Release: April 17, 2019
GAMBIER, Ohio — Kenyon College President Sean Decatur has been elected to the 239th class of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (AAAS), one of the country’s oldest and most prestigious honorary societies and independent research centers. He joins more than 200 individuals with compelling achievements in academia, business, government and public affairs who were elected this year.
“With the election of these members, the Academy upholds the ideals of research and scholarship, creativity and imagination, intellectual exchange and civil discourse, and the relentless pursuit of knowledge in all its forms,” said David W. Oxtoby, president of AAAS.
Decatur became the 19th president of Kenyon in 2013. Under his leadership, Kenyon has attracted its most diverse and academically talented incoming classes in history. In 2017, Kenyon became a member of the American Talent Initiative, a coalition of colleges working to expand access and opportunity by graduating 50,000 additional highly talented lower-income students by 2025. Efforts like this, combined with an ensemble of Kenyon programs aimed at increasing diversity and fostering inclusion, support Decatur’s commitment to building educational communities that talented students from all backgrounds can access, and where they can thrive.
Decatur is a lifelong champion for the liberal arts and an emerging voice in the national conversation about higher education. His writing has appeared online in the Washington Post, the Chronicle of Higher Education and the New York Times Room for Debate commentary forum. He has twice appeared at SXSWedu and has been a guest on “The Ezra Klein Show,” a Vox podcast.
Prior to assuming the Kenyon presidency, Decatur served as a professor of chemistry and biochemistry and as the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Oberlin College from 2008 to 2013. From 1995 to 2008, he was an assistant and associate professor of chemistry at Mount Holyoke College, where he helped establish a top research program in biophysical chemistry. He was a visiting scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology from 2004 to 2005.
Decatur earned a bachelor’s degree with high honors at Swarthmore College and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa in 1990. He earned his doctorate in biophysical chemistry at Stanford University in 1995. Decatur is the author of numerous scholarly articles and has received national awards for his work, including a National Science Foundation CAREER award in 1999 and a Henry Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar Award in 2003. He was named a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 2017 and currently serves on the Science Education Advisory Board of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.
The American Academy of Arts and Sciences was founded in 1780 by John Adams, James Bowdoin and others who believed the new republic should honor exceptionally accomplished individuals and engage them in advancing the public good. The society’s dual mission remains essentially the same 239 years later with honorees from increasingly diverse fields and with work now focused on the arts, democracy, education, global affairs and science.
New members will be inducted at an October ceremony in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Joining Decatur in the 2019 class are poet and president of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Elizabeth Alexander, author Jonathan Franzen, former First Lady Michelle Obama and actress Anna Deavere Smith, among others. A list of new members is available at amacad.org/newly-elected-members.
With his election, Decatur is the third AAAS member professionally affiliated with Kenyon, joining the late Gordon Keith Chalmers, Kenyon's 13th president, and the late John Crowe Ransom, the first editor of the Kenyon Review. Kenyon alumni who have been elected to AAAS include, among others, the biomedical scientist and educator Harvey Lodish, a 1962 graduate; the late writer E.L. Doctorow, a 1952 graduate; the late scientist and writer Carl Djerassi, a 1943 graduate; and 1968 graduate Jeffrey Henderson, the William Goodwin Aurelio Professor of Greek Language and Literature at Boston University.
High-resolution images of President Decatur are available to download here.