With the announcement last week that Dean of Students Hank Toutain would be retiring at the end of the year, we would like to take this opportunity recognize his service to the community. Toutain brought an undeniable earnestness and care to his longtime role as head of the College’s student affairs division, traits that may have had their foundation in his own time as an undergraduate.
At a recent Student Council meeting — Toutain regularly attends the meetings as a mostly silent observer — around 100 students showed up to voice concern over the administration’s decision to change the date and format of Summer Sendoff. (It has since been moved back to its original slot two Fridays before finals.) Toward the end of the meeting, Toutain had this to say: “When I was your age, I was in college in New England and we were demonstrating every week and trying to stop a war.”
Rightly noting the gulf between student activism geared toward ending bloodshed and one inspired by restrictions on partying, Toutain nonetheless offered support to students, saying, “Don’t let a crisis go by without taking advantage of it.”
While recognizing no dean of students can satisfy all parties all the time, we commend Toutain for his devotion to administrative transparency and the well-being of Kenyon’s student body. These objectives are ones we hope all members of the Kenyon community adopt. He has, on at least one occasion, invited authors of Collegian op-eds to his office to discuss potential changes to College policy. Especially given recent dissonance between administrators and students, his leadership and consistent candor are qualities we hope the administration will prioritize in finding and hiring his successor.
That said, we wonder whether a replacement for Toutain is even necessary. When the College hired Meredith Harper Bonham ’92 in January 2015, it seemed her newly created position of vice president for student affairs would subsume many of the duties of a dean of students. But now it appears both positions are here to stay. That means the College will be spending more money — not only on the present search, but also in annual salary payouts to Toutain’s eventual replacement.
While Bonham has said her job focuses more on larger strategic goals, with the dean focusing on individual students, we believe the student body should have had a voice in what amounts to a significant, permanent expansion in the size of the College’s corps of student affairs administrators. But the College would not even disclose how much money it was using to fund the search — yet another instance of a lack of transparency, at a time when transparency is of urgent importance to many in the Kenyon community.
As the College continues to appoint vice presidents and associate vice presidents, this move indicates an unsettling tendency toward a more vertical structure, in a world where organizations are becoming increasingly horizontal. As companies become less hierarchical, why does Kenyon seem to be moving in the opposite direction?