September 12, 2018

Dear Students, Faculty, and Staff,

With classes underway and life at Oberlin back to full speed, I want to offer you my personal greetings, best wishes for a productive semester, and a few reflections about why I am so excited about what lies ahead this year.

We set out on an important and inspiring note: As part of our Connect Cleveland program, all 839 first-year students traveled together to Cleveland on August 29, spreading out through the city for a day of service and experiential learning. Some of our newest Obies helped pack medical supplies for people in need around the world. Others worked in an urban garden that provides healthy food and real community for its neighborhood. Still others explored some of Cleveland’s cultural treasures. Orientation this year also featured an in-depth introduction to the City of Oberlin, and some frank talk about how to be a good neighbor.

There will be points throughout the year when the intellectual demands of an Oberlin College and Conservatory education force us to turn inward, to focus on the task at hand. But we must never forget that the point of that deep and rigorous education is to make an impact on the world, to change the world for good. I am so proud to see that ethos in action from day one. My thanks to all of you whose hard work made this outreach possible, and to those of you who threw yourselves into it, including project organizer Trecia Pottinger. Let’s carry that spirit through our year!

This year presents a particular opportunity for Oberlin to make an impact as an institution, too. As you know, the College and Conservatory face some serious financial challenges, now and in the years to come — challenges shared across higher education, and particularly at the liberal arts colleges that have contributed so much to this nation. The answer, however, is not to retreat or retrench, but to re-focus on what Oberlin has to offer its students and the world, and rededicate ourselves to providing the national leadership that has defined Oberlin for almost two centuries.

One venue for finding that focus is the ambitious, yearlong work of the Academic and Administrative Program Review — the top-to-bottom examination of what we do as an institution, led by some of Oberlin’s wisest and most committed faculty, staff, alumni and students. I am asking this group to engage with the entire campus community to help develop recommendations that address fundamental questions: How can we shape our educational programs and supporting services for the next generation in a way that takes advantage of Oberlin’s distinctive strengths? How can we be more intentional and effective in taking that impact out into the world, as students, graduates, and as members of a community? To achieve these goals, we will need to work together afresh, and I ask for your support in this important review process. This work will require us to rethink some things we do, let go of some things, and invest in areas that can move the institution forward on a sustainable financial footing.

I know that sounds ambitious for a small place full of busy people. But you’ve heard me say this before, and you will hear it throughout the year, including at my inauguration next month: Oberlin knows how to be bold. It’s in the arc of our history and the pattern of our DNA. It is also our obligation and our hope, as the stewards of this amazing institution at this particular inflection point. We must be energetic in our individual commitment to the ideals of Oberlin, daring in our imagination, and confident in the scale and discipline with which we, as an institution, seize this opportunity.

Finally, this year I want to listen well to your ideas, hopes, and concerns. So, I will again be visiting academic departments and sitting in on classes, to get a deeper sense of the teaching that powers Oberlin’s academic mission and excellence. I will be holding open office hours for students and will host community events at my home. If your organization would like to meet there, please contact Jennifer Bradfield at Jennifer.Bradfield@oberlin.edu

In the meantime, you can always drop me a note at presidents.office@oberlin.edu. And when you see me out and about, please don’t hesitate to stop me and tell me how things are going.

With best wishes for the year and shared pride in Oberlin,

Carmen Twillie Ambar, President