September 17, 2014

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New era in Oberlin


New college president gets big laughs, praise

OBERLIN — Marvin Krislov was inaugurated Friday as Oberlin College’s 14th president in a ceremony that included belly laughs, moments of great pride and even a few tears.

JASON MILLER / CHRONICLE
Oberlin College President Marvin Krislov shows off his new key to the city.

Krislov spoke of the college’s inspiring past — including being the first U.S. college to admit black students in 1835 and the first to award bachelor’s degrees to women in a co-educational program in 1841.

Since his arrival in August, Krislov said he has been impressed by the people who chose to attend Oberlin College, including artists, activists, inventors and three winners of the Nobel Prize.

The commitment to diversity — and tolerance — is demonstrated daily, he told the crowd of about 1,400. For example, if you go to a dining hall, you will see Jews and Muslims sitting side-by-side eating kosher and halal food, he said.

Oberlin students can be found working on an organic farm, crowding the library on a Saturday night, living and working in co-ops or studying how to protect the environment, he said.

“Oberlin graduates never stop believing they can make the world a better place,” he said.

Krislov, who served as general counsel for the University of Michigan and also worked in the Clinton White House, said his late parents, Joseph, a professor, and Evelyn, a social worker, would have been incredibly proud.

“They told me I should go to Oberlin. Now I have,” Krislov said with a smile.

The message from myriad speakers was upbeat as they congratulated Krislov, 46.

Nancy Nguyen, representing the student body, got lots of laughs when she asked Krislov, “To allude to the great Dr. Seuss, ‘Do you know how lucky you are?’ ”

Ohio Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher, a 1973 graduate of Oberlin College, harked back to the college’s motto — “Learning and Labor” and said education is needed “to move Ohio to the head of the class.”

“There’s an unbreakable link between education and economic prosperity and growth,” Fisher said.

Mary Sue Coleman, Krislov’s former boss at the University of Michigan, said at first glance there might not be much similarity between Michigan, which has more than 40,000 students and Oberlin, which has less than 3,000, but each “loves a good debate” and has “a deeply-held commitment to being open to student enrollment.”

She said Krislov was the chief strategist in Michigan’s fight to uphold the university’s affirmative action policy. In 2003, the Supreme Court upheld a general affirmative action policy at the Michigan law school, but struck down an undergraduate formula because it awarded admission points based on race.

Johnetta Betsch Cole, a 1957 Oberlin College graduate and president emerita of Bennett College for Women and of Spelman College, called Krislov “a mighty advocate of social justice” with “a combination of tough practical experience and good old-fashioned idealism.”

“In fact, the hip-hop generation would say, ‘Marvin Krislov — you have all of that and a bag of chips,’ ” she said.

The inauguration was a joyous event for Oberlin City Council member Eve Sandberg, who serves as an associate professor of politics at the college.

“Kol Likavod — all the honor to you,” Sandberg said, quoting Hebrew well wishes for Krislov, who is Jewish.

After the ceremony, Krislov mingled with the community and posed for photographs with the college’s past president, Nancy S. Dye, who served 13 years and is now working as a senior adviser to a new university in Chi Hagong, Bangladesh.

Krislov, a summa cum laude graduate of Yale University, a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University and a graduate of the Yale Law School, said the inauguration was “a little overwhelming.”

“It’s a beautiful event and a lot of wonderful people are here,” he said. “It’s impressive and humbling."

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