The Board of Trustees has granted President Sean Decatur a semester-long sabbatical to pursue scholarly and creative projects, a news bulletin announced on Monday. During his absence — which will begin July 1 and last until Dec. 31 — Provost Jeffrey Bowman will take over as acting president, and Associate Provost Sheryl Hemkin will be the acting provost.
When Decatur arrived at Kenyon in 2013, his contract stipulated that he would have the opportunity to take a sabbatical in the future, according to the news bulletin. Decatur explained that terms for the sabbatical are much like those of a professor: In the United States, most professors are given the opportunity to take a sabbatical after at least seven years of teaching.
Seeing as Decatur has been at Kenyon for nine years — and given his background in academia — he felt ready for an opportunity to continue his academic passions, such as finishing a book about protein chemistry.
“Leading Kenyon is intellectually challenging and rewarding, but it leaves little room for scholarly and creative pursuits,” Decatur said in the news bulletin.
Decatur is not the first president of Kenyon to take a sabbatical: According to Keeper of Kenyoniana Thomas Stamp ’73, Philip H. Jordan Jr., who served as president from 1975 to 1995, also took one around 1990. As with this current situation, Jordan was also replaced by the provost for the duration of his sabbatical.
Decatur also noted in an interview with the Collegian that taking a sabbatical often depends on if presidents have served in their role for a minimum number of years. Over the last decade, the average length of presidential tenure has shortened, with most college presidents stepping down before they would reach the point of needing a sabbatical. In 2006, for example, presidents stayed in their position for 8.5 years, while in 2016, presidents served for an average of 6.5 years. This is a substantial difference from 1975 — during Jordan’s presidency — when most college presidents stayed for nearly a decade on average.
According to Inside Higher Education, around 48% of college presidents are granted a sabbatical. In a majority of these situations, presidents are paid a full administrative salary during their absence, on the condition that they make a contribution to the greater campus community with their projects.
Decatur said that he has full confidence that Bowman will manage operations smoothly in his absence, given his experience in administrative work and longstanding dedication to the Kenyon community.
“[Bowman] certainly has a deep history and experience on campus as both a faculty member and, more recently, as associate provost and provost. I think he is well-attuned to Kenyon and is very capable in his leadership, so I feel very confident having him step into the role for the next six months,” he said.
Bowman expressed his excitement for the semester ahead and emphasized that sabbaticals are a meaningful opportunity for members of the academic community to explore their passions.
“Sabbaticals give faculty members the opportunity to focus intensely on scholarly and artistic projects,” Bowman wrote in a message to the Collegian. “I’m sure that Sean will make excellent use of the opportunity.”