School's in, predictably heightening thoughts of my own student days. Knowing that change is the only constant, I'm only a little sad to learn that Marvin Krislov will end his tenure as President of Oberlin College and Conservatory at the end of the year. Much as I genuinely hate to see him go, the decision is consistent with everything I've come to admire about President Krislov: he fears neither the future nor change. He's resisted retiring in place and his ego's firmly under control.
Having personally known four of President Krislov's presidential predecessors (and been critical of each in varying degrees), my unreserved admiration for him makes it hard for me to separate the man from the institution. Before I try, I want to lead a "Standing O" (that would be standing ovation) for his remarkable achievements during ten challenging, often daunting years.
Mr. Krislov has always taken the long view. His perspective is deeply American, strong in the knowledge that an educated citizenry is at the heart of our democratic experiment. So I took special interest in his recent essay in the NYTimes, Higher Education at a Crossroad. It is a fitting valedictory gift.
Being President of Oberlin is not a job for sissies. As David Bowie pointed out, albeit regarding being an artist, "If you feel safe in the area that you're working in, you're not working in the right area." Mr. Krislov was an unusual choice. He came in as a highly accomplished attorney, public policy practitioner, public university administrator, and law professor. In an institution founded by Protestant ministers fueled by the Second Great Awakening, he embraces his Jewish heritage without letting it warp his obligations to a secular institution. Baruch Spinoza would be proud.
Sad to say, today's colleges and universities seem determined to treat Presidents as CFRs -- Chief Fund Raisers. By embracing Oberlin's core values -- a vital educational experience grounded in excellence, founded on humane principles in the arts as well as the sciences and invested in the future -- instead of poor-mouthing or haranguing, Mr. Krislov inspired financial support. It's no accident that the recent "Oberlin Illuminate" capital campaign exceeded an extremely ambitious goal.
I've commented elsewhere on President Krislov's strength of character and authenticity in the face of outrageous overt and covert attacks on Oberlin institutionally and on him personally. He has been a perfect fit for the place that opened higher education to men of color and all women, more than 180 years ago. Oberlin still has plenty to learn but it is not burdened like the growing number of other prestigious universities and colleges finally forced to confront their active and passive complicity in America's racist and misogynist pasts.
Oberlin's motto eschews Latin trappings and goes straight to how progress gets made: "Learning and Labor". Nowhere is this more true than Mr. Krislov's engaged commitment to collaborative leadership. His condition for accepting the Presidency (2008) was that David Orr (Oberlin's Paul Sears Distinguished Professor of Environmental Studies and Politics) postpone retirement and stay on as Special Assistant to the President. Together (and with a lot of help) they are responsible for the audacious Oberlin Project. The Peter B. Lewis Gateway Center, the cornerstone for this larger, breathtaking project, will be the most visible output. On October 6 - 8, 2016, the world "may little note but long remember" a remarkable assemblage of outstanding environmental practitioners, experts and theorists. Fittingly, they gather for the first major event in this LEED Platinum-certified Conference Center and Hotel, to address humanity's urgent planetary: After Fossil Fuels: The Next Economy.
This leap into our collective future embodies my admiration for Marvin Krislov's abilities, both to lead and to follow. It is the keystone of his tenure at Oberlin: uniting the Town, the College and Conservatory for the good of all, while welcoming the world as we face a future that is ours to create. Marvin Krislov has raised the bar on what it takes to be outstanding. Here's to the promise of his last year and all the years that Oberlin will be better because of his indelible imprint.
I'm sad that Marvin is leaving. I look forward to watching his next success unfold and trust that his successor will change Oberlin in as many positive ways as has Mr. Krislov.