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Hi, I'm Kara Swisher, and you're listening to Sway. Last fall, my eldest son Louis started college at NYU during the pandemic. As a parent, I had a ton of questions like how schools were making safety decisions, of course, but also how would they justify their high price tags for what was essentially zun classes?
Those are the questions that Carmen Twillie Anbar has been grappling with for the past year. She's the president of Oberlin College, a small liberal arts school in Ohio, well known for its music conservatory and for its progressive student body.
Welcome to Sweet Carmen. Glad to be here. So I want to start our conversation by going back to March of last year when Cassa remember that. No March.
I do. I do. I remember March. It was it was a challenging time. Yeah, absolutely. When covid-19 first started to seriously spread across the US during the time my son was gearing up to start college or the upcoming fall and we were all thinking about the safety of it. By March 12th, you announced that students would not be returning back to campus after spring break and that the remainder of the semester would be conducted online.
Can you take us through that decision?
I remember that moment so vividly because it's probably one of the most difficult decisions I've had to make in my professional career. So I came in on that morning. I called an emergency meeting of our two deans, dean of the Conservatory of the Arts and Sciences, our chief of staff, and I literally walked in.
It was probably seven thirty eight in the morning. And I walked in and I said, Hey, guys, I think we're going to have to shut this down.
What had convinced you was it reports?
It was a series of things. It was a public health report that started to demonstrate that they weren't clear about how this virus spread. And remember, college campuses have this Kongregate setting framework that make it complicated to think about how you prevent the spread. And it became clearer and clearer that we did not have the ability and the knowledge to prevent a widespread outbreak on a college campus.
Is there something you saw that you were like, we can't? Well, I think that was shortly after the NBA announced its suspension. So that certainly was just another piece of the puzzle we had already had on our campus. Not a scare, but we we we are a campus that has students from all over the world. So we have started to think about this issue early on because we have a segment of our students from China. And so they had come back in January.
Some of our students from China were already wearing masks on campus, although at the time that was not something that we knew was going to be necessary. And so it just became clearer and clearer that it would be really difficult for us to prevent a widespread outbreak.
And so you came in that morning? I came in that morning. I said, OK, guys, I think we're going to have to shut this down. We sent an email out to students and faculty that said that tomorrow is the last day of classes and then saying that in two and a half days they would all have to be off campus. Wow.
So were most students upset by the decision when you made this? I honestly, I think that what mostly people felt was that Oberlin, the president leadership, is putting the health and public safety above everything. That is the first and primary goal. And they respected that decision. They may have disagreed with aspects of it or wish we could do it a different way, but they did respect that value and understood that that's what we were trying to accomplish. And so I don't remember the push back strongly.
I will just say this one thing that was so difficult. So two students came to see me as we closed down campus and they came to see me that Friday. So the next day they had tears in their eyes and they they asked me, is there any other way you can do this? Do you have to close down campus? And I said, I don't think there's any other way. And they were seniors. And so they said to me, remember, you get a chance to come back, but we don't.
And that was the moment that I sort of just fast forwarded through all of the traditions, all of the athletics commencement, that all of those things would be different and that we were altering their college experience in the most profound way that one could possibly alter it.
So what did you say? So I said to them that here's what I want you to think about that. Whenever you're facing a really challenging situation, you have to look for the seed of opportunity. And this will transform you. And you have to ask, what can you learn from this transformative moment in your life?
I tried that with my son, you know, especially because he had a senior prom, etc. and I was trying to be like, well, many people have it harder. That's one way to go, which I think is sort of the guilt kind of and it's correct. And the other was, you know, this is an opportunity and you can learn something here. And he said, you know, Mom, well, here's what I've learned. This sucks.
And I was like I was like, and that is accurate. That is an accurate assessment.
But you also happen to be in a state where the governor actually took it seriously versus listen, I think that Governor Derwyn has been an example of how you from the state level help each segment do its job well.
And, you know, there were moments through this where I would say to our team, we're alone in this. But it wasn't because the governor wasn't doing what he should do, but because we didn't have a national testing framework and some things that we really needed on the college campus, we had to be willing to find our own solution. And that's the difference between a national strategy that everybody is it's a part of and a 50 state strategy where everyone has to sort of find their own way.
