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Sean Decatur '90 Discusses Value of Liberal Arts Education at Start of Kenyon College Presidency

Columbus DispatchNew leader at Kenyon believes in liberal arts

Kenyon College's new president, Sean Decatur ['90], loves chemistry so much that he taught the freshman class how to use the laws of thermodynamics to make wise choices about their time in school.

But he's not just a science geek, his supporters say. He's also a philosopher, a fierce advocate for the liberal arts, and a statesman who understands that students want a college education that is affordable, uses the latest in technology and prepares them for a career.

"He's like a modern-day Galileo," said Matthew Eley, a 21-year-old junior from Howard, in Knox County, who works for Decatur.

In July, Decatur, 45, moved into the top job at Kenyon, an elite liberal-arts college with a little fewer than 1,700 students. He is to be officially inaugurated as president during a ceremony at the Kenyon Athletic Center on Oct. 26. He succeeds S. Georgia Nugent, who led Kenyon for 10 years.

Before joining Kenyon, Decatur worked five years as dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Oberlin College, where he led a curriculum overhaul. On top of his administrative duties, he also taught, ran a research lab, and mentored more than 55 undergraduate students on their research projects.

"He's a scholar with stellar credentials," said Jamie Keller, an associate chemistry professor and chairman of the Kenyon faculty.

Decatur knows the value of a liberal-arts degree firsthand. He graduated from Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania in 1990, earned a doctorate in chemistry from Stanford University in California in 1995, and became an assistant professor of chemistry at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts that same year.

In 2008, he joined the faculty at Oberlin, southwest of Cleveland, and a year later was named an "emerging scholar" by Diverse Magazine. He is Kenyon's first African-American president and first scientist in the role since Theodore Sterling took over in 1891. ...

Decatur grew up in Cleveland and said his mother, who taught math and science in the Cleveland schools, was his greatest inspiration. "The many things that I love about both math and science, and my love of teaching, came from her," he said. ...


Sean M. Decatur graduated in 1990 from Swarthmore College with a B.A. in chemistry. At Swarthmore, he was one of the first graduates of what is now the Mellon Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship Program. On Decatur's appointment, Swarthmore College President Rebecca Chopp said, "I've been extremely impressed with his knowledge of higher education. He was a beloved faculty member at Mount Holyoke and was highly regarded as a faculty leader. He's done a fabulous job at Oberlin. This is a great match for Kenyon."

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