President Sean Decatur and Board of Trustees Chair Brackett B. Denniston III ’69 announced that Kenyon has received the largest gift in its history: $75 million from an anonymous donor. This transformational gift will support the development of a new library and academic quadrangle. The interdisciplinary hub in the core of campus will bring together 21st century teaching and learning with 21st century library, information and student services. They made the following remarks at a campus gathering in Rosse Hall on September 15, 2017.
Good afternoon. Thank you, all, for turning out today on such short notice.
There are moments in every institution’s history when points of convergence become points of inflection -- when what was possible yesterday transforms into a more expansive set of possibilities for tomorrow. I have invited you here today because we’ve arrived at another such moment in Kenyon’s history.
It is my great pleasure to announce that Kenyon College has received the largest single gift in its history: $75 million.
Let’s take that in for a moment. Not only is this Kenyon’s largest single gift, it is the largest single gift to any private liberal arts college in the state of Ohio, ever. The list of liberal arts colleges to have received comparable gifts is short: Amherst, Claremont McKenna, Colby, DePauw, Furman, Washington and Lee, Westmont. And now, Kenyon.
This transformational gift will support the development of a new library and academic quad on Kenyon’s historic campus. In addressing many of Kenyon's core academic facilities needs, it allows us to keep other objectives — such as making and keeping Kenyon affordable, building our endowment and continuing to improve student housing — as top fundraising and institutional priorities.
I am grateful to the donor, who wishes to remain anonymous, for this incredible show of confidence in Kenyon’s vision for the liberal arts and sciences. I am also grateful to the Board, to the students, faculty, staff, alumni and extended Kenyon family — those of you here today and others spread across this campus and across the globe — for setting the bar high. Your hard work and high standards have helped to instill the confidence that inspired this gift.
I would like to extend a special thanks to someone who has held Kenyon’s bar high for almost 20 years: Our Chair of the Board, Brackett Denniston, Kenyon Class of 1969. Brackett, I am inspired by your leadership and your great love of Kenyon. I am quite certain that this gift would not have been possible without your guiding hand. Thank you for all you do and have done for Kenyon.
Thank you, Sean. And thank you, Kenyon. This is indeed an historic day on this Hill, one that serves this l long view, ensuring that Kenyon thrives not just in the two decades I serve as Trustee, but for another two centuries.
I want to start by expressing my profound gratitude to the extraordinary generosity of this donor. And I want to thank Sean for his role and his transformative leadership culminating in this historic day. As I said on the day we announced Sean as Kenyon’s president, we have a special leader.
Let me turn to the pivotal nature of this gift in the context of what has occurred at Kenyon. Academic rigor is and will always be Kenyon’s lifeblood, and, over the last two decades, we have vastly increased the resources for scholarships and for endowed professorships. Our standards have continued to rise and to rise dramatically. Very importantly, over that period, we have become more diverse — much more diverse. In what Sean has aptly called our “quiet revolution,” we have more than doubled the number of students of color (where we now stand at 20%), international students and first generation students. We’ve made great strides over the past 20 years, and this gift positions us to make more.
Over that same period, we have also addressed facilities. The list is breathtaking. We have addressed needs in art, music, sciences, athletics, student health, dining, film and housing. We will have with this gift, indeed we have now, the most beautiful campus in America and in the world. No small accomplishment.
Investing in our historic campus is one of the ways we remain competitive, enabling us to attract and retain a talented and diverse student body and educate those students with the finest facilities adapted to the 21st century.
This gift will be instrumental in other important ways. It allows us now to address facilities in the humanities and social sciences, and it allows us to return to student housing when these projects are complete.
Perhaps most importantly — and this is a critical point — this transformative gift allows us to focus on a preeminent strategic priority for Kenyon: financial aid, the endowment and affordability.
It is rare that an institution has the opportunity to make this kind of investment in its future. I share in the donor’s optimism and am enormously grateful to the Kenyon board and to Sean and his team for being good stewards of Kenyon today so that Kenyon will be a vital leader for the next century and beyond.
The new quad, called the West Quad for its location on the west side of campus, will consist of three new buildings: a library and academic commons to replace Olin and Chalmers libraries; a new interdisciplinary academic building for the social sciences; and a new home for the offices of admissions and other key student services. Underground parking in the new quad will improve accessibility as well as reclaim green space.
