Dear members of the Kenyon College community,
I write with bittersweet news. After nearly a decade of distinguished leadership as Kenyon’s 19th president, Sean Decatur will conclude his service to the College to assume the presidency of the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. I speak for my fellow trustees and I am sure many others: As much as we will miss Sean in Gambier, we heartily celebrate his remarkable success. With millions of visitors to the museum each year and a research enterprise that includes a graduate school and one of the most important scientific collections in the world, this is an extraordinary opportunity for Sean to advance science education and discovery and a testament to all that he has accomplished at Kenyon.
Provost Jeff Bowman, who has adeptly served as acting president during Sean’s sabbatical this fall, will continue in that role until the search for Kenyon’s 20th president is complete. Kenyon is fortunate to have such able and proven leadership in Jeff, and in leadership positions across the College, including among the faculty, staff, students, alumni and parents.
Under Sean’s leadership, Kenyon has had the most successful decade in our history. We have made unprecedented gains in the strength and diversity of our student body, our resources for financial aid, the breadth and distinction of our faculty, and the improvement of our world-renowned campus. And, importantly, we navigated the pandemic with humanity and grace. These advancements reflect the careful design and execution of two successive strategic plans: the Kenyon 2020 Plan and Foundations for Kenyon’s Third Century, which steers the College today. It is firmly rooted in Kenyon’s mission to “build strong foundations for lives of purpose and consequence,” a mission rearticulated and affirmed by the Kenyon community in 2020. Sean may have been the guiding force behind these initiatives, but he would be the first to say that their strength comes from the many voices that gave them shape and the many hands that sustain them.
Sean has been a lifelong champion for the liberal arts and a leading voice in the national conversation about higher education. At Kenyon and beyond, he has advanced efforts to build educational communities that talented students from all backgrounds can access, and where they thrive. These efforts have earned national recognition for Kenyon, including competitive grants from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the National Science Foundation and the Henry Luce Foundation. The Kenyon Access Initiative, launched one year ago with a selective grant from the Schuler Educational Foundation, is already set to surpass its original goal through the remarkable generosity of Kenyon alumni and parents: a $50 million seed fund that will significantly expand the number of scholarships available to talented, lower-income students at Kenyon year after year.
Through these and other efforts Sean has led, Kenyon will conclude the most successful fundraising campaign in our history — $500 million by 2024, Kenyon’s bicentennial — thanks to the generosity of more than 20,000 members of the Kenyon community, including two historic gifts. Kenyon’s endowment has grown to more than $520 million, allowing us to increase scholarships and financial aid. And Kenyon’s campus will remain world class with state-of-the-art facilities, both lovingly restored and newly built, to sustain our distinctive residential liberal arts tradition for our next century.
Sean will support the transition until March and we look forward to celebrating him and his remarkable presidency in the spring semester; please watch for those details and other ways you can honor his legacy. The Board of Trustees will appoint a presidential search committee in the coming days that will include representatives from the faculty, staff, student and alumni bodies, as well as trustees, with the goal of steering the search to a successful conclusion by the end of the academic year. We have engaged Storbeck Search, the firm that assisted in bringing Sean to Kenyon, to coordinate the national search.
Sean Decatur’s presidency has been marked by intelligence, humility and enormous integrity. The Board of Trustees is deeply grateful to Sean for all that he has done for Kenyon and seeks to select an outstanding successor.
Brackett Denniston III ’69, Chair
Kenyon College Board of Trustees