Dear Students, Faculty, and Staff,
Welcome back! I hope this finds you well, and that your winter term has been productive, inspiring, and restorative. It is hard to believe that I am about to begin my fourth semester here at Oberlin. The time has simply flown by.
Highlights for me from the past semester included the inauguration celebration, the Connect Cleveland Day, and seeing our students performing in New York City. Over winter term, I had the great fortune to watch our Oberlin Orchestra and Choir perform on the main stage at Carnegie Hall. It was incredible in every way, and I could not have been more proud! Many thanks to all those involved in the planning and execution of these outstanding events.
As we begin the second half of the year, I thought I would remind you of some of our core work for the remainder of this semester. At the forefront is our pursuit of strategies that will ensure Oberlin’s financial resiliency. Almost all of our institutional goals in some way contribute to this work and our efforts to build the capacity for Oberlin to respond to a rapidly changing world. I have endeavored to elevate our communications around these important topics, in part by creating a monthly educational webinar series. Past webinars included sessions on our budget, endowment, and fundraising efforts. The series will continue this semester with new sessions on admissions and financial aid and the national higher education environment.
The work of the Academic and Administrative Program Review (AAPR) Steering Committee remains a critical part of this work. While I am not operating as a participant in any of the committee’s day-to-day work, I know that the AAPR working groups have collected and analyzed a wide variety of data. The full committee reconvened in January to begin analyzing this data and integrating it. Along the way, representatives of the steering committee have met with many of you in open forums and at each General Faculty meeting during the fall semester. The work of the spring will be to continue these broader community engagements, particularly with the various governing bodies, as they work towards recommendations. I expect that we will all receive a more detailed status update from the steering committee to the campus community soon.
Admissions and retention also remains a top priority for us. I oftentimes describe retention as an ecosystem requiring a series of strategies and collaborations. Departments across campus have taken this very seriously with both unit-specific initiatives and collaborative initiatives that we believe can make a difference. The Sophomore Opportunities and Academic Resources program (SOAR) and the Career Communities initiatives are two new important steps in developing a comprehensive ecosystem at Oberlin that supports our admissions work and our efforts around retention. This ecosystem must engage students and help them, at every key developmental moment, to find ways to connect to resources and receive timely advising about the questions before them. These initiatives do not take away from our commitment to the classical liberal arts, but rather they enhance our efforts to more effectively help our students launch at the end of their time at Oberlin.
During winter term we also received the results of the accreditation visit by the Higher Learning Commission. You will recall that in October of 2018, HLC’s peer-review team visited Oberlin’s campus to meet with a range of groups and held three open fora. These discussions focused on how Oberlin fulfills its mission; maintains integrity in its processes; ensures quality teaching, learning, and student support; consistently evaluates and improves upon student learning; and engages in planning to sustain resources for institutional effectiveness.
Thanks to all the hard work of the campus community, and particularly the leadership of Bill Quillen, Daphne John, and Ross Peacock, I am pleased to report that Oberlin College was granted continuing accreditation from the Higher Learning Commission (HLC). This reaffirmation of accreditation confirms Oberlin’s commitment to excellence and a rigorous, high quality liberal arts experience.
In terms of new people joining our community, I am excited that we have hired a new Director of the Multicultural Resource Center, Zahida Sherman. Ms. Sherman will start on February 18 and comes to Oberlin from University of the Pacific, where she was the Assistant Director of Black Student Success. She has also worked at Kenyon College where she was the Assistant Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and also served in admissions. Sherman has an undergraduate degree in Anthropology from Ithaca College and an MA in History from Northwestern University.
As you have already seen, we have a new staff member in facilities. Kevin Brown will serve as the new Chief Facilities Officer. In this role Mr. Brown will be responsible for the leadership and coordination of Facilities Planning & Construction, Facilities Operations, and the Office of Environmental Sustainability.
New additions were not only reserved for staff this past semester. I was also thrilled to help open two new beautiful spaces. The Patricia ’63 & Merrill ’61 Shanks Health and Wellness addition, along with the substantially renovated Carr Pool, opened to great fanfare in October. As you know, I am there early almost every morning with a hardy group of dedicated faculty and staff and we welcome new members to our crew.
The Eric Baker Nord Performing Arts Annex at Hall Auditorium was the second opening that I was a part of in December. The production of Cabaret was outstanding and the adaptable theater was on full glorious display. These two spaces will be joined by the Dascomb renovations that will begin in February. I am hopeful that we will fully relocate Student Health, the Counseling Center offices, and Campus Safety to the center of campus by the summer.
Finally, while All Roads may seem like a long way off, it is just a few short months away. Last year, I was so impressed with the efforts of the entire campus community to help our prospective student visitors fully realize the extraordinary spectrum of the Oberlin experience. Clearly these efforts were well received, as we enrolled one of the largest classes in Oberlin’s history. Let’s do it again this year!
Best wishes to you all for a terrific spring semester.
Carmen Twillie Ambar