Your story (Summer 2011) brought back an array of personal memories. My father, Vincent S. Hart, worked in Oberlin’s administration from 1934 to 1953. In 1939, Dad bought property known as "The Pines" on the eastern edge of town. I lived in the three-story "mansion" from age 8 until 1953, the year I graduated from Oberlin College. Sunday dinner stands out in my mind as a very festive day, with the mid-afternoon dinner including many guests in the spacious dining room, and good fellowship spilling into the ample kitchen. The particular connection with the Brittinghams is with the number of college students at the table. My dad was born and raised in Washington, and my mother, though raised in the Midwest, was an earnest convert to the Pacific Northwest. They met at the college as students in 1920, were married there in 1924, and were well aware of how lonely and homesick students far from home could be. Therefore, through all those years in that big house, they made a deliberate effort to open their home. Every fall my mother would get a copy of the student directory and send invitations to any student from "west of the Mississippi" or from another country to our home for Sunday dinner. Strong friendships were often forged, and brought an additional bonus when, after retiring in 1963, my parents boldly "drove around the world" in a Landrover camper, visiting many of those students in their home countries. Yes, "Sunday at the Harts’ "in the 1940s was usually a very special occasion for many Oberlin students of those years, and also to this one future grad. I expect many other Oberlin homes have extended such life-changing hospitality over the years.
Vince Hart Jr. ’53
Sunday at the Brittinghams’ brings to mind my experience with the Hungry Club. Held under the auspices of the dean of the school of theology, the club met weekly at his home on campus. A light supper was prepared by his wife, and we sat around discussing important (to us) topics. The dean would not contribute unless asked. There were 12 members, all seniors from many majors, which led to some lively discussions. One serious task late in the spring semester was to recommend future members from the junior class, whom the dean would then invite. I consider this experience one of the highlights of my time at Oberlin, and I trust that the students enjoying Sunday with the Brittinghams will remember it as fondly.
William F. Girouard ’47
South Pasadena, Calif.
I greatly appreciate the sweet tribute to Midge and Smith. Long may they continue taking such loving care of so many of us, past and present. But ye who heads out to Forest Street looking for "a white house with creaky steps" leading to the door, beware: it’s gray, and the steps are solid cement (though you may eventually topple around inside for all that food and drink served so generously …).
Emeritus Professor of Creative Writing
Thanks for another great issue! Now … where is Smith Brittingham’s strawberry shortcake recipe?
Dan Hotchkiss ’76
Visit oberlin.edu/oam to find it!—Ed.
Michael Bastedo (Summer 2011) cites two phenomena responsible for the decline of Oberlin’s U.S. News ranking from fifth in 1987 to 23rd in 2011. The first is the idea that not only does the reputation of a college affect its ranking, but its ranking affects its reputation, creating a vicious cycle and making it difficult for a college to move up in the rankings. The other phenomenon is what he calls "the front page effect," which happens when students learn that a college is moving up in the rankings. This creates a cycle of more applications, resulting in higher selectivity, resulting in a higher ranking.
Neither of these phenomena explains why Oberlin moved down in the rankings over the years. What was it that changed its reputation in the first place? Why hasn’t it achieved front-page status lately? Bastedo provides us the answer as we read on. He thinks rankings should take into account a college’s "values," such as how many students go on to join the Peace Corps, or how comfortable a college makes LGBT students feel.
But that is precisely the problem. Oberlin in its current incarnation seems more concerned with these "values" than it is with the quality of its education. I must say that my education at Oberlin in the late ’60s was superior. Among Oberlin’s values then was rational discourse — an emotionally neutral and civil interchange of opposing ideas. Emotional neutrality not being the norm, I don’t know how many of us actually engaged in rational discourse, but it was the ideal nonetheless, and it fueled Oberlin’s reputation as an excellent academic institution.
Oberlin’s culture has always been progressive, admitting women and blacks from its inception in the 1830s. They were admitted not to achieve diversity, but to give them access to a quality education. Over the past few decades, diversity itself has become an ethic, to which education is subservient. To an outside observer, Oberlin’s educational quality has become blurred by the "values" cited by Michael Bastedo. Now when I use the term "progressive" to describe Oberlin’s culture, I mean not progress, but progression —progression away from holding excellence in education as the prime imperative. While this may not have affected Oberlin’s quality of education, it certainly has affected its reputation.
David Marwil ’70
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