The Oberlin Review
<< Front page News February 10, 2006

The Revamped London Program Has Returned
Interest in London Program Running High: Students and faculty meet to discuss the new incarnation of the London program.

Nearly one year after the administration suspended the Danenberg Oberlin-in-London program because of financial difficulties, Provost Al MacKay announced last December, after months of planning, that the program would be revived this fall.

“We’re all very pleased,” MacKay said. “Things have worked out better than we had reason to expect.”

The London committee, headed by Professor of Politics Marc Blecher, started searching last spring for ways to bring the program back while also increasing its financial sustainability. Grinnell, a small Iowa liberal arts college, entered the picture as a potential collaborator last fall after being mentioned informally some months earlier. Ultimately, it led to the creation of a joint program.

“Six months ago, back in the spring, when we were first approached about Grinnell, we had no idea what to expect,” Blecher said. “[This partnership] could have some real novel payoffs.”

The program will function similarly to how it has in the past: The College will send a group of students and a professor to London to take classes and explore the city.

There will be some changes, however. A reduced number of students will be admitted, only one Oberlin professor will be in London rather than the standard two, and the Oberlin-in-London headquarters will be relocated to an institute maintained by Florida State University.

Additional changes, including the options to house and take classes with Grinnell students and to pursue internships throughout London in their areas of interest for credit, are seen as directly beneficial to Obies.

“I actually see this [new] program as an improvement,” said MacKay.

English Professor John Olmsted has been selected, for the fourth time in his Oberlin career, to accompany the group this fall. He will be teaching courses on “Romantic London” and “Modernism and British Literature, 1914-1929.”

Professor Olmsted states, “The greatest strength of this program will be that Oberlin students will get to work with first-class Grinnell professors who have taught in London for twenty years and have first-class college degrees. I’m also excited to be working with Grinnell professors... [they are] the equivalent of a department devoted to the study of London.”

The triumphant return of the much-loved study away program will likely assuage some of the anger that swept through campus last year when its pending elimination was announced. However, some people might be wondering whether this revised program will be any more financially sustainable than the old one in the long term.

“The way it turns out, the cost of the new program is going to be about the same as what the London committee proposed last spring for a restructured, less expensive Oberlin-only program,” Blecher explained. “Costs were reduced by $125,000, which was somewhere in the neighborhood of a 30% saving.” That, Blecher said, is close to where the costs stand today.

“The new program is not, in the end, what anybody thought it would be at the beginning,” Blecher continued. “What it is – and everyone agrees on this – is that we’re getting a better value for the money we’re spending. We’re getting a program that has more flexibility, [and] that offers more opportunities in that students who normally weren’t attracted to the London program can take biology and economics courses taught by Grinnell professors.”

Blecher also emphasized that the new program is still in the exploratory phase, and will be reevaluated in two years.

“It won’t be the case that it will be cut in two years if it’s not going well. We’re just going to take a look at it and we’ll look at the fall and the spring and see what semester is working better.

“For now, I’m happily surprised,” Blecher said.


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