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Higher education

First University of Iowa presidential candidate: Marvin Krislov

President of Oberlin College in Ohio in running for UI presidency

Marvin Krislov, president of Oberlin College
Marvin Krislov, president of Oberlin College

IOWA CITY — A standing college president with a wide range of academic and non-academic experience — including service in the White House and at the University of Michigan — will be the first of four finalists for the vacant University of Iowa presidency to visit campus this week.

Marvin Krislov, 55, has been leading Oberlin College and Conservatory of Music since 2007 and will be on campus Thursday to meet with faculty, staff, students, and community members before participating in a 4:45 p.m. public forum in the Iowa Memorial Union.

A second candidate will visit campus Friday, followed by a third Monday and the final candidate Tuesday. The Board of Regents plans to interview the candidates Thursday and name the next UI president that day.

The board is releasing each candidate’s name 24 hours before he or she arrives on campus.

Katherine Tachau, a UI history professor, said she nominated Krislov for the presidency, which drew 46 applicants and netted nine for initial interviews. Tachau said she thought he’d be a good fit for the institution due to his “impressive” experience both at Oberlin, a small private college, and the University of Michigan, one of Iowa’s Big 10 peers.

“He’s been in the administration of both,” Tachau said. “I thought it would be useful for the University of Iowa to have someone who not only has seen both sides of the landscape but could work well with the presidents of the major colleges in Iowa.”

Tachau and Christopher Merrill, professor and director of the UI International Writing Program, both served with Krislov on the National Council on the Humanities and were “extremely impressed.”

“I have had the chance to watch him in action over the last few years, and he has impressed me at every turn with his wisdom and levelheadedness and his ability to bring people together around the table when dealing with thorny issues,” said Merrill, who also nominated Krislov for the UI job.


While at Oberlin, Krislov created The Oberlin Access Initiative, aimed at removing the loan burden for Pell Grant-eligible students, and pushed forward environmental and sustainability initiatives. According to his Oberlin profile, Krislov has overseen various capital projects including expansion and renovation of the school’s physical plant, and construction of a new natural gas power plant, a new jazz studies building, and a new stadium complex.

He also has faced controversy in his career — including a series of racist and homophobic incidents on the Oberlin campus in 2013 and sanctions related to the University of Michigan basketball program while in Ann Arbor.

During his time as vice president and general counsel at the University of Michigan from 1998 to 2007, Krislov led the university’s legal defense of its affirmative action admissions practices — resulting in a 2003 Supreme Court decision “recognizing the importance of student body diversity,” according to the profile.

Former UI President Mary Sue Coleman, who was serving as University of Michigan president at the time, called the decision a “green light to pursue diversity in the college classroom.” And Krislov at the time said the ruling’s impact would reach beyond university and college campuses to the military, corporations, and other organizations.

“Our nation’s prosperity and national security will strengthened by today’s decision,” he said in a news release. “Diversity and excellence go hand in hand.”

Merrill said UI needs a leader who can address the entire community — and he believes Krislov has the ability to do so with his background in law, federal policy, liberal arts, research, fundraising, and athletics — in July, he was named president of the North Coast Athletic Conference.

“We need someone who is a good communicator, and I have been struck by how eloquent Marvin is and his ability to cut through all the nonsense and get to the core of the matter,” Merrill said. “That is the kind of problem-solver he has proved himself to be, and that would be great for us.”

Merrill said he reached out to Krislov before suggesting him as a candidate to gauge his interest in the Iowa opening.


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“And, when I first was discussing this with him, he said he longs to return to a research university,” Merrill said.

Any time a university president turns over, he said, the campus gets an opportunity to start a new relationship with its governing board.

“And I think this is one of those good opportunities,” Merrill said.

Former Oberlin Student Senate President Machmud Makhmudov, 21, told The Gazette on Wednesday that he got to know Krislov both through senate initiatives and as a student in one of his classes — Krislov also serves as a professor at Oberlin, teaching political science in American democracy.

“He meets with students and develops personal relationships with them,” Makhmudov said. “I think he cares a lot about the students here.”

Makhmudov said Krislov has handled the various controversies and constituent groups well.

“Given how diverse the campus is, it’s hard to take what everyone wants and pull it all together,” he said. “But I think he’s done a great job at making sure everyone has their voice heard.”

Oberlin’s enrollment sits at about 2,900 — 54 percent women, 46 percent men, and 20 percent minority. It gets most of its students from outside Ohio — 91 percent. It’s College of Arts and Sciences offers 47 majors and its Conservatory of Music offers eight majors and 20 areas of private study.

Its athletics program includes 21 varsity teams in the Division III North Coast Athletic Conference.

Before his time at Oberlin and Michigan, Krislov served as acting solicitor for the U.S. Department of Labor in 1997 and 1998 and as associate counsel in the Office of Counsel to the President of the United States in 1995 and 1996.


He received an undergraduate degree in economics and political science from Yale University in 1982, a master’s degree from Oxford University in 1985, and a law degree from Yale Law School in 1988.

While in law school, he was editor of the Yale Law Journal and student supervisor of the Homelessness Legal Clinic.

Krislov is married to Amy Ruth Sheon, a biomedical researcher, according to his Oberlin profile. They have three children — sons Zachary and Jesse and daughter Evie Rose.

Members of the community are invited to submit feedback on each candidate on separate websites that have been set up by Parker Executive Search — the firm hired to help facilitate the process.

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Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.