Building the Faculty of the Future

Oberlin College has always been known for its outstanding faculty. At every alumni gathering the talk often turns to Oberlin's legendary professors--Andrew Bongiorno, Frederick B. "Freddy" Artz, Luke Steiner, George Simpson. The list goes on, and to exclude anyone seems invidious. The imprint of Oberlin's faculty on its students is palpable and fondly remembered.

Oberlin professors are remarkable because they translate the hallmarks of the professorate--teaching, research, and service--into especially meaningful relationships with their students. For many decades Oberlin professors have had national--indeed, international--reputations for scholarship. They have received the ultimate accolades of their professions, with presidencies of such major professional organizations as the American Chemical Society, American Sociological Society, and Medieval Academy of America.

Oberlin faculty members maintain these professional profiles without shirking their duties to undergraduates. Indeed, teaching challenging, engaged undergraduates feeds scholarship, and vice versa. When professors at research universities condescendingly commiserated with Fred Artz about his having to teach the European history survey, he replied, "On the contrary, that's when I get all my good ideas!" By studying with faculty at the cutting edge of their disciplines, students get a first-hand sense of the excitement that comes from learning on the frontier and creating new knowledge.

Maintaining an exceptional faculty is critical--nothing is more important to the quality of an Oberlin education--and the challenge has never been greater. Retirements are hitting the faculty hard. More than one-third of the 185 tenure-track faculty are in the zone of the traditional retirement age. Thirty-seven have retired in the past five years or announced their imminent retirement. Another 26 are aged 60 or older.

Fortunately, our heritage and current strengths enable us to recruit outstanding new faculty. This year the College of Arts and Sciences is conducting 18 tenure-track searches; last year we hired eight tenure-track faculty; all of them were our first choices. We've brought candidates to campus from as close as Ann Arbor and Columbus and as far as Paris, Florence, Madrid, and Seoul. They come from the country's best graduate schools: Princeton, Chicago, Berkeley, Michigan, Cornell, and Yale.

The Allen Memorial Art Museum, the Conservatory, the libraries, and the Science Center underway are powerful attractions. Those resources are augmented by attractive packages of teaching and research support, such as year-long research grants, funds for international travel, and provisions for laboratory equipment and related teaching and research materials. Our professors do research--and often take their students with them--on projects as varied as bromeliads in New Guinea, coal mine workers in Ukraine, volcanoes in Indonesia, the revival of Tchaikovsky's original Sleeping Beauty in St. Petersburg, nationalism in Chile, and African-American art across the United States.

Recruitment is challenging; we need a faculty that is both excellent and diverse. If we do the job right, Oberlin students will wear the same imprint as their predecessors. And future alumni gatherings will recall with pride and fondness the Bongiornos, Artzes, Steiners, and Simpsons of the current generation.
Clayton Koppes
Dean, College of Arts and Sciences
Note from the Dean