Position Profile

The Search

Oberlin College & Conservatory (“Oberlin,” or “the College”), a highly selective residential liberal arts college and conservatory of music, seeks its fifteenth President. Long recognized as one of the finest liberal arts institutions in the country, the institution is celebrated for its range of educational offerings, combining an excellent college of arts and sciences, the nation’s oldest continuously operating conservatory, and an internationally-acclaimed academic art museum on a single campus. Oberlin prepares students for lives of sustained intellectual inquiry and artistic exploration; societal engagement and civic purpose; and leadership and service. An Oberlin education is deep, broad, and meaningful, and enables graduates to stand out as innovative thinkers, social activists, and leaders.

Founded in 1833 by Presbyterian missionaries, Oberlin has always engaged with the history of its times. It was the first college in America to adopt a policy to admit African-American students (1835) and the first to grant bachelor’s degrees to women in a coeducational program (1841). At the turn of the twentieth century, W. E. B. DuBois estimated that Oberlin had educated one-third of all African-American graduates of predominantly white colleges and universities. Today, Oberlin offers a diverse and inclusive residential learning environment that encourages a free and respectful exchange of ideas, and that is informed by a shared commitment to a just society.

The next President will have a tremendous platform to leverage Oberlin’s formidable history and assets, propelling the institution toward a bold, distinctive, and sustainable future. The College has recently concluded two efforts that will bolster and guide this work. In early 2016 the faculty and Board of Trustees approved the Oberlin College Strategic Plan 2016-2021, an aspirational document that proposes future directions for the institution. And in June 2016, the College closed a capital campaign, Oberlin Illuminate, after raising $317 million (surpassing its goal of $250 million). The current value of the endowment is $750 million.

Oberlin seeks a president with a professional and personal commitment to the academic, artistic, and pedagogical aims of the institution as well as the progressive history of the College. This president will bring broad intellectual curiosity; an inclusive, collaborative leadership style; financial and fundraising acumen; and a natural inclination toward community engagement and social action. A Presidential Search Committee composed of trustees, faculty, students, staff, and alumni is working with Isaacson, Miller, the national executive recruiting firm. Confidential inquiries, nominations, and referrals may be directed to the firm as indicated at the end of this document.

Student reading a book while lying in green grass.

The College & Conservatory: An Overview


Oberlin is deeply committed to academic and artistic excellence, to social justice, and to the use of knowledge and craft to improve the human condition.

Beyond that, the institution defies easy description. In some respects Oberlin resembles a small university (total enrollment is 2,920). With a College of Arts and Sciences and a Conservatory of Music, as well as the renowned Allen Memorial Art Museum (with a collection that places it in the top five of academic art museums nationally), Oberlin is significantly more complex than a traditional liberal arts college. The College’s campus library system is first-rate; at more than 2.4 million items, it is one of the largest of any liberal arts college.

Students with teacher in science lab.

Approximately 2,550 students enroll in the college in 47 majors in the humanities, social sciences, mathematics, and natural sciences. The conservatory, which offers 8 majors and private instruction in 36 areas, serves an additional 550 students who have the unusual opportunity to learn and practice on a residential campus. Oberlin’s five-year Double Degree Program serves 180 students pursuing baccalaureate degrees in the both the arts and sciences and in music. A limited number of master’s programs are also offered in the conservatory.

The College of Arts and Sciences offers a rich and balanced curriculum in the humanities, creative arts, social sciences, natural sciences, and mathematics. Within that framework, the college expects that students will work closely with faculty, advisors, and the instructional staff to design an educational program appropriate to their specific interests, needs, and long-term goals. The Conservatory of Music is the only major music school in the U.S. that focuses on undergraduate education. Its pre-professional training provides each musician with an esteemed faculty mentor, exposure to residential and guest artists, transformative curricula, and countless opportunities to perform on campus and beyond.

