From her airy, second-floor office overlooking Wilder Bowl, Dye
speaks above the faint sounds of hammers and saws making their way
through the science complex that is nearing completion. Faces of
her family membershusband Griff, a clinical psychologist,
and adult children Molly and Michaelsmile through framed glass.
An overstuffed dog bed lies in the corner: Farley, the Dyes
golden lab, and basset hound Dexter are occasional visitors. With
fall classes still a few weeks away, the campus is serene. Dye is
the first to admit that it wasnt her own grand plan that has
brought Oberlin back to good health, but rather the advice of the
people who know Oberlin best. Seeking inputthen and nowfrom
others who have a stake in the institution has gained her many supporters.
Oberlin Trustee Peter Kirsch 79, former president of the Alumni
Association, says Dye has proven time and again that it is the best
interests of Oberlin, and not her own ego, that guide her leadership.
Nancy has talked the talk and walked the walk, says
Kirsch, a Denver attorney. She has aggressively avoided imposing
herself and her values and image on the institution. That comes
from a deep respect for our tradition. She didnt come in and
announce: I know your school and whats good for it.
Rather, she said, Tell me about Oberlin. Help me, educate
me. You are the keepers of the flame. My job is to leadnot
to decide what kind of institution this should be.
She realized, says Kirsch, that Oberlin will never be the Harvard
of Ohio, nor does it want to be. With Nancy, it was a love-fest
from the get go. That she has maintained her popularity for eight
years is unusual, if not extraordinary.
Dye says that seeking input, genuinely and openly, was the only
way to approach Oberlins presidency because Oberlin is a democratically
governed institution with many shareholders and because she came
here without a template. As soon as I arrived on campus during
the presidential search, people asked me about my vision for Oberlin
and how I would solve its problems. Well, I didnt have the
foggiest idea, she laughs. I had only set foot on campus
Nancy came on as president at a very difficult time for the
College, notes Kirsch. Her predecessor, Fred Starr,
was very much the kind of president Oberlin needed at one time,
but by the end of his term, he wasnt providing the right kind
of leadership. The College was uncertain about its direction and
needed a president to bring together the very disparate interests
in the College community.
Dye agrees that heads were hanging when she arrived. Colleges
have very, very distinct cultures and personalities. Oberlin has
one of the strongest. It has a powerful sense of itself, its mission,
its values. It has a strong connection to its history. And to be
Oberlins president, one has to respect the institution and
have a genuine sympathy for it.
When I arrived here, the College appeared demoralized, with
little confidence in its mission and future. In other words: We
used to be a fine place, and now were nobody.
Immediately, she set out to restore that pride, assembling alumni,
students, faculty, and administrators167 in allin work
groups to define Oberlin, reinforce its ideals, and imagine its
future. In focus groups and town meetings, Oberlins core goals
were articulated: to offer a world-class interdisciplinary education
taught by an excellent and diverse faculty; a commitment to the
arts and to broad-based science literacy for all students; a true
commitment to inclusion and a richly diverse residential campus
community; and a genuinely international curriculum.
Those valuesself-evident to many Oberlinianswere spelled
out in a document called Broad Directions for Oberlins Future.
The final product assembled in print what many already knew, yet
the processthe holistic approach used to arrive at the planwas
incredibly important in righting Oberlins course, says Dye.
This was about the community coming together in new ways to
talk about what made the College special and what it needed to do
to move those values and programs into the future, she says.
Her leadership infused spirit into the place, says former
Alumni Council President Diane Kenty 77, who likes the way
Dye stands up and takes all comers in an annual Q&A
session with alumni each fall. Oberlin was in a big hole.
There was very little listening going on and a lot of negativity.
Nancy just brought in a completely different approach to problem
solvinga genuine concern for students as people and a very
high standard for scholarship and academic excellence.
Dyes mission paid off financially, too. In accepting a $150,000
Presidential Leadership Grant from the John S. and James L. Knight
Foundation, Dye was recognized for her inspired leadership
in helping the College develop a new strategic framework for planning
and decision making to ensure a confident future for Oberlin.
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