February 5, 2018

Dear Students, Faculty, and Staff,

Welcome back!

I hope everyone had a good winter break and productive winter terms, whether here on campus or in the wider world.

I’m excited that second semester is getting underway. I’m looking forward to continuing conversations with our faculty, students, staff, alumni, and parents that are helping me deepen my knowledge of Oberlin’s culture and my awareness of all the great things our community members do.

Since becoming president, part of my work has been focused on how we might elevate initiatives identified in the strategic plan that have the most ability to move Oberlin forward and to respond to the changing landscape that small liberal arts colleges are confronting. Four key areas--connected learning; retention; admissions; and connecting Oberlin’s academic outcomes to careers have been identified by the General Faculty Council as priorities that should be elevated from our strategic plan. The council also emphasized that diversity and inclusion should be interwoven throughout the initiatives in these areas. I am hopeful that near the end of the academic year, we will be able to offer a full framing on these priorities along with financial plans. The council has been meeting throughout the fall and winter term. Some examples of the work in these areas include continuing to strengthen academic advising; thinking about ways to make winter term more intentional as a way to improve retention; and better connecting Oberlin’s academic experience to students’ lives after Oberlin. Retention work that shores up our efforts to identify students at risk of departing and intervening earlier to provide support is also an area of attention. On the admissions front, faculty and staff are working to improve yield in a variety of ways, and there is a focus on All Roads as one place to start.

I have enjoyed working with our Student Senate on enhancing the student experience. The senators held a constituency week in which they gathered information from their fellow students to identify areas of concern that the senate can work to address with our senior leadership team. This collaborative approach has already yielded some results which can be seen just inside the front doors of Wilder Hall. The Student Senate identified a need for a better, informal space on central campus where students can meet, hang out, and gather. So over winter term we were able to tear down some walls and remove the drop ceiling and create a bright new space across from Wilder’s front desk. Despite our constrained resource environment, we were able to do this within our current capital budget. While we already have some existing furniture in the space, we will be asking Student Senate to help pick out new furnishings.

One of the many things we’ve been hearing from prospective students who don’t choose Oberlin is that the location of the college and town sometimes feels too remote, too insular. They also want to see more clearly how the education we offer will connect them to their post-Oberlin lives. While the work on both of these matters will take time, one immediate strategy will be to demonstrate how close Cleveland really is, and to try to shore up our connections to this city that is in a renaissance. To address that, we are creating a new orientation initiative which will send all our incoming first-year students to Cleveland for a day to explore opportunities for service, internships, employment and entertainment and to meet Oberlin alumni in a city on the rise. Look for more detailed information about this exciting initiative in the next few weeks.

In February, I am also going to have a series of conversations with faculty, staff and students about Oberlin’s financial situation. I will present budget data, answer questions, and share my thoughts on how to return Oberlin to financial resiliency.

Here is the schedule of those presentations:

  • Tuesday, February 13 - 4:35 p.m. - Conservatory Faculty Meeting, Con Annex
  • Wednesday, February 14 - Noon - College Faculty Meeting, Craig Lecture
  • Thursday, February 15 - 8:30 a.m. - A&PS meeting, Dye Lecture
  • Tuesday, February 20 - 5:30 p.m. - Student Senate and Student Finance Committee dinner, Fowler Room
  • Wednesday, February 21 - Noon - General Faculty Meeting, 306 King Building
  • Wednesday, February 28 - 8:00 p.m. - Student Forum, 306 King Building

We are reaching out to bargaining units to determine an appropriate time to have these same discussions. I look forward to speaking with these groups and hearing their thoughts.

I wish everyone great success second semester. Stay warm, work hard, and take care of yourselves.

Carmen Ambar
President