At a special assembly of the College almost three months ago, President Sean Decatur remarked, “There are moments in every institution’s history where points of convergence become points of inflection.” His words were full of optimism: The largest financial gift in Kenyon’s history, $75 million, had the potential to fulfill numerous parts of both the Kenyon 2020 Strategic Plan and the 2014 Campus Master Plan.
But outside of Ransom Hall, there is a different feeling. Numerous individual students and organizations feel that Kenyon is either changing for the worse, or failing to change for the better. Last month, we saw thumbs-down posters bearing the words “Farewell, Old Kenyon” around campus advocating for student voices to be heard. Separately, seniors received an email from Sam Troper encouraging them to withhold gifts to the Kenyon Senior Fund.
These two campaigns both intend to address many areas of student concern. Many feel changes to K-Card access policy damaged the community that we supposedly aim to build. Some feel that the College’s choice to let its insurance provider’s “best practices” dictate student life — the practice of rugby and rock-climbing outside — has restricted organizations and club sports teams. Others feel that the College needs to do a better job recruiting a diverse student body and making the historic campus more accessible. Still more are angry that the College has not done enough to reduce its carbon footprint.
In order to address these concerns and ensure that student voices are heard, we are asking President Sean Decatur and the Board of Trustees to form a working group to discuss the establishment of a program for a current student or recent graduate to be appointed to the Board of Trustees.
While these issues — and many more — come from very different sectors of the campus, one thing seems to unite all of them. There is a distrust, perhaps a crisis of confidence, from the students regarding Kenyon’s administration (not limited to Student Affairs). According to the HEDS Campus Climate survey done last year, only 50 percent of Kenyon students feel that the administration fosters a positive campus climate (Question 2, pp. 4).
For a president whose hallmark 2020 Plan includes, among other things, to “build community on campus … that enhances the learning environment and strengthens lifelong ties with the College,” the fact that so many students feel this way should not be acceptable.
There is no quick fix to this problem. The College — driven by the Board of Trustees — has to meet obligations and must be competitive in today’s admissions climate. But the balance between maintaining our traditions (another 2020 Plan goal) and aligning with best practices must be found. And it is clear that at this moment in the College’s history, many students worry that the balance has tipped one way.
The most recent alumni on Kenyon’s board of trustees graduated in 2005, which leaves many alumni voices unheard and unaccounted for. Many small colleges, including Bates, Dickinson, Connecticut, Skidmore and Carleton Colleges, among others, have implemented young alumni trustee programs in which recent graduates are elected to the board as full voting members for two or three years. Other colleges — Colorado College and Hobart and William Smith Colleges — have current students on their boards of trustees. This is a growing movement among colleges, among them many Ivy League schools, implementing their own young alumni trustee programs. Having recent alumni or current students on the Board of Trustees would better account for the experience of current students, and strategies for communication and engagement would be grounded in the current Kenyon community.
The idea of having a current student or young alumni trustee program is something that has been discussed briefly in recent years among the student council and recent alumni. We believe that this point in time, with tensions running high between the administration and the student body, is the right time to enact these changes. Since our college places a large emphasis on community and communication it reasons that its students should have a representative for the current experience at Kenyon as well as a platform to be heard on the Board of Trustees.
Signatures are still being collected and there will be a meeting during the first weeks back at school to discuss the next steps to accomplish this goal.
Juliette Moffroid ’18 is an English major from Basalt, Colo. You can contact her at email@example.com.
Moffroid wrote this piece with the expressed support of sixteen student leaders: Ari Tooch ’19, Audrey Neubauer ’19, Caroline Daugherty ’18, Colin Cowperthwaite ’18, Eliza Cohen ’18, Evan Cree Gee ’18, Frances Matthews ’18, Hannah Russ ’18, Heather Pacheco ’18, Joshua Yuen-Schat ’18, Katherine Samples ’18, Lindsay McLaughlin ’18, Lindsay Stoner ’18, Mary Liz Brady ’18, Ryan Muzzio ’18 and Sam Troper ’18.