Kenyon College: A Five-Year Perspective
As my sixth year in the presidency of Kenyon moves ahead, it seems an appropriate time to look back and consider what we have accomplished at the College over the past five years. While we haven't met all of our aspirations, it is gratifying to see a solid record of progress in virtually every area of the College's life.
Let me highlight some of our key achievements, discussing areas that are crucial to Kenyon's success.
Kenyon has made extraordinary strides in recruiting excellent students. Arriving at the College, I was very fortunate to appoint Jennifer Delahunty as our dean of admissions and financial aid. She is recognized nationally as one of the finest professionals in this field, and under her leadership we have dramatically increased the academic profile of our incoming students, the diversity of the student body, and the College's selectivity.
The qualitative side of the story is at least as significant as our improving "scores." At Kenyon, admissions is emphatically not "all about the numbers." Our admissions officers devote incredible time and attention to really understanding our applicants and seeking to identify the students who will both bring something special to the College and stand to make the most of what we have to offer.
Over and over again, I hear from parents that no other college treated their son or daughter with the care and personal attention that Kenyon did. One father was so impressed that he made a financial contribution to Kenyon even though his son chose to attend another college.
When I arrived, Kenyon had recently implemented two new requirements: a language requirement (which had existed at an earlier period) and a quantitative reasoning requirement. Both were based, in part, on surveys of alumni about how their education could have better prepared them for life and careers. And both have been smoothly incorporated into the College curriculum.
Language learning remains an area of concern for us. We offer more languages than many comparable colleges, but our ambitions are even greater—believing, as we do, that proficiency in two or more languages is a crucial element of the global citizenship for which we should be preparing our students.
Currently, we are wrestling with the dilemma of wanting to ensure that each of the languages we now teach has more than one instructor (since it is pedagogically undesirable for an entire language curriculum to rely on a single individual) while also hoping to increase the spectrum of languages we offer.
With respect to the rest of the curriculum, Kenyon remains devoted to the traditional liberal arts and sciences, enriched by a relatively small number of interdisciplinary programs reflecting vital intellectual trends. We have made a very deliberate decision not to proliferate academic departments. Instead, we accommodate the development of new, often interdisciplinary fields in innovative ways. For example, a major grant from the Mellon Foundation (our "Teachers Teaching Teachers" program) enables faculty in different disciplines to work together, to enhance their capacities for interdisciplinary teaching and learning.
Similarly, our Crossroads Program—a summer seminar for faculty from all departments interested in African and African-American studies — has proven very successful in engaging faculty with new topics of study and research and reinvigorating their teaching. In fact, it has served as a model for several other cross-disciplinary summer programs for faculty, one of which deals with the study of food and sustainability. We will continue to seek ways in which to offer our students and faculty entrée into emerging fields of study, without expanding the College's infrastructure.
Student Satisfaction and Success
Kenyon undergraduates and their parents consistently tell us that they are overwhelmingly satisfied with the quality of their education. This conclusion is borne out by objective standards of comparison such as the influential National Survey of Student Engagement, which examines students' actual experience and practices with regard to learning. Kenyon's scores are particularly high in just the areas where we might wish them to be: for example, the amount of reading and writing we require, the extent to which our students carry discussion and consideration of their classroom learning into their lives outside the classroom, and the degree to which they interact with and learn from others different from themselves.
I'd also like to call attention to the success of our students in national competition. In recent years, Kenyon has become a top recipient, among small colleges, of Fulbright fellowships. In 2007, we were the only liberal arts college to garner the highest number of Goldwater fellowships possible — these are the premier awards for undergraduates in the sciences and engineering.
Our students' close collaboration with faculty members on research regularly results in their becoming the coauthors of published scientific papers. Kenyon students also bring home honors in some surprising areas. For example, in a competition among more than seven hundred language learners from more than fifty universities, Kenyon garnered gold, silver, and bronze medals for Russian essays, ranked by Russian judges.
First, I must note our professors' extraordinary dedication to their students and to this College. In my thirty years in higher education, I have never experienced anything remotely close to the care that Kenyon faculty members have for their students. One of the great pleasures of my job is reading the dossiers that are prepared for tenure and promotion reviews. I wish that others could see these documents, which include not only self-assessments but also thoughtful appraisals by colleagues and students. What emerges, again and again, is proof that superb teaching is the norm at Kenyon.
In recent years, we have been extremely successful in attracting the highest quality of junior faculty members; in almost every search, we succeed in bringing to the College the number one choice of the hiring committee. Going forward, however, I believe we may find ourselves increasingly challenged in faculty hiring, in two ways.
One issue involves employment for a spouse or partner. In recent memory, virtually the only instances in which Kenyon has either failed to recruit a prospective faculty member or lost an existing faculty member have involved a lack of employment opportunities for the partner. This issue affects colleges nationwide, but the problem is naturally heightened in a small, rural community like ours, where professional employment opportunities are scarce.
