended largely on the talents and efforts of our students, faculty and staff, alumni and parents. I have said it before—admissions is everyone’s responsibility!

The focus has been threefold: to offer lots of meaningful content that reveals different aspects of the Oberlin community; to provide opportunities for engagement with our students, faculty, and staff through interactive sessions; and to allow spaces for prospective students to engage with one another.

Through videos, Zoom-based chats, webinars and other communications, our students and faculty have been telling the story we know so well: that ours is a remarkable campus culture filled with smart, curious, and conscientious students and incredible faculty.

I would stack up our enrollment content and outreach efforts against any college in the country. Our video tours and testimonials have been outstanding.

Here is some of the programming we have offered, including a highly innovative course for prospective students that examines COVID-19 through a number of disciplines. This unique course has attracted the interest of 533 prospective students!

We certainly do not know what the fall may entail, but we are preparing for and are excited about the prospect of teaching students who have returned to campus. We will continue to be as thoughtful, proactive and nimble in our planning as we can be. Oberlin will come through this in large part because of your support, commitment, and enthusiasm.

Until next time.

Carmen Twillie Ambar
President