So going into fall semester of twenty twenty, you decided to reopen the campus and implement a three semester schedule for academic year, effectively rotating students on the campus based on their year in school.
Can you explain that system and how you ultimately landed on it? Right.
So our students said to us after health and safety as your primary goal, we want you to try to find a way for the on campus in-person experience to happen for as many students as possible. So for us, the three semester plan was about ensuring that for every student because, you know, some colleges have had cohorts off, but they've done it fully online, like the juniors are way, but they're just an online framework. Our system allows for everybody to have two semesters on campus in person.
Three classes are there. Right. So the fall we had seniors first year sophomore dreams were away this spring. We have first year seniors and juniors and then juniors and sophomores will be here in the summer.
So so the idea is you flip and then September, you're hoping to get everybody back together, is that correct? Well, as we said.
And law will and the creek don't rise, always rise. This Nick Creek is always rising, but maybe it won't rise. So I have to say that that's like the creek always rises.
So, you know, we really need like everyone.
We need the vaccine to. Right. To make its way to college students so we can get back to a two semester framework.
Is that the plan you have right now? That's what we're working towards. We've applied to be a point of distribution for the vaccine so that we can effectively vaccinate our campus. We'll have to do it in the order that the state dictates. But the goal is, if we can, to get the entire campus back, everyone vaccinated.
So how many covid positive cases did you expect to encounter going into school year? Because you have to expect that.
And what did you do? Gosh, when we started out, we had some of the folks say to us that we should expect 10 to 15 percent positivity when our students showed up. So we were planning on, oh, we might need to have one hundred and fifty to two hundred quarantine spots. We were really there. And when we showed up on campus that first time and it was less than one percent, I think was something like point to five, we were all just elated.
But I will say that our students showed up. If you walk on our campus right now, you will see everyone massed. And one of the great things that happen in our town was that the city council said to me that there was such adherence by our students that it encouraged the rest of the town to be more adhering to the mask where there's always sort of town and gown, push and pull in every major college town I've ever encountered.
Was there a worry about that with getting infected by your students? And that happened across the country, this idea?
Yeah, I think it was across the country and I think Oberlin was no different. And remember, as we're coming back to school, Oberlin doesn't come back to late, late in September. And so there were other colleges that were already back. There were outbreaks, decisions to close colleges down shortly after students got there. So people were watching it across the country. And so there was concern in the. About having twenty two hundred or so students, because we had cornered off showing up on campus and what that might mean for the community.
That was one of the reasons why we said to the Oberlin community, to the town, we will put the data up.
Oberlin is a pretty small school for people who don't know it has about three thousand students total. How does it when you think about your experience compared to larger schools?
Well, I think we were able to do some things that larger schools found more complicated. So first, we could put in a really comprehensive testing strategy. Now, that helped because Oberlin has a strong endowment and a financial framework that allowed that. So we were testing twenty five percent of our population every week that allowed us to get a real snapshot. We could provide mask for everyone. We could put it an infrastructure that could do contact tracing so we could put in some strategies that could help us mitigate against a widespread outbreak on campus that was really complicated for larger institutions.
I also think that the smaller community creates the kind of connection to each other, that maybe it's easier to know your neighbor and to be dedicated to not only your own health and safety, but your neighbors health and safety. And I think that a president of a campus for three thousand students may have more influence and ability to encourage that collective action than it may be for a president with twenty thousand students that required cancellation of sports and other campus events.
So people were upset about sports cancellation. Specifically, there was a petition to bring them back. How did you answer these various things?
So this was all about balancing risk and the risk in athletics. By its very nature. It asks you to do various things that the CDC would recommend you not do, close contact with, breathe on each, breathe to travel, all those things. And so what we said is, is that risk worth what it might mean to have an outbreak on campus? And what we determined was that particular risk, was it worth what we discovered over time is that we could create I don't want to use the word bubble because we know how cold it is.
I knock on wood every time I say that, but we did create a framework where we didn't have an outbreak on campus. The real challenge with athletics, frankly, is the travel component going to other campuses, engaging with other communities and then the the effort itself. So that's what is required. And that was the only one of the only areas where you couldn't duplicate competition. Right. So in our conservatory, we had to make all sorts of changes to there was no public performance right here.
