Over the past few weeks, the Kenyon administration has likely received many emails from students, parents, alumni and staff regarding these uncertain times in the midst of COVID-19. The Collegian editorial board would like to commend the administration for their diligent, detailed and timely updates, as well as their receptiveness to feedback from the Kenyon community.
From the initial email stating that spring break would be extended, the College never made their decisions too early. Rather, the administration has acted with patience, gravity and sensitivity from the start.
Of course, COVID-19 has imposed new and unexpected challenges on every person and on every college and university in the country. But when it comes to weathering the storm, sometimes it is easier to prioritize gut instinct or self-interest over the well-being of the whole. In Kenyon’s case, administrators have not only sought to ensure the long-term preservation of the College, but have acted with the utmost concern for the school’s students, staff and the surrounding community.
In a period where so much hangs in the balance, the College has provided students and employees with a sense of security. The College is not cutting its staff: It is guaranteeing pay to student workers, it is reimbursing students for foregone room and board, it is giving grants to students whose financial aid covered room and board fees and it has mobilized resources so that students can lean on the College for unforeseen financial, technological or academic challenges.
Over the last couple of years, the Collegian and the student body have criticized the administration for putting what appeared to be liability and financial concerns over student concerns. When we spoke to President Decatur for this week’s issue, we asked what sort of financial impact these decisions had on the College. After stating that the College would have a balanced budget for this fiscal year, as it has for decades, with the money saved on utilities and extraneous expenditures, President Decatur told us that finances are nonetheless secondary. He said that the College made these decisions because they were the right thing to do. As people in leadership roles across the country lament the economic toll of COVID-19, blithely overlooking its immense human costs, it is an encouraging sign for our president to exercise moral leadership.
Additionally, the College has made promises that comfort students despite their loss of half of a semester on campus. It is going through with Honors Day, though in a different format, it has promised seniors an alternative Commencement and the faculty have worked to establish a sense of normalcy in the (virtual) classroom.
Of course, the administration did not make its decisions in a vacuum. Student petitioning and emailing helped push the College to alter its plans for packing up rooms, to promise an alternative Commencement to the class of 2020 and to shift from an opt-in Pass/D/Fail policy to a system of Pass/Fail with the option to reveal grades after the semester concludes.
As powerful actors in the lives of students, faculty and other staff members, the administration must be held accountable for the choices they make and, based on our in-depth coverage since the College first extended spring break for a week, we firmly believe the administration has consistently acted with students’ best interest in mind. President Decatur has embodied this caring leadership. Not only has he maintained clear and direct lines of communication with the student body but he has also made sure to follow up when administrative moves chafed against students. He thoughtfully addressed the senior class after making the difficult decision to shift to remote learning for the remainder of the semester. When billing invoices were mailed out just days after the pandemic forced the campus to announce its closure, President Decatur immediately followed up with an apologetic email recognizing the insensitivity of the timing.
Of course there are still many challenges to overcome and much uncertainty surrounding the trajectory of the virus and the impact it will have on next academic year. But Decatur and the College’s senior staff have inspired confidence that they will be able to rise to the occasion and handle these problems with grace and foresight, and be willing to fix any missteps they make along the way.
Leaders that act with clarity and compassion, with gravity and with grace, are leaders that prove to be adaptable, innovative and willing to admit to a mistake. In a time that has been marked by anxiety, panic and real despair, it is easy to be equivocal and irresolute, to shirk responsibility and to follow the lead of others. We are lucky that Kenyon, our administrators, and the community at large, have responded to troubled times with purposeful and empathetic leadership.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org, respectively.