Over the course of decades, Oberlin has been the source of more future PhDs than any other liberal arts college. Its alumni include three Nobel laureates (in Medicine, Physics, and Physiology and Medicine), seven Pulitzer Prize winners, and eleven MacArthur Fellows. Of the current membership of the National Academy of Sciences, 22 earned their undergraduate degrees at Oberlin, representing 1 percent of the Academy. The conservatory was the 2009 recipient of the National Medal of Arts, the highest award given by the United States government to artists and arts patrons; only two professional music schools have been so honored. Graduates perform in the world’s foremost concert halls, jazz clubs, and opera houses, and with highly acclaimed orchestras. They excel as conductors, soloists, composers, producers, theoreticians, entrepreneurs, historians, and educators.

Institutional Values

At the heart of Oberlin lies its devotion to the life of the mind, both as an end in itself and as a means to change the world. Obies are creative, energetic, and inquisitive. They evince a voracious intellectual appetite that is notable for its range across the arts, music, and sciences.

When it admitted African-Americans and women in the nineteenth century, Oberlin exerted directional influence on the intellectual and humanistic values of American higher education. That influence continues. Oberlin is remarkable for its emphasis on social activism, service, and justice. The campus community and alumni, in Michelle Obama’s words, “run to the noise.” Some examples are:

  • Each year, more than 1,500 students participate in some form of community service. The Bonner Center for Service and Learning partners with more than 200 community organizations, schools, and government agencies to develop and offer programs, projects, and opportunities that encourage meaningful student engagement.
  • The College’s historic commitment to diversity, inclusion, and equity remains a current focus, and in recent years has broadened to embrace undocumented students and the transgender community. Oberlin is also known for its progressive attitude toward sexuality and gender expression.
  • Recent construction efforts have been recognized by the U.S. Green Building Council: the Hotel at Oberlin is the first in the U.S. to incorporate solar, geothermal, and radiant heating and cooling, and is one of only five hotels in the country designed to qualify for LEED Platinum certification. The College and the city of Oberlin have signed on to be one of 18 Clinton Foundation Climate Positive Development Programs in the world, and the city of Oberlin has been designated by the White House as one of 16 Climate Action Champions across the country.
Apollo movie theater marquee, reading Oberlin Illuminate.

Oberlin accords respect and responsibility to the members of its diverse and inclusive community. Faculty governance is strong (the specific allocation of faculty lines and the power to create new programs, for example, both reside wholly within the faculty). Students participate in governance by serving on standing and ad hoc committees throughout the College, and have opportunities to practice self-governance in the residential co-ops. They are treated as intellectuals in their own right: they pursue research and drive their own learning as explorers and discoverers. For example, the Art Rental Program of the Allen Memorial Art Museum permits students to rent up to two works of art for a semester by artists such as Picasso and Toulouse-Lautrec, for a fee of $5 per work. And the Oberlin Experimental College (ExCo) gives students the chance to teach a course on a topic outside of the traditional curriculum for one or two credits, while Winter Term enables students to pursue self-directed learning through independent study, educational experimentation, and experiential learning.


The city of Oberlin (population 8,600) is located in Lorain County, about 35 miles southwest of Cleveland and a 30-minute drive from Cleveland’s Hopkins International Airport. The geographical location affords residents a blend of small college-town life and the attractions of a large metropolitan area. Oberlin is eminently livable, characterized as it is by a diverse population, a historic downtown, leafy residential streets, and a modern medical facility. A thriving, lively community of businesses, public and safety services, restaurants, museums, schools, community parks, and bike paths is surrounded by working farms. The Cleveland Orchestra, the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, three professional athletic teams, and two of the nation’s leading medical centers (Cleveland Clinic and University Hospitals) are less than an hour away.

Oberlin College & Conservatory and the city of Oberlin are inextricably linked. They have been partners on key initiatives, including the Green Arts District and the renovation of the Apollo Theatre, which is owned by the College and is a mainstay of the community. The College and city also were involved in the development of Kendal at Oberlin, a continuing care retirement community. In addition, collaborations with the public schools include full tuition scholarships for any Oberlin High School graduate who is admitted to the College. With over 1,000 employees and 95 academic and residential buildings occupying 614 acres in the center of the city, the College is central to the life of the community.

