Krislov Bids Farewell After a Decade


Photo by Bryan Rubin, Photo editor

President Marvin Krislov poses in his office in the Cox Administration Building. In an email Tuesday morning, Krislov announced he will conclude his tenure at Oberlin on June 30, 2017.

Louis Krauss and Tyler Sloan

After nearly a decade of service at Oberlin, President Marvin Krislov announced Tuesday morning that he will end his tenure with the college on June 30, 2017. In an email addressed to the Oberlin community, Krislov said it was the right time for him to seek new professional challenges — although what his next steps are remains unclear.

“I’m very passionate about higher education, particularly access to higher education, and that’s really a life-long passion of mine,” Krislov said. “But the most important thing for me is to feel like I’m making a difference in the world, and I don’t know where that’s going to take me. I probably shouldn’t tell you this, but I’m a little scared because I don’t really know.”

For many in his close circle, Krislov’s departure comes as little surprise. He engaged in a very public campaign for president last year at the University of Iowa, which instead selected former IBM executive J. Bruce Harreld. Krislov added that the average tenure of a college president is typically six or seven years — a median he has dutifully exceeded.

“I was in the search in Iowa, so obviously that raised questions, ‘How long is he staying?’” Krislov said. “The final decision was made over the summer, but I’ve been thinking about it for a while.”

Given campus controversies last year — such as alleged cultural appropriation in dining halls and debate surrounding Professor of Composition and Rhetoric Joy Karega’s future at the College — many wondered whether Krislov already had one foot out the door. While Krislov did not rule out that these issues affected his decision to leave, he said the stories were blown out of proportion by the media, and that he is more interested in promoting the positive qualities of Oberlin.

“Candidly, some of the media stories I don’t think were particularly helpful, but I don’t think they conveyed the real Oberlin,” Krislov said. “So one of my things in this last year is to do everything I can to convey to the broadest possible audience what is the real Oberlin — that is bright, committed, idealistic, smart young people and engaged, committed faculty who will knock themselves out to help the students as well as staff in incredible things.”

He cited the completion of the new Strategic Plan, the Oberlin Illuminate Campaign and the Peter B. Lewis Gateway Center as an important legacy and an appropriate point in time for him to leave. In particular, Krislov said that the completion of the Illuminate Campaign — which brought the College’s endowment up to approximately where it was before the 2008 financial crisis — was one of his biggest accomplishments. According to Krislov, the endowment is currently between $750 and $800 million.

Krislov’s replacement remains a question for students, faculty and staff, as well as the Board of Trustees — which is the committee responsible for selecting a successor. In an email to the Review, Board Chair Clyde McGregor said there has yet to be any discussions on how the group will form a search committee, but that the previous two searches consisted of 11-member committees.

Only one student was elected to the search committee for Krislov in 2006, but four others were added fairly late into the search process, according to Review coverage that year. Whatever the composition of the committee, it is likely that “a large part of the process will not be public,” Krislov said.

McGregor also told the Review that if a permanent successor is not agreed upon by June 30, it is “highly likely” that the board will promote an interim president from within the existing administration. Multiple faculty members declined to comment on this issue.

College sophomore Kameron Dunbar, who is a member of the Strategic Planning Implementation Committee for Diversity, Inclusion and Equity — which is chaired by Interim Vice President and Dean of Students Meredith Raimondo — said he hopes students will have a meaningful role in determining the replacement.

“[A faculty member] highlighted pieces of the last search for me, and estimated that there will be a tight, very selective, relatively secretive search process,” Dunbar said in an email to the Review. “I hope that there is a significant role for students during the entire process and that it’s more transparent this time.”

For many students, having the trustees hear their input on Krislov’s successor is crucial. Student Senate liaison and double-degree senior Jeremy Poe said that while he hopes students’ voices will carry weight with the board, he is concerned about the effectiveness of the search process.

“The president is leaving, but you have no guarantee you’re going to get someone better, so I’m cautiously pessimistic,” Poe said. “I’m sure someone will say the search process is a ‘community conversation that needs to happen,’ which will be about as effective as a national conversation on race.”

Poe also praised Krislov for taking a hands-on approach with students, adding that the political structure on campus sometimes puts an unfair burden on the president.

“Oberlin has created this awful position that is thankless, and no one can really define what the president is supposed to do,” Poe said. “Aside from raising money, the other side of the job is to preside over the school. What that means is not really defined. So in the last year, and really all the years I’ve been here, I’ve noticed that whenever there’s a crisis it’s always a question of ‘What is the president doing?’ What the president does is as much about what they want as it is about what others want of them. So the phrase I always use is: Don’t hate the player, hate the game.”

Dunbar elaborated on Poe’s sentiment.

“There are deans, senior staff, senior administrators and others much more well equipped to handle certain issues that arise,” Dunbar said. “In the most basic of senses, the president’s job is to assist in fundraising and institutional continuity. I think President Krislov’s record will prove that he was successful as both.”

The board will announce its plan in the upcoming weeks. Krislov said he will have little to no involvement in the process, but that he has begun identifying candidates that he thinks would be appropriate for the job. Ultimately, though, it will land in the trustees’ laps to select his predecessor.

McGregor offered nothing but praise for the incumbent president.

“I have enjoyed working with Marvin both as a member of the Board and then as Chair of the Board,” McGregor wrote in an email to the Review. “He is a wonderful person, and I am proud to call him my friend. He has given much of himself to Oberlin College and its students. The Oberlin community will be pulled in two directions this year: to look forward for new leadership and to look backward to celebrate and affirm the 10-year presidency of Marvin Krislov.”