Oberlin Launches Innovative
Program will draw on strengths on each
by Anne C. Paine
A new program being launched by
Oberlin College and the University
of Michigan may prove to be a
model for future reform in higher education.
The collaboration -- the brainchild of Vice
President for Academic Affairs and Dean of
the College of Arts and Sciences Clayton R.
Koppes and University of Michigan President
Emeritus James Duderstadt -- centers on the
idea of using complementary strengths to
enhance both institutions.
Through the program, recent Ph.D. recipients
will be awarded two-year, supervised
teaching fellowships at Oberlin, and current
Oberlin faculty members will go to Michigan
to pursue research or immerse themselves in
The simple idea will bring far-reaching results
for both campuses.
"Broadly speaking, graduate schools prepare
students primarily for careers in research,
leaving them ill-prepared for a job search in
the wider world of higher education," said
President Nancy S. Dye. "Conversely, scholars
at schools like Oberlin can find it difficult to
keep pace with rapidly evolving knowledge.
Access to the resources and facilities of a
major research university, as well as to
research colleagues, will ultimately enhance
teaching at undergraduate institutions."
Dye's assertions are bolstered by a report
released in January 2001 at the University of
Wisconsin-Madison and titled "At Cross
Purposes: What the Experiences of Today's
Doctoral Students Reveal about Doctoral
Researchers at Wisconsin surveyed 4,114
doctoral students at 27 institutions.
Sixty-three percent of the students said they
definitely wanted to become full-time,
tenure-track faculty members, and another
24.1 percent said they may be interested in
such positions. The academic job market is
notoriously tight: of the 40,000 students who
earn doctoral degrees each year, fewer than
half will ever achieve this goal.
Furthermore, the report says, graduate
programs train students for careers at
research universities, but for those who do
attain academic positions, other types of
institutions -- such as comprehensive
universities and liberal arts colleges, where
teaching and advising undergraduates are top
priorities -- are far more likely employers
than research institutions.
And there's the mismatch. These students,
trained to be researchers, are "not prepared
for the careers they want or the jobs they
actually will get," Chris M. Golde, the
University of Wisconsin researcher who
directed the survey, told USA Today. "They
don't necessarily know how to be teachers."
The Oberlin-Michigan collaboration is
certainly not the first effort in the
higher-education reform movement. Over the
last decade numerous organizations --
including the National Academy of Sciences,
the American Association of Universities, the
National Science Board, the Woodrow Wilson
National Fellowship Foundation, and the Pew
Charitable Trusts -- have initiated programs
or released publications aimed at improving
aspects of doctoral education.
The Oberlin-Michigan program is unique,
however, said Koppes, because it is a direct,
formal, cooperative, and ongoing link
between two very different types of
"Oberlin has a lot to offer Michigan," Koppes
said. "We have highly qualified faculty
members who are actively engaged in
scholarship and who can work on an equal
basis with the Michigan faculty. We have
highly talented students whom Michigan likes
to enroll as graduate students.
"There's not much cooperation now between
different types of institutions, but it's
natural," he continued. "There are ways in
which colleges and universities can
complement each other. We should
emphasize the teaching aspect of colleges
and the research aspects of universities. This
isn't to say good research doesn't happen at
colleges or that good teaching isn't taking
place at universities. But we should play on
the relative strengths of these different types
Duderstadt, the former Michigan president
and current professor of nuclear engineering
and radiological sciences, agreed. "Even
today, current proposals to reform higher
education too often persist in a rhetoric that
pits teaching against scholarship, as if to
excel in one means shortchanging the other,"
he said. "Overturning this false opposition,
our program draws upon and develops
preexisting strengths in different kinds of
institutions and will help set the stage for
future exchange relationships that cut across
The first teaching fellow will begin work at
Oberlin in the fall 2001 semester. A
timetable has not yet been established for
Oberlin faculty members to do work at
"We're starting small because we're starting
with our own resources," Koppes said. "We're
seeking foundation funding and are confident
that such funding will be secured."
In addition to providing faculty members with
enhanced opportunities for professional
development, the program will help Oberlin
recruit faculty members, Koppes said.
"Recruitment and retention of faculty of color
is a tough problem for everybody, but finding
solutions is essential to our future. Michigan
has been a leader in the recruitment of a
diverse graduate-student body. Prospective
faculty, especially faculty of color, are always
concerned about being part of a larger
community. This program will help with that."
Professor of History Heather Hogan, who
earned her doctoral degree at the University
of Michigan, echoed Koppes' themes.
"It's important to allow opportunities for
at liberal arts schools to engage in different
areas of the curriculum and be a real part of
cutting-edge research conversations," she
said. "For the most part, we have one expert
in a field here at Oberlin. I'm the only
Russian historian. As much as I enjoy talking
to my colleagues in Latin American studies, I
need to talk to specialists in late Imperial
Russia to keep current and vital in my own
area of expertise.
"I've gone up to Michigan over the years to
participate in conferences on Russian
matters. I've consulted with their medieval
Russian historian to help me develop courses
in early Russian history. She gave me
bibliographies and told me, "These are the
core things you should be reading.' I'll be
going back to do the same thing as I develop
new courses in Eurasian history."
Hogan hints at the indirect beneficiaries of
faculty development: students. Improved
courses and revitalized faculty members
mean better teaching at Oberlin.
As the program matures, Koppes envisions
more ambitious collaborations, including
research opportunities at Michigan for Oberlin
students; resource sharing, including opening
Oberlin facilities to faculty and students from
Michigan; and joint courses and symposia.
Michigan is simultaneously initiating a similar
program with Kalamazoo College, and
administrators at all three schools foresee
the eventual expansion of the program to
include other schools in the Great Lakes
"Cooperation between types of institutions is
going to be very important to the future of
higher education, and to the future of
colleges like Oberlin," Koppes said. "The only
impediment to this partnership is getting
around Toledo," he joked, referring to the
two-hour drive between Oberlin and Ann