Campus News

At the Heart of the Liberal Arts

February 27, 2013

Marvin Krislov

President Marvin Krislov, Oberlin College
Photo credit: John Seyfried

I attended a dinner last week at the Supreme Court, when the National Endowment for the Humanities celebrated the release of four,NEH-funded documentary films about the struggle for civil rights in the United States—Freedom Riders, The Loving Story, The Abolitionists, and Slavery By Another Name.

These documentaries vividly remind us of the troubled history of race relations in this country. The films and the event also provide valuable context for understanding and engaging with the continuing struggles to create a just, equitable, and inclusive society in our country.

At this event, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court Stephen Breyer asked audience members to think about how many people in their lives they truly know. The answer, he suggested, is perhaps only a few—your family and a few close friends.

The humanities, Justice Breyer contended, enable us to learn about so many more lives, lives beyond our inner circle, through the study of history, literature, and languages other than our native tongue. Learning about others, Justice Breyer said, equipped him to better understand the stories of others, improving his decision-making and insight.

This week at Oberlin, Stephen Melville, professor emeritus of art at the Ohio State University, is speaking on the importance of the humanities, challenging us to find a role for the humanities during these times of economic stress. Professor Melville will be speaking in the Craig Lecture Hall of the Oberlin College Science Center from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, February 27.

As what we learn about the world becomes even more complex—as we are more connected and more inundated by data—context becomes ever more crucial. The humanities help us tell our stories, interpret those of others, and allow us to communicate more effectively.

I firmly believe that whether one intends to conduct scientific research, become an entrepreneur, enter politics, or enter many other fields, the humanities—meaning the study of history, literature, languages, and culture—improve one’s ability to understand others and to lead a meaningful and successful life. Particularly in this globally connected world, such study across national boundaries and across cultures is critical.

This capacity lies at the heart of a liberal arts education. Studies also show that employers believe it is important for their employees to be able to understand other cultures and to think critically across the bounds of national boundaries or academic disciplines.

Affirmative Action Panel

Please join me tonight at 7:30 p.m. in the Science Center’s West Lecture Hall for a panel discussion of the Fisher Case and the future of Affirmative Action with two of America’s leading education experts, Marta Tienda and Richard Kahlenberg. Tienda is the Maurice P. During Professor in Demographic Studies and Professor of Sociology and Public Affairs at Princeton University; she has joint affiliations in the university’s Office of Population Research and the Woodrow Wilson School. Her research and teaching focus on understanding the issues of immigration, population diversification, and poverty and the roles they play in access to education and political participation.

Richard Kahlenberg is an author, public intellectual, and senior fellow at the Century Foundation and has written on a variety of education issues. He has been called the intellectual father of the economic integration movement in K-12 schooling and is a leading proponent of class-based affirmative action. His articles have appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, the New Republic, and elsewhere.

Campus Conversations

More campus conversations relating to the recent bias incidents will be taking place in days ahead. We are continuing to vigorously investigate these incidents. Look for more information coming soon about a campuswide Convocation on recent events scheduled for noon on Wednesday, March 6, in Finney Chapel.

There are also two opportunities this week to discuss challenging issues confronting our community. The first is a forum with Dean of Students Eric Estes on Thursday, February 28, at noon in King 306. Pizza lunch will be provided. This forum is an opportunity for students to be in conversation with Dean Estes, who will provide updates on and answer questions about the institutional response to recent events. .

On Friday, March 1, the Sexual Offense Policy Task Force invites members of the Oberlin College community to its second open forum from noon to 1:30 p.m. in West Lecture Hall. Facilitated by the Oberlin College Dialogue Center, this forum is designed to create a public space for community members to express their concerns, questions, and ideas about the policy, its administration, education and outreach, and other related concerns. This event is open to all members of the Oberlin College community.

Members of the community who would like to communicate more privately with the task force are encouraged to contact task force members or to e-mail the task force directly at The task force will continue to meet throughout the spring.

Neil Barsky’s Koch

Koch, the first feature-length documentary by Neil Barsky ’82, will open this Friday, March 1, at the Apollo Theatre, where it will run for one week. The film’s subject is the late Ed Koch, the controversial former mayor of New York City. Mr. Koch died at age 88 just before Neil’s film debuted in New York. The New York Times obituary characterized Mr. Koch as “opinionated as a Flatbush cabby, as loud as the scrums on 42nd Street, as pugnacious as a West Side reform Democrat mother.” Neil’s film captures all that and much, much more.

Finally, please join me at the first Koffee with Krislov of this semester. It will be on Monday, March 4, at 10 p.m. at Azariah’s in Mudd. Also, please remember that I do have regular office hours and you may contact my assistant Jennifer Bradfield for an appointment

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