State of The College -
Address to Oberlin’s Alumni

Page 3

Oberlin’s faculty has also approved a new program in cinema studies. It will explore film as art, the work of major directors, and genres in the history of film. It will also look at film as both a media system and entertainment industry and examine its political and economic roles in the development of modern culture. This, too, is a program that Oberlin has long needed. It broadens and deepens our curricular offerings in this very important and popular area of our arts curriculum and builds on our great strengths in art history, theater, and studio art, including photography and new media.

We are also working to build upon Oberlin’s historic strengths in international area studies. We have augmented our strong Asian studies program with a new appointment in Korean studies, the addition of a young Islamacist whose work focuses on Indonesia, and the significant enhancement of our Central Asian offerings in our Russian, Eastern European, and Central Asian studies program. We have created new positions in African history, Middle Eastern and North African studies, Latin American politics, and Latin American literature and film. These positions help us realize our goal of internationalizing our curriculum, as do our efforts to create more meaningful opportunities in international study for students and faculty. In this, we are again helped by the Freeman and Luce foundations. The Freeman Foundation is providing generous funds to enable our faculty to undertake study tours throughout Asia and to create new winter-term experiences for students to travel, study, research, and learn throughout East Asia. The College and the Conservatory have been collaborating with Shansi over the past few years: students and faculty have engaged in winter-term projects in Madurai, India; Yogykarta, Indonesia; and Yunnan Province, China. The Freeman grant will allow us to make a quantum leap in this area. Our new Luce Foundation grant focuses on international environmental studies and recognizes the excellence of both our environmental studies and international area studies programs. It, too, will provide wonderful learning experiences around the world for many of our students.

And we are determined to maintain Oberlin’s leadership in science and in the arts. To this end, we have added new faculty positions in neuroscience (one of our newest and strongest academic programs), geology, biology, and ecological design. The latter is an interdisciplinary position in applied science and the social implications of technology.

Many of you have heard me speak more than once about the strategic importance of our new Science Center. Oberlin must continue its unsurpassed record of educating scientists and its reputation for excellence in undergraduate science education. To do this, we need to attract the strongest faculty and students. Our new Science Center, which opened last fall and which is nearly completed, will be essential for maintaining and enhancing our science programs. We believe the center makes a strong statement about the importance of science at Oberlin.

We also believe that our new Science Center provides the best undergraduate facilities and instrumentation anywhere. The new buildings reflect and encourage the interdisciplinary nature of science and create a welcoming campus crossroads for all Oberlin students and faculty—scientists and non-scientists alike. The new research labs provide enough bench space for every science major to undertake significant independent research with the guidance of a faculty member—experience that we know is critical to the success of young scientists. And, finally, our new Science Center helps break down barriers between the sciences and the humanities and moves us toward achieving our goal that every Oberlin student have a strong scientific education here.

The arts also hold great strategic importance for Oberlin. An extraordinarily rich artistic community of art makers and art appreciators has long been a cornerstone of Oberlin’s greatness. Our alumni can be found in the great orchestras and opera companies of the world. They have distinguished themselves as playwrights, directors, screenwriters, novelists, critics, composers of symphonies, choreographers of musical comedies and operas, painters, graphic artists, lighting and set designers, photographers, actors, singers, art curators, collectors, dealers, and architects.

More than this, the arts at Oberlin profoundly influence the lives of all of our students. I often ask alumni what has turned out to be most important to them about their college education. By far the most common answer is: “At Oberlin, I learned to look at a work of art. At Oberlin, I learned how really to listen to music.”

Our artistic community is anchored, of course, by one of the best conservatories of music in the world, and our Conservatory is going strong. Every year we enroll a remarkable number of some of the best young musicians in the world. They come from Tajikistan and Brazil, China and Ukraine, Korea and Bulgaria, and Argentina and Russia to pursue their education as musicians here.

This year has been particularly notable in our Conservatory’s history. We enjoyed the inauguration last September of our magnificent new Kay Africa organ, built by C.B. Fisk of Gloucester, Massachusetts, in the 19th-century French symphonic style. Also this year, Professor of Harpsichord Lisa Crawford brought back to life a French baroque opera, Royer’s Le Pouvoir de l’Amour, which had not been staged in more than 300 years. With the hard work of student, alumni, and faculty singers; dancers; designers; and musicians performing on period instruments, the Conservatory, with support from our theater and dance program, staged this long-gone work in February. The New York opera critics attended, and we received strong reviews in The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.

Our Conservatory jazz alumni organized a terrific concert last November in tribute to our professor of jazz and African American music, Wendell Logan. The event was organized by distinguished jazz bassist Leon Dorsey and James McBride, jazz saxophonist and author of both The Color of Water and a wonderful recently published first novel, Miracle at St. Anna. Together, they assembled an outstanding group of jazz musicians—all Oberlin alumni—from throughout the country to honor Professor Logan.

The St. Petersburg String Quartet, one of the world’s great chamber ensembles, is quartet-in-residence for a fourth year. Quartet members continue to coach chamber music and to perform an impressive number of wonderful concerts for our entire community.

This is just a very small sampling of this year’s musical riches at Oberlin—classical music, historical performance, jazz, and new music, all thriving, all complementary, and generally very happy together.

The visual arts at Oberlin also continue to thrive. Our strength here is due to our remarkably strong art history program, the Allen Memorial Art Museum, and an excellent, dynamic program in studio art. We have been paying considerable attention to our studio program because of an explosion of student interest.

The place of studio art in the liberal arts curriculum is changing dramatically. Oberlin is attracting many more highly talented majors, and an ever-growing number of our students want to take one or more art courses. This shouldn’t surprise us. As Professor of Art History Bill Hood has put it, “Over the past two decades, the means for creating and disseminating knowledge have come to rely more and more on the eye. This is obviously the case for television and the movies. But it is also true of the myriad ways in which the computer now shapes and even generates modes of communication not imagined as few as 10 years ago. As popular culture in developed nations has become more vision based, so, too, have the arts, not only the visual arts, but the performing arts as well. Thus it is that Oberlin students’ demand for high-level instruction in these areas has given rise to such programs as Technology in Music and Related Arts—TIMARA—in the Conservatory; the use of computer-generated imagery in theater and dance; and the exceptional growth of interest in photography, film, and electronic media in the visual arts. Since 1980, Oberlin has added positions in photography, film, and ‘time-based’ media.” Thanks to the Luce Foundation, Oberlin has also been able to create a distinguished professorship in the emerging arts that is an appointment in both the College and the Conservatory.

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