EXETER — While this English city is more than 5,000 miles away from Ohio, Kenyon-Exeter students felt a little closer to home when President Sean Decatur arrived here last weekend on his first trip to the university.
Decatur’s visit to Exeter comes amid the 40th anniversary of the Kenyon-Exeter study abroad program, one of Kenyon’s only self-sponsored study abroad programs. (Kenyon also offers the Kenyon in Rome program; however, the program has faced difficulty finding directors in the past and did not run this academic year.) Decatur used this trip to examine the program in -person, engage with its students and faculty and consider future additions to programs at the University of Exeter. The popularity and stability of the Kenyon-Exeter program in English has led to conversations about the possibility of an additional program at the University of Exeter in their environmental sciences department.
“It’s been great to get a much better sense of how the program works on the ground,” Decatur said. “I’ve also really enjoyed the conversations with the faculty and administrators from Exeter. It’s great to hear their perspective on the program and, actually, ideas on the things that Kenyon and Exeter might be able to do working together.”
In 2013, Kenyon discussed bringing Exeter students to study at Kenyon by fall 2014 in a program independent from Kenyon-Exeter, but this program did not pan out in that timeline. While Decatur did not mention development of the program to students, Marne Ausec, director of the Center for Global Engagement, believed this matter was discussed at the university. “I am hopeful we can continue the conversation and make forward progress,” Ausec wrote in an email to the Collegian.
The Kenyon-Exeter program sends juniors and a faculty director from the Kenyon English department — this year, it is John Crowe Ransom Professor of English Kim McMullen — to study at the University of Exeter. The program allows Kenyon students to enroll in classes as full-time students at the university while taking an additional class with the Kenyon students and professor to maintain the liberal arts environment.
Decatur isn’t the first Kenyon president to make the trip across the pond. Phillip Jordan Jr., Robert Oden Jr., S. Georgia Nugent and former Acting President Ronald Sharp all visited Exeter, according to Tom Stamp, college historian and keeper of Kenyoniana. Decatur’s visit included meetings with Vice Chancellor Sir Steve Smith, Exeter’s presidential equivalent, and members of the Exeter English faculty to discuss the program and its future.
“There’s a lot of trust between the institutions, so it’s a lot easier to talk about new directions or initiatives,” Decatur said of the possibility of increased partnership between Kenyon and Exeter.
The biggest change to the partnership could stem from the addition of an environmental studies program at the University of Exeter, which would allow Kenyon students studying environmental studies to study abroad at Exeter.
If enacted, the potential environmental studies partnership would be independent of the original Kenyon-Exeter program for English, but would operate similarly. Decatur stressed that the potential environmental studies program is tentative and not fully developed.
Kenyon’s desire to explore additional academic options at Exeter coincides with a trend in British education, and at Exeter, toward increased intercurricular learning. The Kenyon-Exeter program started through the determination of the late Kenyon Professor Emeritus of English Galbraith Crump, who sought to establish a relationship with an English university, according to Karen Edwards, associate professor of English at Exeter. Exeter was the only English university willing to allow students to study in an interdisciplinary fashion outside their major — something still uncommon at British universities today. Edwards herself taught at Kenyon from 1980 through 1992 before leaving to teach at Exeter; she directed the Kenyon-Exeter program three different times.
“When I came into the program, it was a shock,” Edwards said. “British higher education was so different from American higher education, … so students were constantly being confronted not only with different ideological and theoretical tendencies and emphases, but with serious structural differences.”
Decatur said he enjoyed his conversations with Exeter faculty about their thoughts on the program’s operations. So did students.
“It was fun sharing what we knew about Exeter with him,” Kenyon-Exeter student Alana Gale ’17 said of having lunch with Decatur on Monday. “It really felt like a part of Kenyon was temporarily here.”
In addition to expanding the Kenyon-Exeter program, Decatur also stressed the importance of recognizing the program’s 40-year history.
“We’re talking about an alumni gathering at some point next year,” Decatur said. “I think it would be great to reconnect folks on both sides of the Atlantic sometime in the fall.”