The gift enables the College to proceed with our expansion of facilities for the English department. In addition, Sunset Cottage, cherished by so many of us, will be preserved in its current location for future renovation and use.
This project allows us to renovate Ascension Hall, one of the College’s most beloved and historic buildings, to ensure that it is accessible to all members of our community.
It also allows us to continue apace with our investment in the Village of Gambier, which includes new student housing and a new market this fall and improved retail and dining spaces next summer.
As Brackett mentioned, this gift advances several priorities of the Kenyon 2020 strategic plan, including our focus on an integrated, comprehensive experience that equips students to thrive at Kenyon and in their lives after.
Teaching and learning are evolving, and Kenyon needs facilities that are a match for the kinds of flexible, high- and low-tech approaches that faculty and students expect to use seamlessly. Classrooms that allow students and faculty to work in various configurations, to use multiple pieces of technology simultaneously, to collaborate with people around a table or via videoconference — these are resources that expand and elevate the classroom experience.
Now more than ever, it is critical that we make visible the ways in which Kenyon equips students of all backgrounds for post-graduate success. We must continue to build bridges between what students know and how they’ll use it. Centering the admissions and career development offices in the academic core of campus puts the values, and the value, of a Kenyon education front and center.
In addition, the West Quad project allows us to make major strides toward a more accessible campus. We estimate that when all projects are complete, including the renovation of Ascension, 90 percent of classrooms will be accessible, up from 71 percent currently. And 100 percent of classrooms with 20- to 99-seat capacity will be accessible.
Finally, replacing Olin and Chalmers libraries represents one of the largest available opportunities to reduce Kenyon’s carbon footprint. The new library will be designed with the LEED Gold certification in mind and will be significantly greener and more energy efficient than the current buildings. While the designs of the academic building and the admissions building are not far enough along to determine where on the LEED scale they will fit, we expect they will also be green and energy efficient.
No doubt you have many questions, not the least of which is what will it mean to have our library under construction for two years. The project includes plans for temporary modular buildings to ensure that all library services can continue and all library materials will be accessible during construction. Study spaces essentially equal in number to current library seating will be available in multiple places on campus. We will not only invite but depend on your input to match interim services to your needs.
Also, timing: The first phase of work will begin with the English facilities, starting this fall. Work on the library will begin next June, complete in summer 2020. The West Quad project is expected to be completed in summer 2021.
And details about building plans: These projects are informed by the 2014 campus master plan, which was developed by the architecture firm Gund Partnership with a committee of faculty, students, trustees, and village and college administrators. Details for each component will be refined with community input in the course of the coming year, following the example of the library discussions that have taken place over the past couple of years.
And immediately we have several opportunities for discussion:
Allow me to end where I started, to recall the past as we look to the future.
We all know the story. Philander Chase set out to found a college that would train the intellectual and ethical leaders of the American frontier. He secured the vision, he secured the land and he secured the backing of English noblemen and women — whose names are etched on our campus and our town, even this very hall. As compelled as Lady Rosse and her compatriots were by the vision Chase laid out for them, they likely never imagined that within a generation of its founding, this new college in this still new nation would produce leaders who would guide America through the most polarized moment in its history. One would steer the North to victory and end a war that was tearing the country apart; another would oversee its reconstruction.
It was a convergence of mission, time, place.
Our physical campus, like our curriculum and the diverse faculty, students and staff gathered here today, instantiates our mission — and our founders knew that. This hill is at once a destination and a launch pad: a destination for ideas that are still forming, a launch pad to advance examined ideals in the world.
Kenyon remains committed to its mission of training the intellectual and ethical leaders of our time. And one need not look farther than today’s headlines to confirm that we are in another moment of polarization. We need institutions like Kenyon to equip tomorrow’s leaders with the knowledge and the experience to think well and hard about the challenges we face, and to have the courage and the confidence to steer us through critical times.
Just as the gifts of Lady Rosse built the buildings that formed the foundation of the campus in its first century, this transformational gift will shape the campus that will educate students in its third century and beyond. We should take inspiration from the confidence, commitment and love of Kenyon reflected by this donor's generous gift. We need philanthropy of all kinds — gifts of time, of engagement and of expertise — as well as financial gifts — transformational ones like this one, as well as annual gifts of every size — to propel us on our path forward.
I look forward to traveling that path with all of you, and to celebrating today our new possibilities for tomorrow.