Section: Opinion

Beware the Kenyon industrial complex

Across the Kokosing River, beyond meadows sweet with asphodel, sits a shining college on a hill — one that has recently become obedient to some strange spell.

Welcome to Kenyon, Inc.

A premier institution of higher education in a quaint Ohio village, Kenyon, Inc. is committed to providing its clients a safe and fun retreat from the outside world. Four years of apartment-style living, all-you-can-eat dining and some intellectual stimulation — all for a quarter-million dollars — ensures clients receive a certificate virtually guaranteeing employment at a mid-level financial or educational institution.

How did Kenyon, Inc. come about? While its origins date back to before any current students arrived, the College has, over the past few years, added and reconfigured a number of administrative positions — moves geared less toward promoting students’ intellectual endeavors and more toward ensuring their “health and well-being.” As if that were never the purview of inspiring professors.

Kenyon, Inc. is a different beast from the “Kamp Kenyon” that Writer-in-Residence P.F. Kluge, faculty advisor of the Collegian, spoke about in a 2002 address to the Council of Colleges of Arts and Sciences, in which he said, “Kenyon College is about challenging and testing students, Kamp Kenyon is about accommodating clients. Kenyon College keeps students busy, Kamp Kenyon makes them happy,” and so forth.

Like Kamp Kenyon, Kenyon, Inc. is committed to serving the needs of clients, and is less concerned with how rigorously educated they are. But unlike “Kamp Kenyon,” Kenyon, Inc.’s idea of serving clients is not to take their opinions into account, but rather to decide on its own what is best for them.

Which leads to an intriguing question: To what extent ought a college be a democratic system? Should Kenyon’s administration be responsive to student concerns over changes to the campus of academic and social programming?

Recent announcements from the College — of a crackdown on off-campus living, the shuttering of the Gambier Grill and drastic changes to Summer Sendoff — have students riled up. But we should recognize the issue is not fundamentally about Sendoff or the Cove. College should be, above all, about academics. College should not be about drunken debauchery. But neither should it be about the regulation thereof.

The message to students when such decisions are made is this: Your ideas on how this college should be run are of no importance to us, but how you choose to conduct your social lives is, insofar as we have a legal responsibility to keep you safe. But from what? Our own folly, it seems.

College is about critical inquiry. It is about challenging, not submitting to, authority. It is, yes, about making mistakes — and learning from them.

If we as students are serious about having a voice in what goes on at this college, we need to step up. Student Council has taken a step in the right direction by demanding the administration explain its Sendoff decision, and a student petition that has attracted more than 600 signatures is an encouraging sign of activism. But we can’t stop there. If we are to be truly liberally educated, we must challenge policies made on our behalf. We must lobby administrators and trustees on issues and traditions of importance to us. We must question the College’s supposed need to take on yet another vice president of student lifestyle or director of first-year well-being. That is the only thing preventing Kenyon, Inc. from replacing the College that has existed here for almost 200 years. Unless that strange spell urges us from all reposing, we fear all that may be left to say is:

Farewell, Old Kenyon.

Fare thee well.

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