GAMBIER — Sean M. Decatur, an emerging national leader in higher education, has been selected as the 19th president of Kenyon College. The Kenyon College Board of Trustees voted unanimously on Sunday to approve the hiring of Decatur after a national search.
Decatur, 44, is dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Oberlin College, where he has served since 2008. He is a former associate dean, department chair and professor of chemistry at Mount Holyoke College. Decatur is a champion of the liberal arts with an accomplished record of academic leadership. He is a strong supporter of undergraduate research and faculty-and-student collaboration. Decatur begins his work at Kenyon on July 1, 2013.
“I am honored and enthused to accept the presidency of Kenyon College, an institution that I have admired for some time,” Decatur said. “Kenyon is among those colleges that form a powerful crucible for the transformation of students. Kenyon is committed to both academic rigor and social engagement and brings together a faculty of outstanding teacher-scholars and a talented, diverse, and active student body.”
Kenyon had launched a national search for its new president in September. Kenyon President S. Georgia Nugent announced in August 2012 her decision to step down at the conclusion of the 2012-13 academic year after a decade of distinguished service to Kenyon.
Decatur is described as an inspiring leader with a collaborative style and a modest touch. And he is a scholar and scientist who has maintained a chemistry laboratory as much for research as revitalization.
Decatur signaled his interest in promoting the importance of the liberal arts. “We are living in an era in which we cannot take for granted a broad recognition of the value of a liberal arts education, and I believe it is essential for academic leaders to be active in national dialogues on critical issues in higher education, including the challenges of costs, accountability, and academic quality,” he said. “All evidence points to a liberal arts education as being a successful platform for a full range of careers and that we graduate students who think critically, who communicate well, and who can solve problems.”
Barry F. Schwartz, chairman of the Kenyon College Board of Trustees, said the selection of Decatur puts Kenyon in place to master the challenges facing higher education and to continue to provide the finest liberal arts experience. “In Sean Decatur, Kenyon College has a leader who understands the vital importance of the liberal arts in shaping the leaders, decision-makers, researchers and creative thinkers who will drive the economy and American culture for coming generations.”
As well as dean, Decatur is a professor of chemistry and biochemistry at Oberlin. His primary research interest is in the structure and function of proteins and how protein malfunctions are linked to diseases. He has published many papers in the field.
Decatur earned a bachelor’s degree at Swarthmore College in 1990 and a doctorate in biophysical chemistry at Stanford University in 1995. He joined the faculty at Mount Holyoke College in 1995 as an assistant professor of chemistry. As an associate professor of chemistry, he served as department chair from 2001-04. In 2005, he was appointed the Marilyn Dawson Sarles Professor of Life Sciences. He was also an associate dean of faculty for science from 2005-08. Decatur was a visiting scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2004-05.
He is a native of Cleveland and the son of a career mathematics and science teacher in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District. He is married to Renee Romano, associate professor of history and African American Studies at Oberlin. Romano is a specialist in 20th century American history, with research interests in African American history, civil rights, and historical memory. They have two children, Sabine, 16, and Owen, 11.