Second, the provost reports some anecdotal evidence suggesting that other institutions are offering far higher salaries than Kenyon for entry-level positions. To date, compensation does not seem to have been a decisive factor—junior faculty appear to be choosing Kenyon even over other institutions offering higher salaries. I am a firm believer that an array of "quality of life" issues motivates academics and determines their level of satisfaction much more than salary alone. Nevertheless, disparities threaten our success. We must not fall too far behind in the competitiveness of our salaries.
As with students, objective criteria support what we hear from faculty members about their satisfaction at Kenyon. We participate in two significant surveys: a very broad national survey of faculty by the Higher Education Research Institute (HERI) and a smaller survey, by the Harvard Graduate School of Education, focused specifically on junior (i.e., non-tenured) faculty members. In both cases, we have been very pleased with the positive results for Kenyon.
In the HERI survey, some of the Kenyon results are quite dramatic, particularly in the area of faculty members' job satisfaction. Kenyon faculty rated their overall job satisfaction 88.9 (compared to 79.5 for the comparison group of peer colleges), and they rated the quality of their students 89.8 (compared to 55.9 for the comparison group). They even gave high scores in their relationship with the administration: 75, compared to 61.3 for the comparison group.
In the Harvard survey of junior faculty, Kenyon rose to the very top among participating liberal arts colleges in the categories of collegiality, the clarity of the tenure process, and global satisfaction. These national studies provide strong evidence that Kenyon is an extremely desirable place to teach, in large part because faculty value both their students and their colleagues.
In the last five years, we have addressed a major concern among faculty members by increasing support for research. Every faculty member now has a dedicated research account, the IFDA (Individual Faculty Development Account), on which he or she can draw. This means that not every research dollar must be earned in competition for grants, as was previously the case.
The IFDAs are not as generous as we would like (currently $1,400 per faculty member, with the option of carrying over from year to year a balance of up to $4,000). But providing a reliable base of support is a step in the right direction, and we intend to grow the IFDA accounts as much as possible.
The College's grant competitions remain another source of funding. We have introduced several new grants, including the Newton Chun Award (to support research and artistic projects of exceptional merit and promise) and the Labalme Faculty Development Grant (to support research that involves international travel). We have also standardized the junior leave program, so that a sabbatical leave during one's pre-tenure appointment does not need to be negotiated as an individual matter, but is a standard policy.
I am also proud of two "family-friendly" initiatives that help attract and retain outstanding professors. One is a much-improved parental leave policy, the other a childcare facility serving faculty and staff. Both amenities will continue to add value in the recruitment process, as more and more young professionals make their employment choices based on quality-of-life considerations.
At my request, in 2004 the trustees appointed a special task force on diversity. The work of this group took two years and resulted in a comprehensive report and set of recommendations, which we have been systematically.
We have enhanced our efforts to identify and bring to Kenyon a more diverse group of students. From 2003 to 2008, the percentage of minority students in the incoming class increased by 44.9 percent and the percentage of international students by 53 percent.
To help retain underrepresented students, we created a new position, the assistant director of multicultural admissions, who oversees an innovative program, now in its third year, called KEEP (Kenyon Educational Enrichment Program). We have retained 75 percent of the first KEEP class and 82 percent of the second class. (And all of the current first-year KEEP students are all still at Kenyon.) In addition, an Alumni of Color network has formed to assist in these efforts.
The late Paul Newman '49 has played a particularly important role in helping the College build diversity. In 2007, he provided a $10 million endowment for financial aid to "the neediest of the needy" and to students who have shown a capacity for leadership. Twenty-five students in each Kenyon class will be recipients of "Newman's Own" scholarships, allowing them to pursue their education free of loans.
We have made significant strides in international recruiting, particularly in Asia. In addition, we have benefited from an affiliation with the United World Colleges (international schools of extremely high quality). Kenyon has been selected by the Davis Foundation as eligible for $10,000 in scholarship aid for every student admitted from one of these schools. If we enroll more than five students—as we have done this year—each receives $20,000 in scholarship monies from the foundation. Currently, we have fifteen Davis scholars on campus.
Our recruitment of an outstanding and diverse faculty is a particular point of excellence. Between 2003 and 2008, the percentage of tenured and tenure-track minority faculty increased by 55.6 percent, and that of international faculty by 81.8 percent.
Meanwhile, through the highly competitive Marilyn Yarborough Dissertation Fellows program, each year we welcome two outstanding young scholars from underrepresented populations. They teach part-time while completing their dissertations. Currently, five members of the full-time faculty originally came to Kenyon as Yarborough Fellows.
One of the recommendations of the Trustee Diversity Committee is to increase the number of fellowships, as we are able. In addition, we have recently received a grant from the Mellon Foundation, which will enable us to add a postdoctoral position to this program, and the College is committed to continuing this position when the grant ends four years from now.
The College's financial health depends upon three revenue streams: endowment, student fees, and gifts. During the past five years, our endowment grew by about one-third, reaching a high of $200 million last year. While that figure is small compared to many of our peers, our investment performance has consistently ranked in the top decile of all nonprofit endowments, thanks to the acumen and hard work of our longtime chief financial officer and to a superbly talented Trustee Investment Committee.
