Section: News

Kenyon holds on to professors

By Lauren Eller

Few tenured professors pack up and leave the Hill for good, according to Provost Joe Kesner. Klesner says the vast majority of professors choose to stay with the College. “Our retention rate is extremely high,” he said, “verging on 100 percent of people who are hired in tenure-track positions.”

As for yearly losses, Klesner reported that few faculty members voluntarily leave Kenyon. “I would say that, other than retirements … we have maybe one faculty member a year or so [who leaves the College],” Klesner said. During some years no faculty members choose to depart the community.

Klesner also said that, in his memory, around half the time when a professor leaves, he or she is moving to another location. “Sometimes it has to do with family reasons, where they have a spouse or partner who they’re following, or who they’ve just decided they no longer want to live apart [from],” he said.

Associate Professor of English Sarah Heidt had a similar perspective. She spoke of what she viewed as the most common cause of loss of professors in the English department, saying, “One of the things that was difficult for a while in the ’90s, and even coming into this decade, was that it can be difficult to be part of a two-career couple here.”

Heidt spoke to this difficulty some Kenyon professors have experienced over the years. “If you’re married to or partnered with someone who is distant from here, that’s just a strain,” Heidt said.

Both Klesner and Heidt also mentioned the restrictions on professors’ ability to live off-campus through stipulations such as the “three-, five- and 10-mile rules,” which were done away with altogether in the early ’90s. Heidt said the 10-Mile Rule was ultimately removed, as she understands it, because “it was starting to look like it was going to be a liability for trying to attract good people to work here,” especially in instances when spouses were not able to find a job in the area.

“The changing of that rule didn’t lead to a massive emigration to Columbus,” Klesner said. He estimated that around 10 to 15 current faculty members live in Columbus now but that the majority still live in Knox County.

President Sean Decatur acknowledged that it can be difficult to lure faculty to live in Gambier. “Not everyone is as familiar with what life is like in small-town Ohio,” he said. “Hopefully, if they spend some time here, that’s a way to convince them that they can envision themselves here.”

Klesner also cited another reason for loss of professors: the decision to leave academia altogether. “The other part are people who decide, ‘I don’t really want to be a professor,’” he said.

There is also a fair number of professors at Kenyon who are here for a specific amount of time. “In a given year, we have 10 to 12 people here on visiting appointments and those are frequently [for] a year, occasionally two years; sometimes they’re a year and turn into two years,” Klesner said. “Individual students might observe that as a retention issue,” though this is not the case, he said.

Katharine Weber, visiting professor of creative writing, is about to begin her third year at Kenyon. Her position is a five-year appointment. “Some visiting appointments are designed to bring in a variety of people to fill gaps in a faculty,” Weber said.

In cases like Weber’s, Klesner said some students may wonder why a professor is no longer with the College, not realizing what the specific circumstances are. “Frequently, the answer is that it was just a one-year, two-year appointment,” he said.

Decatur stressed the importance of not simply retaining faculty, but also recruiting “faculty that are fresh and current on their work.” The best way to retain faculty, according to Decatur, is to “make sure that this is a supportive place for faculty to pursue their careers … [and] to develop new courses and expand their pedagogical work.”


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