The Kenyon Board of Trustees arrived to a particularly vocal campus this past Thursday, April 20 for their annual spring meeting.
DivestKenyon put on the most visible response to the trustees’ arrival when members pitched tents on Ransom Lawn to protest the College’s suspected investment in fossil fuels and demand divestment from such corporations. DivestKenyon also led a demonstration of approximately 30 people outside of the Kenyon Inn, culminating in a conversation with two trustee, who expressed appreciation for the protestors’ energy but said they did not agree with their message.
In an interview with the Collegian, Joseph Lipscomb ’87, the chair of the budget, finance and audit trustee committee and vice chair of the executive trustee committee, explained that the College did not plan to pledge to divest from the fossil fuel industry.
Lipscomb said the trustees acknowledge the threat of climate change but added that divestment would not have an impact on the environment. Lipscomb sees divestment not as a way to actually effect change, but more as a way to raise awareness of climate change. He acknowledged that some institutions have aligned their investments with these issues, but said the College would not want to make investment choices that could lower endowment returns, thereby preventing people from attending Kenyon.
“The reality is, our mission first and foremost is making our education accessible to as many talented people as possible,” Lipsomb said. “It doesn’t mean I don’t care about climate change.”
Lipscomb runs Arborview Capital LLC, an investment firm that specializes in investment in energy efficient products and renewable energy. “I think it’s awesome that students are really impassioned about it,” Lipscomb said. He believes, however, that students should organize for a carbon tax instead.
“That will change things substantively,” he said. “Divestment is not going to change things —it’s just not.”
The trustees also discussed the future of Sunset Cottage and Olin and Chalmers Library. At last year’s spring meeting, the English Department negotiated with donor and architect of several College buildings Graham Gund’s ’63 H’81 architectural firm, GUND Partnership, over the construction of two new English buildings and the demolition of Sunset. This year’s trustee meeting yielded no final date for Sunset Cottage to be demolished, according to Decatur.
“Its current status is actually it’s not set to be demolished,” Decatur said. “The key thing is we’re still on track for a new cottage for the English department.” The English department will still move out of Sunset to another facility when possible, but Sunset may be repurposed for another department.
Though the library will eventually be demolished, the details of the replacement plan are uncertain. “There’s still work going on on two tracks: one is designing a building, and the other is raising funds to build the building,” Decatur said. With the structure of the new library still unclear, the target date for beginning construction in the summer of 2018 is tentative and may be delayed.
In the past, some students and faculty members have questioned how much influence Gund has in deciding which construction projects the College pursues on Campus. Lipscomb said Gund can only decide on which priority projects he would like to pursue, but not determine which projects are considered priorities.
“Does Graham Gund come in and say ‘This is what we are going to do’? No. He doesn’t do that,” Lipscomb said. “We say, ‘These are our needs,’ and he says, ‘If it’s one of those three things, that’s what’s most meaningful to me.’”
The trustees also discussed ways to increase scholarships and support for low-income students who want to come to Kenyon.
“What we want to do is create more opportunity for students,” board member Matthew Winkler ’77 H’00 P’13 said. “At every single trustee meeting I’ve attended, and I’ve attended most of them, every single meeting the discussion has been what are we doing to increase financial aid.”
The College’s capital campaign was also a focus of discussion. The campaign is still in its quiet phase, meaning the College is seeking out substantial gifts from donors before it makes the campaign public. The campaign has accrued $90 million towards a goal of $100 million by the end of the 2016-17 fiscal year, according to Winkler. The fiscal year concludes at the end of June, meaning the board must raise another $10 million in the next two months to meet their goal. The campaign will move into its public phase when approximately half of the $300 million target has been raised. The campaign focuses on raising money for the endowment — specifically to fund financial aid — and funding elements of the Master Plan, the ongoing efforts spearheaded by President Sean Decatur to improve academic facilities and residence halls and modernize the Village of Gambier.
The Board of Trustees also awarded tenure to four Kenyon faculty members on April 21: Assistant Professor of Music Ross Feller, Assistant Professor of Philosophy Hans Lottenbach, Assistant Professor of English Rosemary O’Neill and Assistant Professor of Chemistry Kerry Rouhier. Beginning July 1, each of them will be considered Associate Professors. The board will next meet on campus on Oct. 26-27 for their annual fall meeting.
–By Armaan Maharaj