This week, Sean M. Decatur ﾗ a career academic ﾗ was named Kenyon’s 19th president. Decatur boasts a strong background in the liberal arts. He is a former associate dean, department chair, and professor of chemistry at Mount Holyoke College, and currently serves as the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Oberlin College. He will be held to high standards when he sets foot on Middle Path, and the Collegian has a few recommendations for him.
At Oberlin, Decatur teaches chemistry and biochemistry. He is heavily involved in the community where he lives full-time with his family. Decatur has indicated that he will move into Cromwell Cottage, an iconic part of Kenyon’s campus. We hope that Decatur will reinvigorate the office of president, whether by teaching classes, holding regular office hours, or hosting open events at Cromwell, as former presidents have done.
But Decatur’s challenges are not limited to visibility on campus. Now more than ever, Kenyon needs a president who can tailor his fundraising efforts to increase the financial aid budget ﾗ for both need- and merit-based aid ﾗ a marked failure of the We Are Kenyon campaign. But new scholarships and increased aid will not be enough. Decatur needs to tamp the soaring rate of Kenyon’s tuition.
As a scientist himself, Decatur should give Kenyon a reputation in the sciences to match its reputation in the humanities. The state-of-the-art science quad has bolstered Kenyon’s reputation as a school that devotes resources to the sciences, and Decatur can do more to extend that physical showing. Kenyon is renowned for its English program, but this is not the College’s only curricular strength. Decatur’s background in the sciences will do much to attract those who wish to study in fields like biology or chemistry, but once felt turned off by the College’s overpowering reputation as an “English” school.
Decatur will face many challenges in the next few years; fundraising and navigating the minefield of diversity and financial aid are just two of them. The Collegian also urges Decatur to think deeply about the College’s physical plant. Kenyon has seen two beautiful new buildings go up in the past two years, but its older structures are in desperate need of renovation. Bexley Hall, Caples, Mather and McBride residence halls, and the dorms on south quad all must be modernized, most likely during the next president’s tenure.
Once Decatur takes up residence in Cromwell Cottage, he will be under close scrutiny by the community to see if he will embody the traits integral to Kenyon. Ultimately, it will be his personal interactions with students, faculty and the greater Kenyon network of parents, alumni and friends of the College, that will better our institution and secure his place in our community.
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