Students playing woodwind instruments (bassoons) in the orchestra.

The College Community

Oberlin draws passionate and independent thinkers. They value inclusion and individual expression while upholding high standards of academic and artistic rigor, intellectual debate, and service to society.

Oberlin retains an intimacy and focus on undergraduate education and individual students. Faculty members are exceptionally dedicated teachers, making themselves available to students not only in classes and seminars, but also as mentors and advisors and also through honors projects, independent studies, and collaborative research opportunities. Faculty are also active and successful as scholars, artists, and performers; their work has been supported by grants and fellowships from numerous external sources, including the Mellon Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the National Science Foundation. Across the institution there are 370 full-time and part-time faculty; the student-faculty ratio is 9:1 overall. Ninety-four percent of the faculty hold the terminal degree in their fields.

Dramatic image of piano.

Students are extraordinarily engaged and active. About 90 percent of the student body lives on campus, with nearly a quarter of students in one of the eight co-ops of the Oberlin Student Cooperative Association (OSCA), which is one of the largest and oldest student cooperative systems in the country. Many other students opt to live in one of 10 cultural and language houses. Obies create and participate in more than 175 student-run campus organizations, and more than 1,200 are involved in community service annually. Nearly three-quarters study abroad at some point during their college careers. Oberlin College is an NCAA Division III institution and part of the North Coast Athletic Conference (NCAC). Roughly 350 student athletes participate in 21 varsity sports each year and one-third of students participate in intramurals and club sports, many of which they organize and oversee.

Since the 1980s the number of applications for admission to Oberlin has risen steadily, with the College more selective than ever before. In fall 2016, nearly 60 percent of the first-year class ranked in the top 10 percent of their high school class. Almost 20 percent of Oberlin students are people of color, and 10 percent are international students. Students come from 50 states and 42 countries. States sending the most students to Oberlin are New York, California, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Maryland, and Massachusetts; China sends the most international students. On average the first-year retention rate is 92 percent, and the six-year graduation rate is 88 percent. Over 80 percent of students receive institutional financial aid.

Oberlin’s community includes 350 administrative and professional staff and over 400 unionized staff in administrative, food service, groundskeeping, and maintenance and facilities positions. They exert a powerful unifying and stabilizing influence on institutional life, and connect the members of the College to one another and to the surrounding city and region. Many have been at the College for decades. Their relationships with faculty, students, and alumni, with each other, and with Oberlin are enduring. The College considers them critical partners in its educational mission.

The Oberlin Alumni Association is composed of over 40,000 graduates and former students. In keeping with Oberlin's tradition of engagement, the alumni voice is robust. The Association is a vibrant organization and an effective partner in supporting academic and artistic excellence. It directly supports current students and fellow alumni through mentoring and career services; it supports Admissions by conducting interviews, representing Oberlin at college fairs, and hosting admissions events in key cities; and it supports the development office in fundraising efforts. This is a strong community intent on engaging with Oberlin and with each other.


Oberlin is governed by a 34-member Board of Trustees that includes six alumni-elected trustees and three class trustees (young alumni). Members may serve up to three terms, of four years each. The Board provides strategic direction, philanthropic support, and guidance to the College’s leaders, chief among them the President. The President is an ex officio member of the Board.

The Hotel at Oberlin under a clear, dusky blue sky.

In June 2017, Marvin Krislov will conclude ten years of service as Oberlin’s President. As President he has led collaborative, consensus-driven efforts to make the college and conservatory more rigorous, diverse, inclusive, and accessible to students from all socioeconomic backgrounds. His creation of the Oberlin Access Initiative removed the loan burden for hundreds of Pell Grant-eligible students. He has also strengthened the development function at Oberlin, an effort that was instrumental in the success of the Oberlin Illuminate campaign, which met its goal 18 months ahead of schedule, ultimately raising tens of millions of dollars for scholarships and faculty support.

