By Lauren Toole
On Tuesday, Aug. 14, as exhausted Pelotonia riders summited the Kenyon hill, President S. Georgia Nugent, the 18th president of Kenyon College and the first woman to hold that position, formally announced her decision to step down.
The quiet that normally permeates Gambier during the summer months was momentarily lifted, as the Village opened its arms to cyclists, supporters and survivors participating in the Ohio bike tour that has raised over $25 million for cancer research. Standing amongst passersby and onlookers, Nugent overheard a number of conversations remarking upon the beauty of Kenyon a place many were experiencing for the first time and expressing a desire to bring their own children to campus, so that they too could be inspired by this special community.
That day I thought, I wish I would see what will become of this, said Nugent, with that flash of perspective that comes only in retrospect. I brought this here, and I would like to see it grow and flourish.
Nugents decision to step down at the end of this academic year surprised many in the campus community and caused some to look to this summers Sodexo controversy as the reason for her departure. In June, Nugent and the Chairman of the Board of Trustees, Barry Schwartz, announced their decision to outsource maintenance management to the French firm Sodexo. After widespread protest, those negotiations were suspended.
Despite the timing of her announcement, Nugent said her decision to step down has been in the making for several years.
I came in thinking that any leader has certain strengths, and I felt that after youve been with an institution for 10 years, youve probably accomplished those things that are best for you to accomplish, she said. Three years ago I had a conversation with the then Chair of the Board and made the decision [to leave] at that time.
The search for Kenyons 19th president is currently underway, and trustee Brackett B. Denniston 69 of Fairfield, Conn., vice president and general counsel of General Electric, will chair the search committee.
Denniston did not respond to multiple requests for comment, but in a statement issued by the College, he said, I am honored to serve as chair of the search committee on this important mission to select a successor to [President S.] Georgia Nugent as one of those extraordinary leaders and to be joined by a very able group of committee members with a love for Kenyon and Kenyons future. We all look forward to working with, and hearing from, the Kenyon community in the coming months.
Other members of the committee include representatives from the alumni, the Board of Trustees, faculty, staff and students. The selection process will follow the protocol of recent Kenyon presidential searches, and the College will hire a search firm to assist in the presidential search.
Though the community will be watching closely as the search for a replacement advances, Nugents successful decade in office will not be overlooked.
Dean of Students Hank Toutain spoke highly of his experience working with Nugent. During the time that I worked with her she has been consistently supportive of student affairs, of the work that I do and the work that my colleagues do, said Toutain. Not only [does she] take an interest in matters and issues that concern students directly, but [she] really is very supportive of those initiatives that make the student experiences the best that they could be.
Toutain cited the North Campus Apartments project, as well as Nugents involvement with the development office in raising financial support, as examples of how generations of students will benefit from her leadership.
In 10 years, Nugent completed 12 renovation and construction projects that have both aesthetically and functionally improved the campus. In addition to the newly completed Horvitz Art Building, the Gund Gallery and the still under-construction North Campus Apartments, Bailey House, the Morgan Apartments, Evans Seminar Room, Peirce Hall, Lentz House, OConnor House, Finn House, the Gambier Child Care Center and the Kenyon Athletic Center were built or renovated during President Nugents tenure.
While this construction was a highly visible success, Nugent made other tangible changes. During her tenure she more than doubled diversity amongst students and faculty and created the largest scholarship fund in the schools history around $60 million.
When Nugent first arrived, approximately 8 percent of the student body consisted of diversity students, compared to 20 percent today. Thats really moving the needle, Nugent said. Im always especially excited about first-generation students, and this year we have the most weve ever had and the most international students weve ever had.
Six years ago, Nugent asked the Board of Trustees to assemble a task force to address the lack of diversity within the school. This task force studied diversity in the curriculum, among students and faculty, and in the campus environment over a two-year period, eventually proposing a set of directives which the College initiated.
These included a diversified recruitment strategy, the hiring of a full-time international recruiter this year, establishing the Diversity Action Committee on campus, appointing diversity members to the Board of Trustees and a variety of other measures.
While no president can complete all she sets out to do, those projects that Nugent has nurtured over the years have become integral to the campus identity. The establishment of the Child Care Center, enactment of an updated family leave policy and the introduction of a local foods program are three of Nugents landmark achievements which unite the campus and the surrounding area.
While Nugent will not be directly involved with the selection of her replacement, she does have some advice that comes with 10 years of experience. Openness to listening and understanding the community is a key part of the job, said Nugent. If you dont do that, you just cant be successful here.
Try and teach, added Nugent. I havent been able to do it as much as I like, but Im so glad I did it. It builds relationships with students and it makes a difference in your relationship to the faculty because it makes [it] more tangible that you really are a faculty person.
Finally, you have to build good partnerships here. One quality that is tremendously important is that you have to have a great team, said Nugent. My senior staff is just superb. I think a new person will have to listen to and understand the community, but so often its those folks the dean, the provost who are carrying out a lot of the day-to-day activity of the College.
Like the Kenyon graduate who is cast out into the world after graduation, Nugent is not entirely sure where she will land after she leaves campus. Unlike those graduates, however, she has already experienced the post-college delirium, and she knows what life after Kenyon will entail.
I might even consider another presidency, but what Ill probably do next is go to Washington, D.C. and become affiliated with the Council of Independent Colleges (CIC), she said. The CIC is the largest professional organization of college presidents in the country, with over 600 members, all from small independent colleges, and what I would be starting is a new initiative to try and be more successful in basically advocating and getting the message out to the public about the value of this kind of education, [which] I feel pretty passionate about.
While this may be Nugents final year as an official member of the Kenyon community, her presidency will be remembered long after she takes her last steps on Middle Path.
Ive loved being the president of Kenyon, she said. Its been exciting and its been fun and its been challenging, and now its time for the next thing.