Our student fees remain very closely comparable to those of peer institutions?despite Money magazine's annual, and erroneous, claim that Kenyon is one of the most expensive colleges in the country. The magazine considers tuition alone, not the full comprehensive fee. When our very modest costs for room and board are factored in, Kenyon plummets dramatically in the "most expensive college" category. This year, I asked our finance office to undertake a thorough re-examination of our cost allocations, to determine whether they were providing an accurate, up-to-date picture.
The third revenue stream, gifts and grants, has been flowing strongly. We started the "We Are Kenyon" campaign in 2005, moving from a "quiet phase" to a public launch in 2007. Based on a careful planning process and broad consultation, the campaign centers on goals linked to the very heart of the Kenyon experience: excellence in teaching and learning, access to a Kenyon education, and enhancing residential life.
In the past three years, we have raised $147 million toward our ambitious $230 million goal. Kenyon trustees, alumni, and parents, along with other friends of the College, have been extraordinarily generous. In addition, we have been able to secure a number of major grants.
Not only have we raised more for Kenyon than ever before. We have also built a more robust culture of giving that will serve the College well in the future. Three initiatives play a role here: a multi-year reunion giving program, which has dramatically increased gifts from reunion classes; the "Fifty under Fifty" program, which has enlisted the support and energies of younger alumni; and a revitalized planned giving program, an area in which Kenyon has not been as active as it should be.
As I write, the country faces economic turmoil on a scale not seen in decades. I can assure you that Kenyon is determined to face future challenges with the same fiscal discipline and responsible stewardship that have produced balanced operating budgets for thirty-nine years.
The past five years have given Kenyon a truly remarkable array of improved facilities. We have also benefited from a master plan adopted by the Board of Trustees in 2004. The plan is comprehensive in scope but offers flexibility in implementation.
In terms of sheer magnificence, the two buildings that stand out are the new Kenyon Athletic Center (KAC) and the renovated Peirce Hall (together with a reconstructed Dempsey Hall). Opened in January 2006, the KAC is not only a spectacular architectural achievement but also, and more importantly, a well-used resource serving the entire campus community. In addition to a wealth of facilities for sport and fitness, the KAC includes dance studios, seminar rooms, study spaces, and a theater/auditorium?all adding to its role as an integral part of our liberal arts mission.
Peirce Hall, one of the College's most beloved landmarks, reopened this fall, giving the campus community wonderful new amenities that complement beautifully restored old ones. The Great Hall, with its treasured stained glass windows, is more glorious than ever. The servery has been vastly expanded, to provide greater choice and to advance Kenyon's local-foods program. The welcoming glass atrium, the stunning Thomas Dining Room in Dempsey along with ample dining space on the lower level, the larger and more comfortable pub, and refurbished student organization offices on the upper floors: these features assure that Peirce will continue to serve as a centerpiece of campus life for generations to come.
A number of smaller projects have been newly completed or are under way. These facilities, home-like buildings that are a hallmark of the Kenyon experience, include O'Connor House, occupied by several interdisciplinary programs and the new Center for the Study of American Democracy; Finn House (the renovated Neff Cottage), which welcomed the Kenyon Review this fall; and Lentz House, which is now quickly rising not far from Sunset Cottage and which will include English Department faculty offices and a seminar space.
Meanwhile, on the west side of campus, site preparation is under way for our next ambitious (and long needed) project: two new buildings for the visual arts. One will serve the studio art program, while the other will include gallery space as well as facilities for the art history program.
Since arriving at Kenyon, I have sought to enhance the College's role as a good neighbor in Knox County. Our most ambitious and high-profile activity has been our local-foods initiative, Food for Thought. Since 2003, Kenyon has purchased increasing proportions of its food supply from local producers, including small family farms in the area. This year, 40 percent of our food dollars go to local sources.
Food for Thought also includes curricular and extracurricular projects, along with an ambitious program to build a sustainable "food system" linking local farmers, other producers, consumers, and educators. The College hosted a national farm-to-cafeteria conference in 2006 and has been recognized as a national model for its local-food efforts.
Two educational outreach programs also stand out. The first is the Kenyon Academic Partnership (KAP), which for thirty years has provided "early college" experiences for talented high school students. Kenyon faculty work with high school teachers to design college-level courses which can also earn actual college credit. Recent research has shown that programs like this bear fruit in motivating students, even in deprived area, to persist and go on to college. KAP now works with more than a thousand students in about thirty high schools in Ohio.
A more recent collaboration with our local community is Team 9, in which Kenyon faculty work with teachers to offer a course in the middle school to familiarize students with college and the college preparation process. The ninth graders in the program research colleges, academic requirements for college admission, and financial aid resources. They also visit the Kenyon campus, where they are teamed with college-student mentors. We are excited about this initiative to reach younger students and set them on the path to college attendance.
Five years from now, alumni and parents reading the annual report issue of the Bulletin will undoubtedly learn about exciting new developments — some that we are now planning (like new student residences and a new health center), some that we can't even imagine. But a few things are predictable. Kenyon will continue to pursue its liberal-arts mission, passionately and rigorously. We will value our strong sense of community and the beauty of our campus. And we will continue to draw inspiration and energy, indeed the very life of the institution, from two indispensable sources: excellent students and superb professors.
24 October 2008