Under President Krislov’s leadership, the College has entered a new era of environmental action and sustainability with the launch of the Oberlin Project, the creation of the Green Arts District, and the construction of the mixed-use Gateway Center. The physical plant has been expanded and renovated, with construction of a new, natural gas power plant that replaced a coal-fired facility. Recent projects include Robert Lewis Kahn Hall, a LEED Silver rated dormitory, and the conservatory’s Gold LEED rated Bertram and Judith Kohl Building, the home of the Division of Jazz Studies and its programs in music history and music theory. In 2014 the Austin E. Knowlton Athletics Complex and Dick Bailey Field replaced the outdated Savage Football Stadium.

Discus player just before the throw.


Oberlin’s annual budget is roughly $164 million, with about 80 percent coming from student charges. The College has made budgetary commitments that include doubling the number of Pell-eligible students and increasing faculty compensation (over a five-year period) to match the median of its peer colleges. It has also invested heavily in renovating, rehabilitating, and constructing facilities, consistent with its commitment to environmental sustainability.

In recent years the endowment, valued at $750 million in June 2016, has performed well. Like many higher education institutions, in 2009 Oberlin experienced a drop in its endowment that has since rebounded. Unlike many other colleges and universities in America, Oberlin came through the recession without cutting faculty, laying off staff, or curtailing the curriculum.

In 2016-17, student financial aid from Oberlin sources amounted to almost $60 million; about 17 percent of financial aid is endowed. To reduce costs, Oberlin has trimmed its operating budget and recently concluded an early retirement incentive program. Still, Oberlin’s rate of endowment spending is somewhat higher than its peers. To correct course financial planning targets have been identified, to reduce the endowment draw by ten basis points annually. The College intends to maintain existing enrollment levels while reducing the rate of net tuition growth.

Current Outlook

Oberlin has formidable assets in its history, people, achievements, and aspirations. The College is financially stable and blessed with generous supporters. Still, as an institution that includes both a liberal arts college and conservatory, Oberlin has been in a singular position to observe and experience the ideological, financial, and enrollment challenges that have been felt at colleges and universities throughout the nation.

Student walking across Tappan Square on a bright autumn day.

The formulation of the Oberlin College Strategic Plan 2016-2021 was informed by the College’s awareness of these pressures and proceeded from a desire to understand, attend to, and navigate the changing landscape of higher education. The plan calls on the College to foster academic and musical excellence in an equitable and inclusive learning environment; to further develop and enhance the residential experience as an incubator for excellence; to identify and take the necessary steps to achieve educational, financial, and environmental sustainability; and, with the entire Oberlin community, to make the College more nimble and agile in governance and decision-making.

Accomplishing these steps will not be easy, but Oberlin faces these pressures from a position of strength. It has a dedicated faculty and staff; talented and engaged students; a committed Board and alumni body; and a productive partnership with the city of Oberlin. It also has a healthy enrollment outlook and cutting-edge facilities, and it just completed a successful campaign.

Role of the President

The President is the chief executive officer of the College and holds responsibility for the overall active management and direction of the educational programs and activities, business operations, and other affairs of Oberlin. The College is a complex institution with an astonishing range of activities, requirements, and perspectives. It is the President who oversees this enterprise and serves as the voice for the institution’s aims and mission.

The President engages with the full community, and leads through influence and example: this is a setting where decision-making is distributed, and where faculty governance and student opinion are powerful. It should also be noted that at a more conventional liberal arts college or a conservatory, a president would have a single purview. At Oberlin, with both a college and a conservatory, the President must hold both of these operations in view, and within each institution hold the tensions in view.

Reporting directly to the President are: the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences; the Dean of the Conservatory; the Vice President and Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid; the Vice President and Dean of Students; the Vice President for Finance and Administration; the Vice President for Communications; the Vice President for Development and Alumni Affairs; the Special Assistant for Community and Government Relations; the General Counsel and Secretary; and the Director of Athletics and Physical Education.

Conservatory workshop.