These students here coming for this profession, they cannot perform for an audience. But we could do some things different for those students, created a whole sort of digital platform. So people thought there were yeah, there were things that we could do athletics. We couldn't duplicate competition.
Right. There's not a cello off or something.
It's not a cello. It's there. Whether the show at Oberlin. See know now that you said that, I'm sure there will be a cello.
You know what? If I ran college campuses, there would be an after violinist.
You know what? But you know, that's going to require you name that with a donation, right? Carries with a cello. Now, I would know I would make money from the ticket sales.
Oh, that would do it. Exactly. That's right. I'm a business minded person.
So also partying. Same thing. You had very strict enforcement of social distancing. We did.
So we ask every student to sign a community agreement and that community agreement indicated that you couldn't have gatherings. It was pretty strict. And, you know, the first semester in the first few weeks, we had to send about fifteen students away. And so they had to be not only off campus, but essentially at least 50 miles away. So they went home because they followed the community agreement.
Do they get to come back? They get to come back the next year.
So you talked about the vaccine campaign program that includes vaccine distribution centers. Will you be requiring proof of vaccination in the future?
How do you look at something like that? Well, it's interesting. So we did do that for the flu shot. So this year we required all students to get the flu shot and they had to provide proof of the flu shot. It'll be a little bit different with the vaccine because it has emergency authorization and not sort of complete authorization. So we'll likely be in the strongly encourage framework. But we, for example, with our faculty and staff, did a survey to ask how many of you would be willing to get a vaccine?
And it was like eighty five percent of our faculty and staff said absolutely. And so it just gave us confidence that our community is going to be willing to be vaccinated. So do you think some of it will stick?
Let's start with the positive parts of. The tele education, remote learning, it does bring into question, do I need to be on a campus? Yeah, I think some aspects of it will stick. Remember, though, Carol, we were marching towards some of these things already in higher education.
So, yes, these are accelerating trends. These are already trends, accelerating trends.
So we're all now more open to what it means to be in flipped classrooms and hybrid models in online frameworks.
I think that we've all learned a lot there. I think the other thing that will stick are conversations about our calendars and how they work, how we use our campuses in the summer. Does it mean that you can only start college at places like Oberlin in September? What does it mean to have block type schedules? Because, you know, a lot of colleges decided to truncate. So you were taking two courses over seven weeks as opposed to four courses.
So I think some of those things will stick. I think that curriculum. So the conservatory is interesting, right? I mean, try to do orchestras and voice in a pandemic. That is that is hard to do. So we create these low latency classrooms so that you can be playing the field in one room and the piano player in the other room. That type of stuff is going to stick. We're going to figure out a way to have more people experience.
And even though they may be in Rome, and I think some of those things will drive innovation and creativity on college campuses in ways that will be really positive.
And so what we have to do in this sector is to embrace the innovation. And I think we've been hesitant to do that because the truth of the matter is that colleges are some of the oldest institutions in the country and we can be rather conservative despite people's views of us as liberal leaning in terms of our desire to change ourselves, we can be really conservative.
I don't think anyone's surprised by that.
I have to say, well, we're built in a way that takes us a long time to get to a different model.
Speaking of that, a lot of liberal arts colleges are really struggling now. The financial strain of the pandemic has impacted the ability of students to afford education. Have you changed your tuition costs at all? So we haven't changed our tuition costs, although we have clarified how we provide need based aid. So we remember, Oberlin's, one of these places that meets full need. We happen to be blessed to be able to do that for our students. And so, you know, when you look at our sticker price, what you're really seeing is that most students are paying between thirty five and forty thousand dollars, not seventy thousand dollars.
Seventy five thousand dollars or almost seventy six thousand dollars.
So I think that that's really been the focus of our institution to make sure it's accessible. But it is an industry challenge. I think places like Oberlin have a little bit more protection because of our endowment and other things.
But if you want to if you want to see gnashing of teeth and wringing hands, get a group of college presidents together and ask them about our prices. And it just creates the instantaneous oh, my goodness.
