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Decatur envisions the future in 20/20

Decatur envisions the future in 20/20

By Graham Reid

Much like a resident of Gund or Norton, President Sean Decatur is a first year. He has spent the last semester learning the ins-and-outs of Kenyon life. He’s also launched a campaign, dubbed the 2020 plan, meant to chart a path for the College’s future.

Decatur described “four different strands to the process” of the 2020 plan: academic philosophy, the physical state of the campus, admissions and financial aid strategies, and a reworking of backend for increased efficiency.

The administration, according to Decatur’s Chief of Staff Susan Morse, hopes to have a final strategic plan for the College ready by next fall. They hope to present the document to the Board of Trustees by early 2015.

Although Decatur presented many ideas of his own, he emphasized that there is room for a range of voices to weigh in and “get involved in these conversations as they move ahead.

“This is really the beginning of a process, not a process that’s over and done with,” he said.

Morse emphasized Decatur’s cautious and thoughtful mindset. “It was very clear that [Decatur] wanted to get to know Kenyon, to really understand its culture before making any directional changes or plans for the College,” she said.

To gather information for the planning process, particularly ideas about the Kenyon experience and what it should be, Decatur has attended alumni panels in major cities such as New York and Chicago. Morse described these forums as “a cross section of people from a variety of class years and a variety of majors, [working in] a variety of jobs.”

In the next semester, Decatur plans to bring more of these conversations to campus. The spring semester, according to Decatur, will see a “shift to having more internal conversations with students, faculty and staff … to try to get at the big ideas on the minds of folks on campus about Kenyon.”

No matter what changes the next five years bring, Decatur believes the core of Kenyon’s philosophy will remain relevant. “Learning how to write clearly, learning how to read critically [and] learning how to solve problems are all things that we value in the liberal arts and are all things that are essential for any professional development,” he said.

Even as Kenyon sticks to its fundamental liberal arts principles, Decatur believes there is room for some growth. Decatur and his administration expressed enthusiasm for expanding experiential learning, which would provide “students with opportunities for them to really apply what they’re learning in a real-world-type scenario,” according to Morse.

“There’s a lot of interest among the faculty in advancing this,” Decatur said.

Additionally, the 2020 plan aims to recruit students from populations that would not typically consider a liberal arts education. As populations decline in traditionally strong areas for Kenyon admissions, like the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states, Decatur says Admissions will have to redirect more of its energy to expanding areas of the country, such as the Southwest.

To address brick and mortar aspects of Kenyon, the College will work with an outside consultant. Though Decatur said some of these issues may be “incredibly dull and unsexy,” he believes they will nonetheless prove important because “there may be opportunities to save money on the ways in which we manage risk and liabilities on campus.”

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