Key Opportunities and Challenges

Oberlin is an institution poised for significant change, and looks to an inspirational and charismatic president to lead the College. Its distinctive pedagogical model is respected; it has a recognizable brand equated with progressive thought and social activism; and it has the individual and collective excellence of members of the community.

Student playing violin, wearing a denim jacket.

The overarching opportunities and challenges for the next President are to:

  • be bold,
  • push for innovation,
  • facilitate critical conversations,
  • make difficult choices,
  • take informed risks in an environment that has a constitutional appetite for progressive thought and experimentation,
  • and develop a vision that is strategic, implementable, and effective in a financially-constrained environment.

In seizing opportunities and confronting challenges, the President will have the support of a dedicated and experienced Board of Trustees, outstanding faculty, an engaged student body, talented staff, a strong leadership team, and committed alumni.

The Board of Trustees and the Oberlin community will look to the President to:

Advance and articulate the vision for Oberlin’s future as a leading liberal arts college and conservatory.

The President must make the special case for Oberlin—its mission, aims, and activities—that inspires the campus community, galvanizes the support of external stakeholders and audiences, and ensures that Oberlin contributes affirmatively to public conversations about higher education, the liberal arts, conservatory education, and public service. This individual will be empowered and expected to connect the goals and outcomes of liberal arts and music education to the current and future needs of Oberlin students, and to the ways the campus community and alumni dare to change the world and elevate the human condition. The College’s Strategic Plan will be the foundation for the case, but ultimately there will be choices to be made and strategies to pursue. The President will lead the community in weighing the component parts of the plan and considering how best to translate the plan into reality. With that accomplished, the President will be the institutional voice for this vision.

Ensure financial sustainability of the institution.

With the completion of the most recent campaign, Oberlin is on strong financial ground. At the same time, it faces a challenging financial environment that is both common to liberal arts higher education and unique to Oberlin, having both a college and conservatory with distinct enrollment, curricular, and financial demands. The College’s high-tuition, high financial aid model makes the institution vulnerable; economic and demographic forecasts suggest that stresses on finances will continue to grow. The next President must balance Oberlin’s commitment to access and affordability with fiscal responsibility and an awareness of other priorities of the College. This individual will possess the financial sophistication, creativity, and conviction necessary to identify effective solutions; make challenging decisions as to the allocation of limited resources; and communicate these considerations and decisions in a way that promotes a shared understanding of the issues and that rallies the active support of internal and external stakeholders.

Dramatic dusky clouds over the Science Center.

Further a sense of community and shared purpose.

Its small size and intimate scale notwithstanding, Oberlin is decentralized in ways that can impede communication. Oberlin seeks a leader who can connect the various constituencies, groups, and departments on campus, and think across disciplines and paradigms. The President must promote cross-group and cross-campus communication, and emphasize institutional citizenship while supporting the specific needs of the College’s many constituencies. This individual should possess the energy and sincerity to engage and communicate with the campus community as a whole and at the individual level; the ability to foster a sense of common purpose; an orientation toward transparency; and a talent for cultivating a shared vocabulary that reinforces a unified view of Oberlin’s strengths and the work that remains to be done.

Inspire and mediate challenging, respectful dialogue and debate.

Oberlin is a place where constructive and challenging conversations—however difficult they may be in the moment—are accepted and welcomed as conducive to learning and social betterment. Its next President should embrace this view and seize on moments of conflict or protest as opportunities for meaningful, respectful, and courageous conversations. The new President will be expected to set an example of caring and engagement, and have the ability to bring people of many different backgrounds together around common passions and commitments. This leader will be a visible and active presence both on and off campus, and will possess the fluency and sensitivity necessary to engage in conversations around issues that are difficult.

Partner with alumni, local, and regional communities.

The President must have the energy and aptitude for engaging the alumni community, cultivating new donors, and reaching out to the city and surrounding region. The President will look to possibilities for partnering for maximum social impact; philanthropically, this individual will cultivate new donors and provide stewardship. The next President will join Oberlin after the successful close of an ambitious capital campaign. The President will continue to serve as the lead fundraiser for the institution, working closely with the Board of Trustees and the Vice President for Development and Alumni Affairs. The momentum generated by the Oberlin Illuminate campaign will provide a fine platform that will serve Oberlin well and provide significant opportunity for the President.

