The angst sweeping the country has trickled down to the microcosm of Oberlin. The year has been divisive for the country as a whole. We have a presidential candidate calling for an entry ban on an entire religious group. Political polarization is at an all-time high. People are dissatisfied. What we need now, at least at Oberlin, is a unifier.
With President Marvin Krislov’s announcement of his forthcoming departure, the community is thinking about his successor. No matter who they are, there are several qualities they must possess.
Oberlin’s next president must be a unifier. They must be able to unite Oberlin in new ways. They must be able to balance the concerns of students, faculty, staff, alumni and all other pillars of the Oberlin community. They must maneuver strategically while maintaining a level of ethics and decorum essential to running an institution heavily rooted in a commitment to social justice.
Oberlin’s next president must reflect Oberlin’s changing landscape. Oberlin doesn’t look the same as it did when its first acting President Henry Brown was at the helm in 1834. It doesn’t look the same as it did when revivalist Charles Grandison Finney led during the Second Great Awakening in 1851. Nor does it look like it did when President Krislov took hold of the reigns nearly 10 years ago. Oberlin’s next president should look like, think like and reflect the values of a changing America, a changing narrative of higher education and a reconceptualization of how a liberal arts education must function in 2016.
Oberlin’s next president must, in the words of First Lady Michelle Obama at Oberlin’s 2014 Commencement Ceremony, “run toward the noise.” There’s no debating that Oberlin has made a name for itself, though whether its popular image is warranted is highly debatable. However, the First Lady emphasized that graduates should not shy away from contention, iterating, “I want to urge you to actively seek out the most contentious, polarized, gridlocked places you can find, because so often, those have been the places where progress really happens.” Oberlin faces its own level of contention, polarization and gridlock, and our next president must be willing to take on that weight.
Oberlin’s next president must have a passion for service and a commitment to the disaffected. In the course of helping many, Oberlin has left some hurt. This has been demonstrated in the cries of various community stakeholders last year in several written declarations, including but not limited to the demands issued by ABUSUA and the letters of concern written by a faction of Jewish alumni. Our next president must acknowledge this grief and work to rebuild parts of our community that have been left in pain.
Oberlin’s next president should be an Obie. Although there’s no requirement for Oberlin’s president to be a graduate, there is one for our Board of Trustees. The relationship established by once being a student at Oberlin offers a unique opportunity for nuanced understandings of what exactly Oberlin needs, how it functions and how you can empower the student body to reach for its maximum potential. Who better to run Oberlin than an Obie?
Finally, Oberlin’s next president must not only see Oberlin for what it is, but for what it can be. I truly believe that Oberlin is great. We don’t need to “make Oberlin great again.” But we must strive for the magis: the more, the better. Here’s to Oberlin’s next president taking us to new heights of academic excellence, promoting healthy, sustainable and inclusive social prosperity, and renewing commitments to the principles that make Oberlin Oberlin.