"Over the 184 years of its life, Kenyon College has developed a distinctive identity and has sought a special purpose among institutions of higher learning." -- Kenyon College Mission Statement
"What is essentially Kenyon is the flexibility of faculty and students to work together, to explore the global traditions for resources that will shape humane lives long after Kenyon, to foster a sense of responsibility and civic integrity to shape a personal and public commitment to social justice, to affirm the equal roles of men and women, without barriers for race, color, gender, religion, and sexual orientation, and provide models of such community for the larger society, to conduct the affairs of the college with transparency and openness and with participation in decision-making by those most affected, and to recognize the power of literature, music, the sciences, drama, and the arts to sustain, solace, and reinvigorate our spirits." --Survey respondent
One task the Reaccreditation Task Force set for itself this semester was to create a process by which we might establish some goals for the self-study that represent the interests of the community as widely as possible and that gave as many constituencies as possible some voice in setting those goals. This working paper reports on that process and documents the responses we received. The end of the working paper include a set of tentative goals for the reaccreditation self-study that grew out of this process. These goals should create themes for the self-study that will enable it to be go beyond simply responding to the HLC's criteria. It will allow the college's constituencies to define the terms of the institution's reaccreditation, to define the terms on which we will be evaluated.
Essentially Kenyon With the sponsorship of the Office of the President, the Provost, the Dean of Students, the Chair of the Faculty, and Student Council, we set aside November 1, 2008 for a half-day retreat that would be called "Essentially Kenyon." The purpose of the retreat was to engage the community in a series of guided discussions that would allow us, as a community, to articulate our first principles, what is "essentially Kenyon"; and to engage in a dialogue about current issues that have long-term implications for the College.
All members of the college—students and employees—were invited to discuss a collective vision of what the college should be in the year 2020 and to describe the attributes that define excellence for our institution. The aim was not to force premature agreement on what those are, but to open up a conversation that will continue over the next two years as we prepare the reaccreditation self-study. Because we wanted the questions we asked to come from the community itself, we used a grounded theory approach to generate the questions that would guide this conversation, beginning with observations from the entire community about what is essential to Kenyon and allowing the organization to emerge from the data itself.
To that end we conducted an on-line survey, asking two open-ended questions. 1. What is essentially Kenyon; what are the qualities and ideas at Kenyon that are most enduring? 2. What do we need to do to maintain these qualities as we address the challenges we face over the next decade? The survey drew 283 total responses. The breakdown by area (to protect anonymity, the only demographic information we requested): Student 142 (50%) Faculty 34 (12%) Administration 32 (11%) Staff 32 (11%).
From the results of the survey, we selected two themes that represented as fully as possible the most frequent answers we received. The retreat on November 1 began with two panels in Rosse Hall to discuss each of these themes. Each panel consisted of a faculty moderator, a faculty member, administrator, staff member, and two students. Each was given 45 minutes to discuss their question (see below). The moderators met with me before hand and, after looking over the responses to the survey, we agreed on a set of questions that would guide these discussions. The questions were sent to all the panelists in advance but they were instructed not to prepare remarks; rather we wanted them to engage in conversation.
Panel 1: "Kenyon Inc.: Community or Corporation?" According to responses we received , both students and employees at Kenyon value close personal relationships between faculty and students, among students, between students and staff, etc. We promote "learning in the company of friends," rigorous intellectual inquiry without competition, and as one respondent put it "a harmony of intellectual and social energies." Yet respondents also felt that there is a growing bureaucratization and corporatization of the college that flies in the face of these values. Troubling signs for many respondents included hierarchical decision-making, procedures that put us at arms-length from one another, a sense that we are becoming more market driven, the building of office and industrial sized buildings rather than cozy houses, and commercialization (i.e. the bookstore).
Panel 2: "Cell Phones on Middle Path: Balancing Tradition and Innovation" From its collegiate Gothic buildings and elegant grounds to its curriculum, Kenyon prides itself on its tradition. In responses on the survey, among the experiences that were seen as an essential part of Kenyon tradition were no cell phones on Middle Path, no swipe cards, All-stu wars, a successful swim program, cornfields, the Gates of Hell, ghost stories, the Deli on Saturday morning, the Amish, Summer Sendoff, and the bubble. Equally strong responses, however, expressed a need for Kenyon to think more innovatively, to move the curriculum in more imaginative and productive ways. There were calls for more interdisciplinarity, to internationalize the curriculum, to bring the city to the college. There were specific calls to teach more languages and even to create a business program. There were complaints about lack of space, especially in dorms and offices, but a dislike of large building projects that are perceived to ruin the traditional and historic look and feel of Kenyon.
After listening to the panels, the group moved to the Alumni Dining Room of Peirce Hall for lunch and small group discussions. Each table carried on discussion based on the panels; they were free to pursue whatever issues interested them. The only prompt they were given was to think about potential goals for the reaccreditation self-study. Paper and pens were provided to record those conversations. The retreat attracted somewhat fewer than 100 participants. While the turnout was somewhat disappointing, the event at least began some discussions that can continue as we work through the reaccreditation self-study. It is important not to get bogged down in lamenting the small turnout (though it is important to examine the reasons for it), but to move forward by reporting back to the community and inviting further discussion of the issues it raised.