Exterior of the Allen Memorial Art Museum on a clear day.

Qualifications and Characteristics

Oberlin College & Conservatory seeks a persuasive leader and strategic thinker whose positive energy, character, integrity, intellect, and passion will inspire all those associated with the institution. The successful candidate will bring many of these qualities, experiences, and skills to the role:

Deep professional and personal commitment to the mission of Oberlin and its motto, “Learning and Labor”: Professional experience that demonstrates an affinity and admiration for faculty, students, staff, and alumni. A deep understanding of the mission of a liberal arts college and a conservatory, and of Oberlin’s dedication to academic and artistic excellence. A strong appreciation of the academic world, its scholarly values, and distinctive professional culture as well as the role of music, arts, and culture in society. Demonstrated commitment to the power of ideas, critical thinking, and intellectual inquiry and experimentation.

Love of music: Dedication to musical excellence as an essential component of Oberlin’s educational mission, heritage, and campus culture and as an essential part of human experience and expression. Understanding of the distinct ways faculty and student musicians develop and sustain their craft. Appreciation for how music performance, composition, research, scholarship, and education intersect with arts and sciences to shape Oberlin’s learning environment and institutional culture.

A track record of success in higher education leadership: A substantial understanding of the trends and developments that will affect the future of higher education. Appreciation for the value and nature of faculty governance, and an ability to lead collaboratively and transparently. Demonstrated experience in the making and implementation of difficult choices, with success and harmony. A record of successful partnership with a board, and equally effective support and management of a senior leadership team. A grasp of the finances of higher education, liberal arts institutions, and conservatories, and a keen sense of the measures that can be productively deployed in those settings.

Dramatic shot of tree and sky reflected in pond.

Demonstrated commitment to inclusion, diversity, and equity: Cultural fluency, sensitivity, sophistication, compassion, and empathy. An aptitude and appetite for engaging in and facilitating challenging conversations around a broad range of issues taking place on and off college campuses, including in crisis situations, with patience, humility, and persistence. An inclination to do as well as to discuss; an inclination toward action.

Superb communication skills: The ability to listen, discern, inspire, elucidate, and explain. An ability to connect with individuals and with groups, whether they are faculty, students, staff, administrators, alumni, donors, or other stakeholders. A persona that is at ease with a variety of strong and opposing personalities and opinions, and encourages and values conversation, trust, candor, and transparency. The ability to motivate and inspire a team; the skills and personality to make the case for Oberlin. Enthusiasm for engagement.

Personal qualities: Personal warmth, charisma, energy, a natural preference for collaboration, and comfort with people of different backgrounds. Intellectual honesty, moral courage, imagination, and mental agility and flexibility. A sense of perspective and balance, as seen in the ability to demonstrate a blend of gravity and lightness. Unquestioned integrity, trustworthiness, sound judgment, and ethics.

Professional qualifications: Terminal degree or the equivalent. Demonstrated success in roles of similar scope, scale, complexity, and responsibility. Demonstrated effectiveness in fundraising.

Student working in greenery of garden.

To Apply

Confidential inquiries, nominations/referrals, and resumes with cover letters can be sent electronically and in confidence to:

Rebecca Swartz, Anita Tien, or Ben Tobin
Isaacson, Miller
263 Summer Street, 7th Floor
Boston, MA 02110

Oberlin College is an Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action Employer with a strong institutional commitment to the development of a climate that supports equality of opportunity and respect of differences based on gender, ethnicity, disability, and sexual orientation. Oberlin was the first coeducational institution to grant bachelor’s degrees to women and historically has been a leader in the education of African-Americans; the College was also among the first to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation. In that spirit, there is a particular interest in encouraging applications from individuals who would contribute to the diversity of Oberlin.

Brian Alegant leading classroom discussion.