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Kenyon College President Decatur Announces His Departure

GAMBIER, Ohio — President Sean Decatur, who has led Kenyon College during the most successful decade in its 198-year history, announced today that he will be stepping down at the end of this calendar year to assume the presidency of the American Museum of Natural History in New York City in April 2023. Throughout his tenure, beginning in 2013, Kenyon made unprecedented gains in the strength and diversity of its student body, resources for financial aid, the breadth and distinction of faculty, and enhancements to the College’s world-renowned campus. Notably, this included skillfully navigating the pandemic, with record enrollments in each of the last two years. 

Decatur’s departure for the American Museum of Natural History, with its more than five million visitors each year and a research enterprise that includes a graduate school as well as one of the most important scientific collections in the world, will provide an extraordinary opportunity to advance science education and scientific discovery, and continue the significant impact of all he accomplished at Kenyon. Among its many programs, the museum offers a Master of Arts in Teaching to prepare educators to inspire the next generation of scientists in New York City schools. 

A lifelong champion for the liberal arts and a leading voice in the national conversation about higher education, at Kenyon and beyond, Decatur advanced efforts to build educational communities that talented students from all backgrounds could access and also thrive. These efforts 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 set to surpass its original goal: 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 Decatur has led, Kenyon will conclude the most successful fundraising campaign in its history — more than $500 million by 2024, Kenyon’s bicentennial — growing the College’s endowment to over $520 million. Additionally, Kenyon’s campus will remain world class with state-of-the-art facilities, both restored and newly built, to sustain its distinctive residential liberal arts tradition for the College’s next century.

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. 

During Decatur’s time as president, Kenyon students and recent graduates demonstrated extraordinary achievement by earning highly selective honors that include: 13 Goldwater Scholarships, 13 Gilman Scholarships, 30 National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships and 80 Fulbright Awards.

“It has been a tremendous honor for me to lead this remarkable community over the past 9.5 years — to learn, to teach and to grow alongside you — and to aspire together to what I know is a very bright future for Kenyon,” Decatur wrote in a Dec. 6 message to the Kenyon community.

Provost Jeff Bowman, who has previously served as acting president during Decatur’s sabbatical in the fall of 2022, will continue in that role until the search for Kenyon’s 20th president is complete. Decatur will be available through March 2023 to support the transition.  

In an email to the Kenyon community, Board of Trustees Chair Brackett Denniston III ’69 wrote that a presidential search committee will be appointed in the coming days and 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. 

“Sean Decatur’s presidency has been marked by intelligence, humility and enormous integrity,” Denniston wrote on Dec. 6. “The Board of Trustees is deeply grateful to Sean for all that he has done for Kenyon and seeks to select an outstanding successor.” 

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