July 29, 2014

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Kenyon College taps Oberlin dean for president

An Oberlin College dean who was at the center of the college’s response to incidents of hate and bigotry has been tapped to be the next leader of Kenyon College, another of Ohio’s liberal arts colleges.

Decatur

Sean Decatur, 44, will be Kenyon’s 19th president and will assume the position in July. Kenyon’s Board of Trustees voted unanimously Sunday to hire Decatur after conducting a national search.

The Cleveland native, the son of a former Cleveland school teacher, has been at Oberlin since July 2008 serving as the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. He also teaches chemistry and biology at the school.

While at Oberlin, Decatur has been at the forefront of setting new curriculum standards and lobbying hard for millions in grants, but more recently Decatur stood alongside Oberlin President Marvin Krislov to bring a sense of unity to the campus after a slew of racial and homophobic message were left around campus and a student seeing what she thought was a figure wearing a Ku Klux Klan hood on campus.

Within hours of the student-reported sighting, classes at the campus were canceled and a day of solidarity was planned, where Decatur said the response was needed to heal the community brimming with fear, anger and frustration.

On his decision to leave Oberlin and join Kenyon, Decatur said he has always admired the school about 60 miles from Columbus because of its commitment to providing an excellent liberal arts education.

“I am both incredibly excited about the opportunity of becoming the Kenyon president and incredibly awed in a lot of ways,” Decatur said in press release. “Kenyon is an impressive institution, an institution with importance not only to the Kenyon community … but truly an institution with a national profile and an important place on the landscape of liberal arts colleges.”

Scott Wargo, Oberlin spokesman, said a national search will be conducted to find Decatur’s replacement.

Decatur leaves behind a legacy of patience, good faith and common sense.

“What makes Sean Decatur such an effective dean is the fact that he has a genuine interest in, and appreciation for, all fields of teaching and scholarship,” said Sebastian Faber, professor of Hispanic studies.

He has won research grants from the federal National Science Foundation and National Institutes of Health. He was named an Emerging Scholar of 2007 by Diverse: Issues in Higher Education magazine and has contributed to the New York Times.

Decatur said he hopes to use his presidency to build on what Kenyon has already started.

“There is strength in the faculty, strength in the curriculum, strength in the facilities and the new construction that’s happened in the last few years,” he said. “The next phase is going to be to bring the full community together — the students, faculty, staff, alumni, and parents in a shared vision. The next five to 10 years, at least part of that is going to be focusing on how we integrate the various strong pieces that are on the ground at Kenyon into a focused, coherent picture that distinguishes what a Kenyon education is all about.”

Contact Lisa Roberson at 329-7121 or lroberson@chroniclet.com.