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Decatur kicks off 20/20 plan with intimate student forum

Decatur kicks off 20/20 plan with intimate student forum

President Sean Decatur held a forum with 14 students Wednesday evening in Peirce on the future of the College.

By Henri Gendreau

 

2020: “It sounds really cool and futuristic.”

So said President Sean Decatur Wednesday, Feb. 12 at the first of three campus forums to discuss how the College should move forward in the coming years.

But Decatur noted the date, which plays upon the sort of 20/20 vision needed to read the College’s future, is coming up fast.
The forum is part of a larger initiative Decatur has undertaken through recent trips across the country to visit alumni and parents in major cities. In an interview before the forum, Decatur said the focus of these conversations centered on what Kenyon could do to prepare its students for the outside world.

“I think that there are concerns among alumni and parents about the process of transitioning from Kenyon to life after Kenyon,” Decatur said. “What it’s like to go on the job market and what are things that we can be doing to complement the core education program here to better prepare students for success after graduation.

On Wednesday, themes of college affordability and racial and socioeconomic diversity, as well as how Kenyon was preparing its graduates, dominated the evening’s discussion.

In convening the first of the student forums, Decatur kicked off discussions for an idea that has been germinating since his early days on the Hill.
“One of my projects upon coming to Kenyon has been to really set a course for where the College is going over the course of the next six years.”
“From my perspective, this isn’t being done from a sense of problem or crisis,” Decatur said. “Actually, on the contrary, I think in general Kenyon is in a very good place.”

Fourteen students from a range of class years gathered in lower Peirce for the forum, and were asked to write down their thoughts on overarching questions, and then to break off into small groups.

The three topics Decatur posed to the group were what concerns or challenges Kenyon might face in the future, what Kenyon could do to better connect itself to the world off the Hill, and what knowledge or skills are critical for Kenyon students to know by the time they graduate. Decatur and his Chief of Staff Susan Morse made the rounds to each small group while Student Assistant Matthew Eley ’15 took notes.

Besides issues of increasing tuition and preparation beyond graduation, talks steered toward issues of activism and service in the local community, how Kenyon could interact more with local colleges and how research opportunities for students and job fairs could enrich the educational experience.
But balancing a liberal arts curriculum with job preparation overshadowed most of the other topics of discussion.

“I don’t think we connect with our alums as much as we could,” Decatur said, adding that “finding creative ways to use our alums” could help Kenyon students of the future.

In the end, though, Decatur noted that priorities would have to emerge, pointing to “the notion of how do we think about containing the growth and cost of Kenyon, yet at the same time recognizing that there are places where certainly we have to maintain the quality of program in some places.”
“That means that we need to do more things for less money,” he said. “That’s the bottom line.”

Decatur said conversations like Wednesday’s, as well as his discussions with parents and alumni, will provide the material for a guideline of the College’s future. A draft of the 20/20 plan is expected by October, with a final version in February of 2015. The next campus panels, which have a limited number of spots, will be held Wednesday, Feb. 19 and Thursday, Feb. 20.

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