Because we know that this accessibility question is a value that most of us share and our costs have not matched up with family income.
Right now that you've implemented some cost saving measures during the pandemic, like salary cuts and you canceled some programs. Why is the price of tuition the same now? Is that these costs aren't going away? Or what is if you had to like a parent, like, why am I paying all this?
Well, what I would say to parents is that what you are investing in is a high cost model. So the model means just like in K through 12, that you value a classroom with only 10 kids as opposed to a classroom with 30 kids. This model ensures that you also are investing in the full student life experience. So for us, everybody was on campus so that value didn't change. And the challenge for all of us is how do we make that transformation experience more accessible to more students?
Well, which would be lower costs. I mean, you know, I was just saying people that think it's not worth it. Obviously, you heard Peter Thiel go on about this.
Don't even go to college like and Scott Garrett, who's at NYU, and he's been a vocal critic of rising tuition. He compared Harvard.
I think he goes more at Harvard than you, than you guys, but is a very expensive streaming service. That's what he calls it, like Netflix. And that's a joke, of course.
But are you worried that remote learning and the thought that is this worth it, be a threat to the financial well-being of other institutions like Oberlin? I mean, you don't Harvard, you have a very large amount of money that you can rely on. But Harvard, of course, that could could buy and sell France at this point.
Well, I call those students the nation states. Right? I mean, do you. Yeah, because we're Harvard, Princeton and Yale, multibillion dollar endowments. But I would put obviously, Oberlin's, that in that category. But I do think we're in the category of of institutions that are not as concerned about this challenge as some institutions that have really small endowment and are hugely tuition dependent. But listen, every. Sector and higher, it is no different, has to be concerned about people's perceptions of our value and whether the investment is worth it and the return on investment.
Right and the return on investment. And listen, I've been in higher education for 20 plus years and I do a lot of admissions events just because I think it's important for the president to be there. Fifteen years ago, parents were not asking this about all what they literally ask that question. What's my return on investment for this experience you never got?
Yeah, yeah. They never got in early, but now you are never. Now you get it all the time. I mean, literally, that is a normal question at an admissions event. So parents are asking you, why is this investment worth it?
Here's what you have to demonstrate. We have to demonstrate that the academic experience is obviously worth what they're getting outside the classroom. We also have to demonstrate that what their life after Opala is like. And are we doing a good enough job to prepare them for the variety of opportunities and experiences that they envision after?
And let me just say it's beyond careers, but it's also about preparing your soul, frankly, preparing you for change, for the resilience to solve complicated issues. And that's what happens on a liberal arts college campus. I mean, we're about all those pieces.
Yeah, that's about the priceless. Priceless. You can't you can't put a price on, which is, I think, a good argument for you to make in front of parents. But you do have parents going, why? Where's that? Do you need to provide them data that it's worth the investment? Now, do you find that offensive?
I don't find it offensive. I mean, you know, what I've said to people about this all along is that we can't be resistant to demonstrating our value. You know, we talk about placement and what happens to students in particular industries. It's right for parents to ask us that question. And if we are offended by it, it's to our parents that we're not willing to say, here's the value.
But one of the things that's hard, though, is that a lot of higher education institutions are struggling financially and had been even for covid, as we discussed. And declining enrollment is part of that problem.
Now, you have you are a little bit of a nation state. You have one point five billion dollar endowment. Is that correct?
A small nation. A small nation. What nation would you be? You would do an estimated thirty one point two million dollars from that last year, which is what the endowments for. What is that your survival plan, the endowment versus tuition and other revenue?
No, I just think we have the ability to be able to tap our endowment for an emergency. That's what it's for. But we we are colleges and institutions have a business aspect, as I say, to our faculty and staff all the time. We've got to make our business model work. And so our revenues have to be strong and our expenses. So for us, that's about mainly tuition dollars and then also having a cost structure that matches up.
And we happen to be blessed by the endowment that could help us out in this instance. But I don't think the strongest institutions are relying on their endowment to solve operational challenges.
Now, speaking tuition, a lot of which you're relying on, obviously, a lot of kids don't pay the sticker price for college except for Kara Swisher.
