President Ambar: We’re Still With You

Today’s inauguration of Carmen Twillie Ambar as Oberlin College’s 15thpresident gives our community a moment to reflect both on the first year of Ambar’s presidency and the collective challenges and opportunities now in front of us.

In some ways, it’s hard to believe that it’s only been a year. Ambar has assumed the reins at a time of great turbulence, true; but she has stepped fully into the moment, and her commitment to tackling the challenges Oberlin faces has not wavered. She’s become an integral part of this campus— certainly to the point where it feels like she’s been here for a while. Be it conducting the Oberlin orchestra, being a regular face around Philips gym, sharing her playlist with the ’Sco, holding regular office hours, hosting student organizations in her basement, or presenting the school’s budgetary and financial decisions campus-wide, Ambar has committed herself to transparency, visibility, and learning what it means to be an Obie.

Her commitment does not just extend to students. Over the summer, Ambar and her administration reaffirmed their faith in faculty governance. Following faculty uproar this spring over their role in the ongoing Academic and Administrative Program Review, which the Editorial Board wrote about last week, the administration changed course and strengthened the role faculty will play in important academic decisions (“Faculty Body Should Follow Junior Faculty Lead Through AAPR,” Sept. 28, 2018).

Further, Ambar has been committed to developing strong ties between the College and town communities that have often found themselves at odds. Beginning with the arrival of first-year students in August, her office, in collaboration with the Dean of Students Office and the Peer Advising Leaders program, launched a Discover Oberlin campaign, which encourages students to shop at locally-owned businesses.

Another town-gown initiative was the “Community 101” panel that all new students attended during their orientation week. The session focused being a good neighbor and developing successful partnerships between College students and other community members. While it was not terribly well-received, the effort truly matters, and is indicative of the fully immersive approach Ambar has taken throughout the first year of her presidency.

There have certainly been bumps along the way as well. Student frustrations have mounted over changes to campus spaces and eliminations of jobs. Early in her presidency, Ambar fielded complaints about the quality of campus housing, and her administration continues to be criticized for the state of Campus Dining Services. When the AAPR was announced, there was tremendous campus pushback against Ambar’s consulting firm of choice, Stevens Strategy, particularly after a faculty letter circulated, outlining concerns from faculty members at other institutions who had encountered Stevens Strategy in the past.

In those moments when trust has been threatened or fractured, Ambar has not shied away. Instead, she has tackled concerns head on, being more visible in the face of controversy, not less. It’s a remarkable and intentional approach — especially in comparison to the end of former President MarvinKrislov’s administration, which was marked by a lack of transparency around difficult decisions.

We — students, faculty, staff, and other community members — have put Ambar through a lot. We’ve held her administration’s feet to the fire. But what makes her leadership so effective is that she wouldn’t have it any other way. She wants to be held accountable, and understands that tough times can only be endured by communities, not individuals.

Following this weekend’s festivities, we’re not turning down the pressure. We will continue to scrutinize Ambar’s decisions, to tell her when we think she’s messed up. This is our collective duty, and we understand that a sustainable community keeps a close eye on its leaders.

But as we write this Thursday night while President Ambar hypes up the crowd at the ’Sco, our message to her is this: Thanks for being here. Thanks for becoming one of us. The past year has been hard, and the coming years will be harder, but we’re still with you. Congratulations on your inauguration— we look forward to the many years of principled leadership ahead.