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Oberlin College & Conservatory appoints first African-American leader

Carmen Twillie Ambar becomes Oberlin’s 15th president and first African-American leader since its founding in 1833

Oberlin College & Conservatory is making history after appointing Carmen Twillie Ambar as its first African-American leader in the school’s 184 years of operation.

Last week’s announcement made by the Oberlin College Board of Trustees brought excitement and renewed energy to the campus. Ambar is currently serving her ninth and final year as the 13th president of Cedar Crest College, a private liberal arts women’s college in Allentown, Pennsylvania, before transitioning to Oberlin to begin her new tenure this fall.

During her time at Cedar Crest, Ambar achieved multimillion-dollar surpluses and a 35 percent growth in net assets for three consecutive years, according to a press release. The college’s endowment increased nearly 92 percent, and 18 new academic programs, with a primary focus on master’s and doctoral-level programs in the School of Adult and Graduate Education, were also launched under Ambar’s leadership. Enrollment has also been rising for the past three years.

“President Ambar has provided exceptional leadership and service to Cedar Crest College, guiding the institution through challenges to become stronger, more vibrant and poised to thrive for another 150 years,” said David P. Keller, chairman of the Cedar Crest Board of Trustees. “Through her visionary leadership, Cedar Crest has expanded its academic portfolio to include master’s and doctoral-level programs, seen consecutive years of enrollment growth, and is in the strongest financial position in its history. President Ambar has been a champion of the Cedar Crest College mission. For that, and much more, we are grateful and wish her happiness and success in her future endeavors.”

Ambar has already received a show of support from various faculty members, staff and chairpersons as she prepares for a new opportunity to bring strong leadership skills and ideas to the forefront at Oberlin. Although Ambar’s tenure at Cedar Crest does not officially end until August, the future Oberlin president is already thinking about the job that lies ahead as well as her top priorities for the school, such as improvements to access and retention.

“Oberlin is a singular institution in American higher education, with an historic commitment to social justice, academic and musical excellence and the liberal arts,” Ambar said in a statement. “I look forward to my work with Oberlin’s faculty, staff, students, board, and alumni to think creatively and collaboratively together. I am humbled to be joining this institution and excited about the opportunity to lead it into its next era.”

Maya Jones is an associate editor at The Undefeated. She is a native New Orleanian who enjoys long walks down Frenchmen Street and romantic dates to Saints games.