July 29, 2014

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Meet Marvin Krislov, Oberlin College’s new president

New Oberlin College President Marvin Krislov is hitting the ground running in his first few weeks on the job despite a recent personal tragedy.

Krislov is pledging to review faculty pay to make sure it is competitive, seek additional endowments to offset rising costs, build more dorm rooms and continue a policy of offering full scholarships to academically qualified Oberlin youths.

BRUCE BISHOP / CHRONICLE
New Oberlin College President
Marvin Krislov is seen outside his office.

He has been meeting with community leaders, staff, students and the media about his goals for the liberal arts college — all while mourning his 80-year-old father, who died this summer.

But the elder Krislov — a retired labor and economics professor at the University of Kentucky — was able to revel in his son’s success, the younger Krislov said.

“My dad’s an academic, he’s from the Ohio area — how do you describe a parent’s joy?” Krislov said. “I knew it was very meaningful to him.”

But Krislov, 46, gave his late parents, Joseph and Evelyn, many reasons to be proud.

His path to Oberlin traveled through Bill Clinton’s White House, Justice Department and Department of Labor. He investigated sweat shops that kept immigrants in “subhuman conditions” and proudly displays the hardhat he used to enforce mine safety.

“There’s some arguments that (mine enforcement) hasn’t been followed up and they’ve had these terrible mine tragedies,” Krislov said. “During the Clinton administration, it was a priority.”

 
Profile: Marvin Krislov
 

Who: Oberlin College’s 14th president, began working full time Aug. 6.
Family: Wife Amy Sheon, a biomedical researcher, and three children, Zachary, 14; Jesse, 9; and Evie Rose, 6.
Education: Juris doctorate from Yale Law School and master’s degree from Oxford University, where he was a Rhodes scholar.
Prior experience in college administration: Nine years as general counsel and vice president at the University of Michigan, where he oversaw the U.S. Supreme Court case that upheld diversity considerations in college admissions. He also oversaw Michigan’s response to the NCAA basketball investigation that resulted in a two-year post-season ban, which was eventually reduced to one year. The basketball team won the NIT (National Invitation Tournament) the second year.
Prior law experience: Manager for U.S. Department of Labor; served as assistant counsel to President Bill Clinton; prosecuted police brutality and racial and ethnic violence with the U.S. Department of Justice Honors program; served with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Washington, D.C.; lectured in law at George Washington University.
Philosophy: Never tell a client — or a staff of employees — “No, that can’t work.” Instead, study the issue and find ways to make it work for you. “Empower people to do their best work.”
Self-description: “I don’t have a lot of hair, and I’m not very tall. I consider myself a friendly person, and I enjoy meeting people. I’m very much a family person — it’s the most important thing to me — and I like to exercise and love the arts. I’m very interested in politics, and I’m going to try to teach one class this winter in politics.”

While serving with the White House counsel’s office, Krislov never dealt with the Monica Lewinsky incident — but he did get to know both Bill and Hillary Clinton.

Bill Clinton “is a force of nature,” he said, and few people have Clinton’s depth of intellect and communication abilities.

As for Hillary Clinton, Krislov called her “a really smart person — a very, very gracious and engaging person.”

Krislov himself dabbled in politics, serving as a New Haven alderman — the equivalent of a city council member — after graduating from Yale. However, he said he hasn’t been tempted to run since.

“I got a better job than the president of the United States,” he said.

What will make Oberlin College an even better place?

Financial sustainability will be a key factor as rising energy and health costs take their toll, he said.

“There’s only so much you want to do as far as raising tuition,” Krislov said.

Currently, it costs the average student about $47,000 per year, including room and board, to attend Oberlin College.

The planned closing of another Ohio college — Antioch College — shows that it is difficult to manage a liberal arts college or any institution of higher learning, he said.

He said that’s where a drive to increase the endowment — now at $700 million — will help Oberlin College, because investment revenue from those donations helps offset costs and provide for scholarships.

By comparison, Antioch College has a relatively skimpy

$32 million endowment.

Krislov said he was pleased with the increased number of minorities in the freshman class, especially since Oberlin was the first institute of higher learning to admit students of color in 1835.

The college’s strategic plan, passed by trustees in 2005, called for improving admission and retention of minorities as well as first-generation and low-income students.

Minorities make up 20 percent of the freshman class this year, compared to 18 percent last year, said college spokesman Scott Wargo.

Krislov said he is excited about the involvement of Oberlin College students in the schools and in the Lorain County community, saying he’s learned about many programs where students help others.

In turn, the college provides a promise that a student who has lived in Oberlin for at least four years before graduating from high school can attend the college for free if he or she meets academic requirements.

“If it’s well-publicized, it can be a motivating factor to the families with limited income,” Krislov said. “What this says is, if they can do well academically, they can get in free to one of the greatest colleges in America.’’

Wargo said 27 Oberlin students have taken advantage of the free ride since 2001.

Krislov declined to talk at length about some local issues, such as the suggestion in April by some community leaders that Oberlin College make a payment in lieu of taxes. His predecessor, Nancy Dye, rejected such a suggestion.

Krislov also had little to say about a proposal that income taxes for schools increase to

2 percent for people living in the Oberlin district, which includes Oberlin and parts of New Russia, Carlisle and Pittsfield townships.

If voters approve the income tax in November, the district would see an additional

$1.3 million more a year and allow $813,192 in property taxes to drop off the rolls.

Al Moran, Oberlin’s vice president for college relations, said the college is the county’s eighth-largest employer, and those employees pay income taxes, but the college itself is tax-exempt.

Over the years, Oberlin College has made voluntary donations — including helping the city of Oberlin buy a new fire engine and keeping Allen Medical Center open through a

$2 million payment.

Moran said Krislov’s salary has not been announced but eventually will be public knowledge due to Internal Revenue Service requirements.

Dye, Krislov’s predecessor, earned $323,000 in base salary along with a $100,000-a-year bonus granted in 2002.

Contact Cindy Leise at 329-7245 or cleise@chroniclet.com.