Section: Editorial

Staff Editorial: What professors can teach administrators

This week’s issue includes a breakdown of the Higher Education Data Sharing Consortium’s (HEDS) Sexual Assault Campus Climate Survey. An eyebrow-raiser, according to President Sean Decatur’s email to the student body, was the fact that only 47 percent of students agreed that the administration contributes to a positive and supportive campus climate.

“For students to feel safe and be safe, Kenyon must be a place guided by mutual respect and shared responsibility for the well-being of our community,” he wrote. “I have asked the Institutional Research Office to investigate these findings further so that we may better understand the factors at play, and how to act on them.”

While President Decatur expressed disappointment with the results, they should not surprise him. Hopefully the Institutional Research Office can be of use to the president, but we at the Collegian implore President Decatur to first and foremost come to the students.

The survey results reveal a fundamental disconnect between students and administrators that must be reconciled. The work of this reconciliation has fallen heavily on students, and it is time for administrators to pick up the slack.

Students and faculty get along: this is one of the greatest strengths of Kenyon. Ask any student why they are here—odds are that they’ll mention the close student-faculty relationships. Faculty are evidently and deeply invested in the lives of their students. The same cannot be said of administrators. It is time for the Kenyon administration to treat students more like professors do: like adults, and in ways that make them feel valued, respected and cared for.

Administrators who have no teaching experience are not going to develop the compassion of an educator overnight. But there are clear steps the administration can take to demonstrate what many of us already know: that while we don’t often feel like the College’s leaders care about us, they probably do. Those of us in student leadership roles, who meet with and talk to administrators often, experience that. Indeed, President Decatur is an educator, and it comes across in the compassionate, thoughtful and candid answers he gives in interviews with us. But the administration should not share this side of themselves only with the students in ‘leadership’ roles on campus. They should work to connect to all students.

Working groups, task forces, student chairs—these positions should not always be populated by the familiar student faces. These groups also should not be the primary drivers of administrative policy. Student Council and Campus Senate are avenues for the average student’s perspective to be represented, but the average student has schoolwork, has other interests, is a member of other clubs.

The great thing about a class at Kenyon is that it does not matter if you serve on student government, edit a newspaper, are a captain of a sports team, are interested in Shakespeare or math—the professor cares about you. You don’t have to be a ‘leader’ to be smart, engaged, compassionate, thoughtful or any of the other sorts of qualities that reflect all Kenyon students.

It’s time for professors to share their wisdom with administrators. It’s time for administrators, all of them, not just Vice President Meredith Harper Bonham ’92—who is often the one who takes questions from students and who is offering to meet weekly with students at Wiggin Street Coffee—to come out of Gund Commons and onto the wider campus. Our professors give us so much, simply for being students. They invite us into their homes, into their lives. They come to our sporting events and musical performances. Professors and students form a tight-knit community devoted to the betterment of the College and each other. This is the proper functioning of a place of learning.

Good relationships are preconditions to social trust and a positive campus climate. We implore our administrators, if they are at all interested in the educational project of the College and in forming a better relationship with us, to make an effort.

The staff editorial is written weekly by editors-in-chief Becca Foley ’20 and Adam Schwager ’20, and executive director Tommy Johnson ’20. You can contact them at foley1@kenyon.edu, schwager1@kenyon.edu and johnson1@kenyon.edu, respectively.

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