On Thursday, Kenyon hosted its second “Ask Me Anything” event, where panel members answered questions regarding student and faculty concerns. The panel featured three members: Acting President Jeff Bowman, Vice President for Finance Todd Burson and Vice President for Enrollment Management and Dean of Admissions Diane Anci. The panel was moderated by Campus Senate co-Chair Delaney Gallagher ’23 and Assistant Director at the Office for Community Partnerships Alyssa Gómez Lawrence ’10, who read out pre-submitted questions to each panel member.
The panel was held in the Gund Gallery Community Foundation Theater with approximately 40 people in attendance, many of whom were faculty or staff. Questions were compiled by Campus Senate from a form sent out in November that invited students and faculty to ask questions regarding the College’s policy decisions.
One question addressed to Bowman asked what Kenyon’s rationale is for increasing student enrollment. Bowman referred to the College’s plan to increase the on-campus student population by 200 students overall by 2031. Increased tuition revenue will allow Kenyon’s administration to carry out future goals like new initiatives in curriculum development, increased access to financial aid and progress towards carbon neutrality, he said.
Several of the questions throughout the panel focused on challenges that would arise as a result of a larger student population. The panelists discussed Kenyon’s plan to combat these challenges, such as searching for two new faculty members and building new residence halls. Anci further clarified that some residences on campus will be completed in the fall of 2024, with Bexley Hall planned to finish sooner.
Burson and Anci discussed how many of these challenges arose from the pandemic, which affected Kenyon’s plans for increased enrollment. According to Anci, Kenyon’s operating budget is 82% dependent on tuition revenue, and low enrollment during the pandemic significantly impacted the College’s budget. For the Class of 2025, however, enrollment saw an unexpected growth, with 1,900 students on campus in the fall of 2021. Burson said that this growth led to modular housing as a temporary solution, as the College had less than a year to build new residence halls on campus.
Two more questions focused on why the College is increasing student enrollment without adequately increasing student support services or residential or academic halls as well. Bowman said that the Strategic Plan involves adding more faculty members and student services over the course of 10 years, but it has not yet been adjusted to the unprecedented size of classes post-pandemic.
Anci also addressed the lack of academic halls, saying that new buildings like Lowell House cannot be utilized for classroom space because rooms cannot be reliably available throughout the course of the semester, as there are times when the building will be in use for admissions purposes.
Another question asked why staff and faculty salaries have lagged behind the cost of living every year. Bowman responded that at the recent Board of Trustees meeting, the Board approved employee salary increases by 3.25%, less than last year’s increase of 4%. There will also be a change to the structure of insurance plans, so lower-income employees will pay a smaller percentage of their premiums, while higher-compensated employees will pay a larger percentage.
Bowman also noted that despite a question expressing concern over administrative bloat, new administrative positions do not affect faculty salaries. “Neither the overall faculty salary pool nor the number of tenure track lines has been reduced,” he said. Bowman clarified that along with recent searches for two new faculty members, two more positions have been added over the last four years.
Another question, directed to Burson, addressed understaffing in Peirce Dining Hall, which is currently understaffed by 27 employees. Burson acknowledged the impact of COVID-19 on staffing in the service industry and said that AVI has been working to increase its staff. “AVI is doing an extraordinary job,” Burson said. “There is nothing they would like better than to have a fully staffed group, and they’re working on it.”
Gómez Lawrence directed another question to both Burson and Bowman about the amount of debt that Kenyon owes due to the building projects of the last year. Burson began by mentioning the housing plan, established in the College’s 2014 Campus Master Plan, which contains further information on Kenyon’s building projects and is available on Kenyon’s website. He then said that the College took out around $68 million of debt to pay for Oden Hall, Lowell House and Chalmers Library.
One question was about whether Kenyon will become more transparent in sharing policy decisions with students and faculty. Bowman responded that transparency is an important value at Kenyon, and that conversations have often led him to realize that Kenyon has not been as communicative or transparent as it could be.
However, he noted there are times when the information could be potentially harmful or embarrassing to students. “There are moments when the curtain is not to obscure decision making, but to protect the well-being of members of the community,” Bowman said.
Another question asked why Middle Path is still unpaved, citing accessibility issues during the winter. Bowman answered that Middle Path was repaved in the spring of 2022 using a different surface material. “It’s better now than it has been in years,” Bowman said, but added that the College will continue to review the issue in upcoming years.
The final question of the panel was again addressed to Bowman, asking whether acting on anonymous reports of sexual assault is mandated by the Department of Education, or whether Kenyon College pursues that policy on its own. Bowman stated that Ohio does not require institutions to act on anonymous reports, but the Office for Civil Rights thoroughly investigates all anonymous reports regardless.
The panel ended with applause for the panelists and the moderators. Gallagher added that Campus Senate will hold another panel in the future and that answers to the questions asked that day, as well as previous and future questions, will eventually be listed on a website for students and faculty who did not attend.
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we can spend 68 million on new buildings but not add more staffing to the Cox center? to attend kenyon with any sort of health issue is a death wish, and admin have made it this way. Shameful.
Reply to concerned student
As much as I appreciate carbon neutrality goals, specific actions may be too expensive for a small college, depending on the initiatives and spending habits. In reality, the Ohio electricity Grid is the real canary in the coal mine here anyways. If a particular carbon neutrality project is too expensive for a small liberal arts college, you are still tied to the Ohio grid, and that really needs to be the main priority in conjunction with reducing the colleges gas/elec bills overall.
There are a lot of "feel good projects" in this space that are incredibly expensive and a waste of money, so avoid that really expensive eagle scout badge.
This is an electric grid problem.
Reply to Ohio Energy