Fundraising Campaign Kicks Off with Weekend Celebration

Robin Wasserman, News Editor

This weekend, around 500 alumni and their family members will gather in Oberlin for the launch of the public phase of what has been advertised as “the most ambitious fundraising effort in [Oberlin’s] history.”

Oberlin Illuminate, a comprehensive, seven-year fundraising campaign for the College and Conservatory, has been quietly raising over half of its $250 million goal for the past three years. The campaign, which counts all donations to the College and Conservatory as contributions, aims to raise over $70 million more than the last fundraising campaign, which ended in 2004 having raised $177 million.

The fundraising goals have been split into four distinct sub-targets: the endowment, financial aid and faculty support; health and wellness; curriculum development; and a capital campaign for renovations to Hall Auditorium and the Oberlin Project’s Green Arts District.

Ninety million dollars, the largest sub-target, will be put toward financial aid.

“The lion share of the campaign is about supporting scholarship funds and faculty,” said David Stull, dean of the Conservatory of Music.

A new health and wellness center and renovations to Philips Gym will help shape the College’s push for a healthier student body. While specific plans are still being made, the health and wellness center will house improved exercise equipment and exercise rooms.

“This building will allow us to expand student life’s program offerings along with physical education courses,” said Natalie Winkelfoos, the interim director of athletics and physical education. “The footprint of the building will enable us to enhance the fitness experience for the entire campus community with quality equipment, locker rooms and overall aesthetics.”

Other improvements include renovations to Carr Pool and adding turf and stadium lights to Savage Football Stadium, which will allow the field to be used more often and by a wider range of teams.

Campaign money will also be used to help transform downtown Oberlin into a Green Arts District. According to Bill Barlow, vice president of Development and Alumni Affairs, two-thirds of the $60 million used to renovate the Apollo Theatre — which is reopening today as part of Oberlin Illuminate festivities — came from donations.

Renovations to Hall Auditorium will also be funded by campaign donations.

“The main idea is to preserve the historical significance of the architecture of Hall and at the same time provide the technical backstage and front spaces needed for a flexible performance space,” said Sean Decatur, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.

Forty million dollars, the second largest sub-target of Oberlin Illuminate, will go toward curricular developments aimed at “enhancing the connection between the College, Conservatory and the [Allen Memorial Art] Museum, providing an education for the 21st century, and [programs to ensure] post-Oberlin success,” according to Decatur.

These programs include the Center for Languages and Culture, which is holding its inaugural reception on Friday, and the Center for Creativity and Leadership, which is intended to “expand opportunities for self-direction and make students more comfortable with risk,” said Stull.

Erik Inglis, OC ’89, professor of Medieval Art History and member of the Committee for Faculty and Staff Involvement, emphasized that some of the most dramatic impacts on the school are not always visible.

“We made it through the last recession without having to abandon any searches [for new faculty],” said Inglis. “Our ability not to have lay-offs depends on the last capital campaign, even if it didn’t materially transform the school.” Fundraising campaigns, which are usually conducted every decade or so, also have a lasting impact on alumni participation even after the campaign is over.

According to Barlow, the average amount Oberlin raised each year before the last campaign was $12 to $15 million. This increased to between $20 and $25 million in the years following the campaign.

This year, Oberlin is reaching out to a broader range of alumni, faculty and staff than in past campaigns in order to reach its ambitious goal.

“It’s hard when you’re at a place to understand the importance of these campaigns,” said Jan Miyake, OC ’96 and associate professor of Music Theory. “We lag behind our peer institutions in the size of our endowment, especially when considering the size of the student body.”

Miyake is on the Committee for Faculty and Staff Involvement with four other faculty members. They are working to engage Oberlin community members in the campaign.

“We want to create an experience of excitement and … personal involvement in the campaign,” said Miyake.

Those involved in the campaign said that they hope to exceed their fundraising goal, though Inglis cautions that raising the second half is harder than raising the first.

“It’s a different kind of labor to raise gifts at the $10 amount,” said Inglis. During the first, or “quiet” phase of the campaign, when the formal targets have not yet been released to the public, donations are usually solicited for especially large projects, such as the Bertram and Judith Kohl Building, which was part of the campaign.

“We can’t shy away from supporting such important things,” Stull said. “We have the capability to support the core values of what makes Oberlin such a great place.”