Last week, Kenyon unveiled the trustee-approved “master plan” — an updated version of one approved in 2004 — that will serve as the College’s guiding architectural blueprint for the next decade or so. Shortly afterwards, the plan was printed in a booklet (which is available online) including an introduction by President Sean Decatur. He describes some of the changes proposed by the plan, like revamping the “problematic” Kenyon Inn and introducing a new West Quad that would have underground parking.
The most “problematic” thing about Kenyon, however, has nothing to do with the local inn’s inability to host a ball or students having enough places to park their cars. It has do with prospective students being able to get to the Hill in the first place, and not because they lack transportation.
Tuition and fees for the 2014-15 year come to $47,330 (not including room and board), making Kenyon the 27th-most expensive liberal arts school in the country, according to U.S. News and World Report. Perhaps, then, there is a better way to spend that money than to build an entirely separate “college leadership” building for administrators to meet in. Granted, the College will be launching a fundraising initiative in order to pay for the plan, and there are many necessary updates in it including adding elevators to Ascension Hall and new or renovated dorms for both first years and upperclassmen. But does an English quad or a Village boutique command as much immediacy?
A far better use for the bulk of a successful fundraising campaign would be placement in our endowment, which is notoriously meager compared to our peer institutions. In 2013 it was $195.1 million, compared to Denison’s $785 million and Oberlin’s $765 million. It is an especially striking lack when last year only 38.9 percent of students received financial aid at an average of $35,375 per pupil. While the current level of aid is a good start, a recent New York Times ranking put Kenyon near the bottom of the list in terms of economic diversity, which suggests we still have our work cut out for us. No single statistic tells the whole story, but to produce a glossy, 111-page booklet full of fancy and arguably superfluous updates to a College renowned for its vintage vibe seems insulting to every student who falls into a category other than “full-paying.”