There's a significant economy and financial aid, both need based and merit based aid. And that means many students are shopping around and buying their degrees on sale.
Essentially, a discount is merit aid, a way to bring in wealthier students who other schools may be competing for? And why isn't that money, say, right now? At Oberlin, for example, Oberlin's, almost seven hundred strong freshman class. Two hundred and seventy students, almost 40 percent of the class were not awarded need based aid, but got this merit based aid and received seventeen thousand dollars on average. Why isn't the money going to more low income students or the tuition just being dropped?
Like how do you think about that merit based aid? How I think about that.
So I think it's it's one of these natural tensions that I think exists in all of our sort of financial model, which is how do you have access and opportunity. Right. Handing out financial aid to needy students. How do you generate revenue? How do you have the revenue to provide the academic experience that all students want and then add value? But it certainly is true that we're trying to balance our revenue and our and our expenditures and merit aid is a piece of that balance.
I wouldn't describe it as out of whack, at least not here at Oberlin, but it is part of the how this financial model works.
Would you eliminate merit based scholarships, too? Is it something that I mean, other colleges, Hamilton, Franklin and Marshall and Franklin Marshall's endowment is less than yours, right? It's a focus more on financial aid for needy students, or do you feel like you're serving those?
I think we're serving our our students well, Oakland's history is a part of that serving. But I think our commitment to diversity, inclusion is is well documented.
I mean, we we will be spending time in the future thinking about kind of through the presidential initiative that we launched after the George Floyd murder, how we do better in diversity across all ranks of the institution.
And I think remember that one of the things that's a little bit different about Oberlin is that. We're kind of outsized in terms of no small liberal arts college, right, so most of our peers are eighteen hundred, twelve hundred. We happen to be close to the three thousand that makes our model a little bit different.
You know, this idea of artificial constraints on supply, why not make it bigger either through remote learning and put your investment money there where you bring more people in? Do you see that happening? Because the idea of, you know, colleges are proud of their rates of not admission. It's really quite I've never seen any like we aren't letting anybody in, like, lucky us.
And now it is it is one of the aspects of our sector that that concerns me. You know, I had jokingly said on a panel one time, it's hard to to sort of be proud of how many people you reject. I do think that as colleges imagine what the future will be. And this is a marker, too, about what the sector ultimately looks like, meaning how many institutions make it through this covid era and what the demand will be.
I think there will be some pressures to think about what expansion looks like. I said early on when I got here to Oakland, doesn't Oberlin education mean the only way they get it is to show up and open in Ohio? And so I do think it's worth thinking about what it might mean. And I do think that covid will force us. If you ask me the main thing that's come out of it in terms of our thinking, I think the sector is valuing flexibility, nimbleness and innovation more than it ever has.
And yet we all value this residential experience.
Certainly. Certainly. But I think one of the things that people like Peter Thiel and others get mileage on is the high price and the limiting factor, the sort of artificial limiting factor where they could say, what do you need that for? And if you expand it and it doesn't cost that much, there's a great argument for lots of. And by the way, that's been the history of this country as people that didn't have money get these amazing educate, especially from public universities.
And so it sort of plays in their hands when you're not innovative and you're too pricey and exclusive like that. You but colleges.
Yeah, but I have to lose that. But the question is, can you create the value of the experience of being thirty thousand people?
Well, maybe some get it and some don't and some get it and some don't. So the question is, how much are you willing to play in that space where some get it and some don't? We'll be back in a minute, if you like this interview and want to hear others hit subscribe. You'll be able to catch up on Hsueh episodes you may have missed, like my conversation with economist Raj Chetty and you'll get new ones delivered directly to you.
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We'll finish up talking about diversity and culture and how to get more diverse schools, Oberlin has a rich history of this in a rich and laudable history in this way. Let me just say, Oberlin was one of the first colleges to admit black students. There's a history of inclusion in that sense. But right now, less than six percent of the students on your campus are black. What are your targets or goals for increasing diversity on your campus? And think of it in a larger sense.
