Section: Opinion

Weekly Column: Kenyon hiring must adapt more quickly to student interests

Amid the chaos of the past few years — from COVID-19, to seemingly endless construction projects, to the administration’s repeated clashes with K-SWOC — a quiet, but corrosive, trend continues to threaten the status of Kenyon as a top-tier liberal arts college. Kenyon has failed to accommodate students in increasingly popular subject areas, such as economics and computer science, by refusing to hire faculty at a rate commensurate with the increase in students’ interest. This creates a paradox in which some of the most popular majors are the least endowed and therefore lag behind programs at comparable schools.

A brief example illustrates this phenomenon quite clearly. In the graduating class of 2022 there were 45 English majors and 28 economics majors. The English department currently has 34 professors, while the economics department only has 10. Moreover, the history department, which boasted 32 graduates in 2022, has 19 professors. Thus it appears that the student-to-faculty ratio advertised by Kenyon depends almost entirely on the subject.

How this came to be is an open question, but in part it can be attributed to the College’s guidelines for hiring full-time faculty, which relies largely on the status quo. Should one sociology professor retire, a new sociology professor will be brought in to take their place. This system works well in a static world, but not in a scenario where student interests ebb and flow. Additionally, such dependence on the status quo makes it difficult for new areas of study to emerge at Kenyon. This may explain why Kenyon remains one of the only comparable four-year universities in the country yet to adopt a computer science major — a major which will be called scientific computing once it finally gets established. (So much for Kenyon students hoping to add the more ubiquitous “computer science” to their resumes.) 

Kenyon’s inability to change with the times is more than a minor inconvenience to students and faculty, as it is part of the reason we have fallen behind comparable institutions. Computer science is the most popular major at Carleton College. Economics is the most popular by far at Middlebury College. The administration has historically made excuses for its inability to attract prospective students — something to the effect of “We’re a small school in a rural area, we lack name recognition,” and so on. Maybe it’s time for some accountability and reform. As Kenyon lags further behind its peers in the subjects that today’s students demand most, we can take superficial comfort in our brand as a “writer’s college,” or we can evolve and reclaim our status as an elite academic institution.

Milo Levine is a columnist for The Kenyon Collegian. He is an economics major from Mill Valley, Calif. You can contact him at levine1@kenyon.edu.

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