The president of Oberlin College, an Ohio institution known for its music program and left-leaning campus, will become the next head of Pace University, a sprawling private university in Manhattan and Westchester County.
Marvin Krislov, a lawyer by training, will arrive in New York in August as the eighth president of Pace, which has historically been a magnet for commuters and minority students who are the first members of their families to pursue a college degree.
On the surface, the move might seem incongruous.
Mr. Krislov, a former Rhodes scholar with three degrees from Yale, has no previous connections to Pace and has never lived in New York. He has also presided since 2007 over a rural and predominantly white college that has been roiled by politicized battles over a range of issues, from offensive murals to inauthentically prepared ethnic food and even trigger warnings for the Sophocles tragedy “Antigone.”
Mr. Krislov became a notable figure in the debate over identity and free speech that has unfolded across many elite campuses when he pushed back against student demands for academic and other changes viewed by some as doctrinaire. In an open letter to students in January 2016, he wrote that although he sympathized with their concerns, “I will not respond directly to any document that explicitly rejects the notion of collaborative engagement.”
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But in an interview, Mr. Krislov, who announced in September that he would be leaving Oberlin, said that he actually found many parallels between the two institutions. He said it was imperative, as outlined in a New York Times essay he wrote last summer, that all colleges listen to “student activists who are demanding a more relevant education.”
He also said he was impressed by Pace’s success, especially in recent years, at helping students become upwardly mobile. Ensuring access to higher education for lower-income and minority students has become an increasing focus for educators in recent years. Mr. Krislov said the college’s signature program, the Pace Path, which creates a tailor-made four-year growth plan for each student, reminded him of his efforts at Oberlin to help students prepare for life after graduation. Even the college’s motto — Opportunitas — resonated.
“I had limited knowledge of Pace, but I have since discovered that it has a great history of first-gen working-class and immigrant students that go on to become leaders,” he said. “Pace is a place where the American dream really does become reality.”
By many accounts, Pace has come a long way from the mid-2000s, when it was rocked by protests after a tuition increase. That rise in cost precipitated a plunge in freshman enrollment and led to a hiring freeze and demonstrations, as well as criticism over the compensation package of the president at the time, David A. Caputo.
Ultimately, Dr. Caputo stepped down and was replaced in 2007 by Stephen J. Friedman, a former corporate lawyer who had been the dean of the university’s School of Law. Under Mr. Friedman’s leadership, the university’s enrollment climbed steadily, with 11,275 full-time students now, and an operating budget of $369 million.
That budget is roughly double that of Oberlin, which has 2,900 students.
Pace has also established itself even more in downtown Manhattan because of a $190 million renovation plan and a new performing arts school. In addition, the law school, in White Plains, recently received the largest gift in its history.
But there is also anxiety about the future. In a recent op-ed in The Daily News, Mr. Friedman urged that a recent proposal by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to help cover tuition costs for middle-class students at state and city universities be expanded to include private nonprofit colleges. Undergraduate tuition at Pace for the 2016-17 academic year is $41,120, with the cost for room and board and other fees bringing the total to more than $60,000.
Mr. Friedman, 78, announced his plans to retire a year ago, prompting a search for his successor. In an interview, Mark M. Besca, the chairman of Pace’s board of trustees, praised Mr. Krislov as a “perfect fit” for his passion, fund-raising success and credentials.
Mr. Besca, a Pace graduate who is now the managing partner of Ernst & Young’s New York office, declined to disclose Mr. Krislov’s salary, saying the figures would eventually be available on the university’s tax returns. But Mr. Friedman made $692,000, according to the most recent filing, while Mr. Krislov’s salary at Oberlin was $577,000.
Mr. Krislov was previously a finalist for the presidency of the University of Iowa. He is a native of Kentucky, where his father was an academic and his mother a social worker. After receiving his law degree from Yale, he worked in senior positions at the Labor Department in the Clinton administration, and also as vice president and general counsel at the University of Michigan.
One of the most fervent debates on college campuses has been taking place at Yale, where Peter Salovey, the president, announced over the weekend that the university would change the name of a residential college commemorating John C. Calhoun, a 19th-century white supremacist statesman from South Carolina. The decision reversed one made last spring to keep the name, despite vehement opposition.
When asked about Yale’s decision, Mr. Krislov declined to comment, saying he did not have enough information to weigh in. He did note, however, that he was a member of another residential college, Jonathan Edwards, which is named after the fiery colonial theologian.