Changes in many of the top administrative positions and advising and academic servicing centers hint at the transitory nature of this school year, as community members old and new begin to get their bearings in a new Oberlin.
The school’s administrative transitions began with former President Marvin Krislov’s announcement to depart Oberlin last fall. The presidency has since passed to Carmen Twillie Ambar, Oberlin’s first African American and second female president. However, some of the lesser-known departures could have an equally important effect on students’ daily lives and Oberlin’s future.
Four other top administrators departed last semester as Krislov left to helm Pace University; Vice President of Finance Mike Frandsen is becoming president of Wittenberg University; Oberlin’s General Counsel Sandhya Subramanian is moving to Dartmouth University for a similar position; and the Vice President and Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid Debra Chermonte is also departing.
Additionally, Clyde McGregor stepped down after six years as chair of the Board of Trustees, leaving Chris Canavan, OC ’84, to fill his position.
In the wake of these departures, Oberlin has welcomed Alan Norton as interim vice president of finance, Donica Varner as interim general counsel, and Manuel Carballo as vice president and dean of admissions and financial aid.
This appointment marks the third time Norton has stepped out of retirement to take on an interim chief financial officer position. He says that he hopes he can serve as a transitional buffer as Oberlin searches for a permanent vice president of finance who can guide the College through this period of financial austerity.
“I have no intention of settling in Oberlin, as nice as it is,” Norton said. “I will only be here for as long as it takes for them to complete a search and get somebody in place.”
A search committee for Norton’s full-time replacement has yet to be fully formed. Although Norton hopes to return to Missouri with his wife by next semester, he is prepared to remain for the entire school year if need be.
“When they interviewed me, I said, ‘My highest priority is to do no harm,’” Norton said. “I’m here to help facilitate a transition. I’m not here to decide where the school should go or what it should be, or fundamentally to change anything.”
While Norton will serve in the interim period, Carballo will officially head the Admissions and Financial Aid Office.
“I am looking to continue with the strong work and leadership that my predecessor, Debra Chermonte, brought to Admissions and Financial Aid during her long and successful tenure at Oberlin,” he said. “We hope to continue to recruit bright and creative students to Oberlin and be able to share the story of what makes Oberlin such a special place.”
Many of the new arrivals are finding their bearings and waiting to hear what Ambar and other top administrators have in store for the year.
“I’ve been here just two weeks and will be spending much of this year observing and learning more about the Oberlin community,” Carballo said. “There are always opportunities to try new things, but it’s still early to be talking about those.”
Along with the addition of new administrators, previous administrative positions faced shake-ups largely because of the restructuring of Oberlin’s advising and academic servicing centers and the elimination of the Dean of Studies Office.
Matthew Hayden, a former class dean, is now the associate dean of the newly formed Center for Student Success, an office that consolidates the roles of the former Office of Disability Services, Student Academic Services and various wellness programs on campus. Oberlin also revamped its academic advising program, creating the Academic Advising Resource Center in consortium with the Registrar’s Office, housed in the former Admissions office building. The new program renovated the outdated advising system in an attempt to make it more effective for students, particularly first-years, according to Associate Dean of Academic Advising Elizabeth Clerkin.
“Last year was a year of change,” Clerkin said. “We’ve been working very hard this spring and summer to think ahead about what kinds of issues might come up, how we can assign staff to be the most responsive. But no one is perfect. We hope students will give us feedback about how we can do things differently when challenges arise.”
Vice President and Dean of Students Meredith Raimondo sees the many changes as potential for new opportunities across the College.
“I am very excited about the opportunity to see Oberlin through fresh eyes and learn from colleagues with different kinds of experiences and achievements,” Raimondo said. “I believe there will be opportunities to find practical strategies to ensure the College’s success within a framework of shared values and commitments.”