Yeah, it is a conundrum that I think we all face around. How do we create access on our campus? Because they change to federal standards and people can check two or more. So our numbers are black students are really more like 10 percent. But but it's still not enough. So I'm not saying that's enough. You know, this issue of access and opportunity on college campuses, particularly places like Oakland, these selective places, is a conundrum that I think we're all facing.
And I don't want Oberlin. I think none of us want our institutions to be a place where students show up and it doesn't look like the world. That's not what we want at all. So for me, this is about how do we create a financial framework to create accessibility? How do we create a campus climate? That is supportive and welcoming and and that climate is around things like what the staff look like was the fact they look like what is the curriculum?
Climate is is more than just kind of a field, but it is a sense of belonging and connection to an institution where you walk in and you feel like you're a part of it.
Do you have targets and goal percentages for diversity or what are they? No, we don't have targets right now. We don't sort of think about it in quite that way. What we really have are efforts to try to improve some of our processes in order to ensure that diversity happens. Right. So the presidential initiative to me was, well, to be truthful, it was born out of out of pain, really, you know, after the George Floyd murder happened.
And I and I honestly, to be really honest about it, I. I was almost not going to comment on it, as crazy as that sounds in retrospect, for people in the audience that don't know I'm an African-American woman and and I wasn't going to comment on it, honestly, because we were in the midst of Kovik, remember? That's kind of meh. We're reshaping the campus and we were just all exhausted. And as a black woman, I was exhausted of these images.
And just I it's like, oh, my God, take another one of these. And so it was out of that anguish, really, that I said, you know, what's Oberlin's part in this? What what role can we play in this? What I hope will be a nationwide effort to rethink ourselves. So out of that initiative, I'm expecting more clarity about how eligible students, how can we have more diverse students on campus, both ethnically and economically?
What does it mean to have a center for race and equity and diversity?
You know, I think how we think about diversity in our faculty ranks is going to be important. So for us, that's about, first of all, the kind of training and support that helps all of us not sort of bring our biases to the table, which we all have, contrary to popular belief sometimes. And then I think the next process is about what does it mean to strengthen our work in our admissions framework, although, you know, we have twenty seven to 30 percent students of color on our campus.
And so I'm proud of that. But the question is, can we do better? Right.
And can we do better in areas where we have not demonstrated as strong results, where I think representation is particularly important. Absolutely.
Political views. Oberlin definitely has a reputation of being one of the most progressive schools in the U.S. since its MEEMS at this point, the radical activist Oberlin student.
But would you are you actively trying to enroll more conservative students, for example?
Well, I wouldn't describe it as sort of an actively trying to recruit people from different diverse political perspectives. What I would say it's trying to make the climate more open and welcoming to people who have different perspectives. So when I first got to Oberlin, we focus on expanding sustained dialogue. So sustained dialogue is a program where students literally practice how to talk to people who have different perspectives and to take these lightning rod issues and just practice it. Right.
And then we expanded it to this program called Bridging the Gap, where we connect with a small Christian college to try to have our students have this experience. And I think that, you know, the truth of the matter is that we all need to practice how we listen, what the purpose of understanding, not what the purpose of changing people's minds. And the only thing I will say about college students that I think they sort of gotten a little bit of a bad rap here.
It's not like society has done any better right now.
And so this notion that college students let's focus on these 18 and 19 and 20, 21 year olds who are in the development stages in their life and say, boy, you guys are getting it wrong. Congress, OK, family at Thanksgiving, that is a fair point. So it's a little bit unfair. And I think this has been a hyper focus on college students. But I will say that we are taking a head on it. And I do believe we have to send students out in the world that have an ability to hear and understand.
Yeah, absolutely. But, you know, it isn't specific, Dobrin, at all, by the way. And you're absolutely correct. And there's criticism that this idea of hotbeds of council culture, but at the same time, you have to worry of the colleges are reflecting the real world, or sometimes it's a good thing. I have big issues with this council culture ideas. I think sometimes it used to be called accountability for if you say offensive things and people are offended, how can you be offended that they're offended?
You know what I mean?
