On Oct. 1, Julie Kornfeld began her tenure as Kenyon College’s 20th president and second female president. She was appointed after a six-month-long search process following former-President Sean Decatur’s departure from Kenyon in December 2022.
At the end of last year, the College established a national search committee to select Kenyon’s next president. The committee included two Kenyon student representatives, faculty, alumni and members of the Board of Trustees, and incorporated input from all Kenyon constituencies and the search firm Storbeck Search. Kornfeld was unanimously selected by the Board of Trustees in June 2023. Her official start date was announced as Oct. 1 to allow Kornfeld time to finish her duties at Columbia University.
Prior to her selection as president-elect, Kornfeld had served in academic administration at Columbia University since 2016. Most recently, she served as vice provost for academic programs, though she previously served as vice dean for education at the Mailman School of Public Health as well as an associate professor of epidemiology for all seven years. Throughout her time at Columbia, Kornfeld assisted in the approval of the university’s first undergraduate program in public health and provided strategic leadership for a variety of educational departments.
Kornfeld’s tenure began on the Sunday of Homecoming Weekend, a three-day-long event where alumni and current students celebrated the start of the fall semester. Over the weekend, students had the opportunity to meet Kornfeld, who spent Homecoming meeting with donors and alumni, touring campus and walking her miniature poodle, Milo, down Middle Path. For students who did not run into her by chance, the College held a separate meet-and-greet during Common Hour the following Tuesday. An additional meet-and-greet was also available for faculty, professors and campus employees.
“Everyone’s been incredibly welcoming and very excited to be here,” Kornfeld said in an interview with the Collegian. “It’s been a great start.” While students were excited to meet Kornfeld and her husband Fred Silverman, she noted that students were most thrilled to meet Milo. “Of course, our dog has become more popular, probably, than the two of us,” she added.
Vice President of Student Affairs Celestino Limas expressed his excitement at Kornfeld’s arrival on campus and the student body’s reaction. “I want as many students to get to know Julie as possible, whether it’s today or in the coming weeks,” he said in an interview with the Collegian.
Kornfeld similarly emphasized the importance of greeting students and building relationships with the student body throughout the weekend. “I’m in a listening and learning stage,” she said. “I want to hear from everybody on campus as to what kinds of priorities and initiatives they’re excited about, and then we can think about what we are going to move forward collectively.” Kornfeld also reiterated her respect for the work of current and previous administrative staff at Kenyon, highlighting the ongoing strategic plan for Kenyon’s third century.
Kornfeld also hopes to begin teaching classes soon, as she previously taught at Columbia for all seven years of her administrative work. “Even as I’ve taken different roles in administration, I’ve always taught too,” she said. While she will not be able to teach this fall semester, Kornfeld hopes to begin teaching a class in fall 2024. In particular, she intends to focus on public health issues and open a conversation on the topic with the student body.
In the near future, students and their families will have the opportunity to meet Kornfeld throughout the upcoming Family Weekend. With the weekend slated to offer several events, receptions and speakers, Kornfeld looks forward to further engaging with the Kenyon community through individual conversations with students and involvement with both student organizations and Student Council.
Kornfeld also noted that assuming the role of president comes at a transformative time in Kenyon’s history. Following the impact of the pandemic and just before the upcoming Bicentennial Celebration, she emphasized how Kenyon’s supportive and enthusiastic community has made her first week on campus a good one.
“The last few years have been hard,” Kornfeld said. “But it feels like the energy on campus is very high, and people are excited to be out and participating. And I’m excited to just be a part of that.”