Marvin Krislov — whose decade as president of Oberlin College has included a $317 million fundraising campaign, completion of several major projects, and sometimes tense town-gown relations — will leave June 30 at the end of the academic year.
“I’m very grateful to the people of Oberlin, whether they’re associated with the college or not,” Krislov said Tuesday. “It’s a wonderful college and a wonderful community and I will always have part of my heart with it.”
The seven-year Oberlin Illuminate fundraising campaign exceeded its $250 million goal by about 26 percent.
Ray English, college director of libraries from 1990 until retiring last year, said the campaign is one of Krislov’s major successes. English didn’t work directly with Krislov, but attributes the campaign’s success to Krislov’s good relations with alumni and the board of trustees.
“He did create good enthusiasm for Oberlin in the sense that Oberlin is moving in the right direction,” English said. “That’s the kind of thing that’s needed if you’re going to have a good, successful campaign.”
The May opening of the Hotel at Oberlin, part of the $38 million Gateway hotel and conference project, was another major accomplishment although it included controversy. A dispute over parking spaces the college wanted that city officials said would violate fire codes led to the college suing the city before a compromise was reached.
David Orr, a retired environmental studies professor and counselor to the president since Krislov was hired in 2007, said the hotel was a signature accomplishment. The hotel was part of the Oberlin Project, a college/city environmental and economic initiative that Orr worked closely on.
Other projects during Krislov’s tenure include construction of a new power plant, renovation of the Apollo Theater, and athletic facility upgrades including plans for a $15 million addition to Phillips Gym.
Orr said Krislov’s affable personality, a lawyer’s ability to cut to the chase on issues, and strong commitment to ethics and diversity were keys to his success.
He noted that Krislov took over shortly before the Great Recession cut the college’s endowment from about $775 million to about $500 million. Yet Krislov avoided layoffs or major program cuts.
“His leadership was just extraordinary,” Orr said. “He cared about people and had a very distinctive and consensual style of leadership.”
The college has been criticized for not establishing a Payment in Lieu of Taxes program with the city. However Krislov said the college has been a major financial contributor to the city.
“I have sources who know private colleges and universities in Ohio and they say nobody has done more for the community, by a long shot, than Oberlin College has done for Oberlin,” he said. “We’ve done so much, on so many fronts, to strengthen the community.”
Among the contributions Krislov cited were helping Oberlin’s public schools.
District superintendent David Hall said he has met with Krislov several times since being hired in August of last year and the college has partnered with the school district to provide scholarships and tutors as well as providing volunteers for its annual Day of Service. The college also allows the district free use of tennis and track facilities.
Hall said he hopes the next college president has Krislov’s collaborative approach and that Krislov will be missed.
“He has a wealth of knowledge,” Hall said. “Great guy.”
While substantial money was raised and major projects were completed during Krislov’s presidency, relations with some black students deteriorated. In a January letter to Krislov and the board of trustees, the black student union said OC’s stated support for black students was a “public relations campaign” to benefit the college.
The letter’s demands included firing eight college faculty or staff and immediately granting three professors tenure. It also called for a four percent increase in black student enrollment from the Americas, Caribbean, and Africa this year and a 40 percent increase by 2022. Other demands included establishing “safe spaces” for black students, divesting from Israel due to its treatment of the Palestinians, and establishing a Payment in Lieu of Taxes agreement with the city.
Krislov, in a written response, said the college was “deeply committed” to addressing concerns about racism and social justice but some demands were “deeply troubling.” He said the students rejected collaborative engagement and took part in unwarranted personal attacks on faculty and staff.
Krislov said Tuesday that the college was “prioritizing equity, diversion, and inclusion” as part of the college’s strategic plan.
The 56-year-old Krislov, who last year applied for the presidency of the University of Iowa, didn’t say what his future plans are.
Instead, the college’s 14th president said in a news release that he would work with the trustees on the search for a successor and continue to raise money for scholarships and the strategic plan. Krislov, who came from the University of Michigan, said in an interview that he would like to be remembered for being accessible to people from the college and community.
“I believe very strongly in the importance of town-gown relations and the importance of making the community strong as a way also of making the college strong,” he said. “I think we did that.”
Evan Goodenow can be reached 440-775-1611 or @GoodenowNews on Twitter.