Like, it gets into this weird thing. But in one case, it turned at Oberlin. It turned into a pretty costly lawsuit with students accused a local bakery of racially profiling a black student. The owners of bakery sued the school. You were initially ordered to pay forty four million dollars because it looked like you were supporting. This was later slashed to twenty five million. I know you're appealing the case, but how do you in the real world deal with these costly experiences which might cause you to distance yourself from student activism, which is an important part of Oberlin?
Yeah, well, because we're in the midst of litigation, I can't talk about that specific case, but I will say that this discussion that we're having in this country about how we have conversation across difference. Right. And how we do it when we have these radically different lived experiences is one of the issues of our day. Right. We're living it out right here right now through this impeachment trial and all these things that are going on nationally. Right.
How do we have these conversations?
And I think for Oberlin, we are really committed to that space. How do we do that together? Because I don't think we're serving our students well if we don't give. Then that skill set, we don't give them the way to do that, and because it's important to our democracy to I think what good citizenship is to I think what it means to be a great partner, to be in your own personal sphere, our ability to hear and listen and understand and appreciate different narratives is some critical skills that I think we have to provide to our students.
So it's not about conservative or liberal, really. I mean, that's that's making it too simplistic. It's about the nuance of the different lived experiences that I think we all have in this country and how we hear that from the other person. And we all find it difficult, frankly, not just college students.
Yeah, it's interesting when you do that. I was saying something was complex and I got like piled on Twitter. I'm like, it's complex. I'm just not going to back off. But the pile on of everyone had to be it's this person is this is this was really fascinating to watch from a sociological perspective.
I would love to know as a college president, because you were sort of in the middle of all this, like, how do you because you want to encourage activism. You want to encourage disagreement, really. And discourse where. Yes, public square. But the public square is pretty ugly at this point. It's sort of it's sort of degenerated in a way. So I asking ask you a question, is this idea of cultural right versus left free speech versus hate speech is happening across the US and college campuses and colleges have played a big role and is what should be said and what should not be said.
And something shouldn't possibly shouldn't be said in some cases.
You know, a lot of this is due to the Trump era where the breaks came off in this way.
This is when it's really reached the sort of strongest, loudest, noisiest, ugliest part of it. So when you're running the college campus, what is your Trump learning about teaching students this?
Right. Gosh, you know, it's interesting. I mean, I think that every political sort of transition creates something on a college campus. I mean, it's a lot of college campuses are activist communities. And in interesting ways, I think what's been interesting about the Trump era has been the discourse that decides to focus on the personal as opposed to the issue. It begins with the personal right. It begins with your stupid. You're, you know, that kind of engagement that doesn't elevate the conversation in the issue, but starts in the personal.
And one of the things that I think we say on this campus is instead of calling somebody out, how do you call somebody in? And I think that one of the challenges with social media is that it gives people license to be more vicious and it also gives people license to to think that I'm never going to see you, I'm never going to engage with you again. I mean, one of the things I love about our sustained dialogue program is this a series of conversations with the same people.
And what that means is that you don't get a chance to be rude and walk out the door and never talk to the person again. You don't get a chance to send them a nasty note and decide that you never have to take responsibility for how that note landed, how those words felt. So the two learnings are, let's don't start with the personal and let's remember that we're going to have to see each other again. So let's have a conversation that's about colleagues as opposed to about people who never have to talk to each other ever again.
So after all this, do you have hope?
Do you feel like you're. Oh, gosh, of course. Absolutely. No, I mean, it's my natural way of being in the world. But I also think it's backed up by what I see on a college campus. I mean, the beautiful thing about being on a college campus is that college students, despite people's view of them cynics and everything, sucks. They believe the war can be different. A protest, a reasonable protest is nothing but an exercise in hope.
It is a belief that the world can be different and so on a college campus, you can't be anything but hopeful because you see these incredible students who, you know, are going to go out, change the world for good.
I actually agree with you. Talking to young people always makes me feel better. Always talk to my son. I never worry about the future once.
Yeah, you got this. And that's why when people say, oh, the world, I'm like I say, the senior staff all the time and ever you feel kind of down or beat down by whatever it is. Got some students.
One hundred percent. President Ambar, thank you so much. Good luck with September. Oh, God. It's going to be fun. Yeah. Let's hope. Let's hope. All right. Bye. Thank you. I appreciate it. That's me.
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