Section: News

Community reviews 2020 Plan

by Nathaniel Shahan

President Sean Decatur’s vision is 2020. Decatur recently released a draft of the 2020 plan, his five-year plan for the College.

The draft clocks in at six-and- a-half pages and identifies three main priorities for the College to focus on over the next five years.

Beyond the ivory tower: experiential learning

The first priority is post-graduate success, suggesting changes such as strengthening the first-year experience and bettering student-alumni communication. It emphasizes a more practical approach to learning, with one goal stated as “[ensuring] that every student completes at least two high-impact experiences before graduation” such as internships, research or off-campus study. Decatur seems anxious to have students pursue opportunities outside the classroom.

Decatur says he doesn’t think this focus will detract from the  traditional liberal arts experience and sees “it less as moving away [from the liberal arts] as much as adding an important complement.” Assistant Professor of Economics P.J. Glandon, who came to Kenyon a year before Decatur, backed up this notion. Glandon noted that “there’s always this tension, particularly with liberal arts colleges, because the point is not to train for a particular job when you come here, it’s to learn about yourself … to figure out what you’re good at.” Glandon qualified this statement by saying that an emphasis on post-graduate success is also important.

Growing diversity: money matters

The second priority states its goal is to “strategically use Kenyon’s resources to attract, retain and graduate an academically excellent and diverse student body.” This segment pledges to increase diversity, both racial and economic, through a focus on building the endowment and outreach to minority communities. Matthew Gerson ’18, who published an opinion piece on the lack of racial diversity at small liberal arts colleges in the Baltimore Sun last fall, appreciates the plan’s emphasis on diversity but believes it does not do enough to address the problem. The plan resolves to “build on the success of the Kenyon Academic Partnership (KAP),” as well as other programs including Kenyon Educational Enrichment Program (KEEP), to increase diversity. “These are the same old programs basically. … You can look around this campus — I don’t think it takes an enormous amount of thought to realize that their results haven’t been satisfactory even if they’ve been commendable,” Gerson said.

Eighty-two percent of Kenyon students are white, according to the College’s website. “I don’t think it’s necessary to throw everything out that they’ve ever done because it ‘wasn’t enough,’ but it wasn’t enough,” Gerson said. He also critiqued the plan for its vagueness: “I don’t know what ‘build on’ … [means],” he said, noting, however, that he did not have a good sense of what a similar plan might look like at another college.

Alex Britt ’15, a Discrimination Advisor, believes that the College’s diversity has improved remarkably in the past four years and defended the plan in spite of its potential vagaries. “If you know the programs [KAP and KEEP] you know the success,” Britt said, going on to explain that “for each organization that they specify, it has a very specific meaning … You can’t get too specific in a plan like this.”

Highlighting economic diversity, the plan promises to “make Kenyon more accessible for students from a range of socioeconomic groups” and calls for “[reducing] Kenyon’s tuition dependency through building the endowment.”

The 2020 Plan makes mentions the separate Master Plan developed by Gund Partnership, which has been criticized — including in an editorial by the Collegian — for expending resources that should be focused on financial aid. Decatur indicated that the Master Plan will complement, but not dominate, the other aspects of the 2020 Plan. “What the [2020] Plan will help us do is … decide which of the building projects are the most important for us to do because what are the things that are going to help us move towards those priorities,” Decatur said.

Fostering Community

The third and final priority places an emphasis on developing the sense of community on campus, with an aim to “intentionally build community on campus and within the Kenyon diaspora that enhances the learning environment and strengthens lifelong ties with the institution.” Glandon appreciates this focus on community in the plan, seeing it as a “focus on what Kenyon’s strengths are.”

“One of the things I love about my job are the sort of casual conversation I have with students and my colleagues,” Glandon said.

The plan will be reviewed by the Board of Trustees at the end of April. In the meantime, the plan is accessible via the College’s website. Decatur hosted a public forum to discuss the plan this week but attendance was poor with only six attendees, including this reporter. Mary Sawyer ’15, who has not read the plan but attended the forum, was put off by the lack of an audience. “It sounds like President Decatur is very concerned with community involvement yet when meetings like this are set up, so few students are actually willing to show up,” Sawyer said.

While he said he is not a big fan of its mission statements or grand plans in general, Professor of Humanities Tim Shutt, who has worked at Kenyon for almost three decades, said 2020 is largely fine. “It’s highlighting what needs to be highlighted,” he said, and “there’s no call for it to be more specific.” For Shutt, 2020 is merely a clarification of Kenyon’s model and not a revolutionary document that will change Kenyon drastically. “We’ve been doing this effectively for generations and changing with the times,” Shutt said. “I don’t think it has much real impact on what goes on [at Kenyon]”


Comments for this article have closed. If you'd like to send a letter to the editor for publication, please email us at