Memo to the Next President: On College Finances
Published: Thursday, October 25, 2012
Updated: Thursday, November 15, 2012 01:11
Recently the Collegian published a report on Kenyon’s efforts to save water and electricity as part of an ongoing sustainability initiative. It’s wonderful to hear about the efforts Kenyon is making toward sustainability and environmental awareness. But I contend that the College needs to think critically about what it really means to be sustainable. The word has many meanings beyond its environmental implications. Is it sustainable — environmentally or economically — to construct ambitious new projects that will require millions of dollars to be maintained in the future? We must also be financially sustainable and work within our means to improve and maintain Kenyon. I hope the next president takes this mission to heart in order to help our community and campus thrive.
As I work on drawings in the new Horvitz Center, I admire the cutting-edge facilities. When I visit friends in the North Campus Apartments, I pass a sign telling me about the apartments’ LEED certification, and I’m glad to see their new lighting and low-flow showers. But I also see the constant deep cleaning of the pristine and easily-dirtied Horvitz walls and floors. I struggle opening the front doors, which have already required maintenance work. And the North Campus Apartments, for all their new energy-saving fixtures, are simply too large to be truly efficient. Twenty-one separate townhouses will be a much larger drain on Kenyon’s resources than a dorm — or even smaller apartments — that housed the same number of students.
A common complaint I hear from fellow students is that they are frustrated when they encounter less-than-stellar financial aid or shabby facilities in dorms while the College builds “the suburbs” behind Caples. The common answer students often receive is that those funds are separate — donors give money for particular projects, and therefore the millions invested in those projects aren’t taking away from, say, our need-based grants. We are lucky to receive generous gifts to fund the construction of apartments, a gallery, an art building, an athletic center and more, but we must also remember these beautiful new places will require power, cleaning and upkeep for decades. The Gund Gallery and the Horvitz Center, funded partly by Graham Gund ’63 and David W. Horvitz ’74, together cost $41 million just to construct. These buildings are undoubtedly an important part of the intellectual life of Kenyon, but they are also massive and will continue to be quite expensive. I am afraid that new projects like these will mean that Kenyon cannot sustain itself in the years to come. Members of the senior administration and the trustees must carefully consider Kenyon’s priorities. If the College’s eyes continue to be bigger than its stomach, those who fund ambitious and expensive projects will ultimately hurt our campus community more than they help.
President Nugent is recognized and applauded for her successful efforts to raise funds for Kenyon, especially following the completion of the We Are Kenyon campaign in 2011. And rightfully so. She has overseen the creation of several new scholarships and the growth of the endowment.
I hope very much that the next president will continue those efforts, but I also urge her or him to adopt the mindset of a conservationist so that our limited resources are used in the way that is truly best for Kenyon. As author Wendell Berry suggests to those seeking to form sustainable local communities, “Always ask of any proposed change or innovation: What will this do to our community? How will this affect our common wealth?” We must ask these questions of both the present and future of the College.
We cannot continue to build huge and inefficient facilities while existing buildings fall into disrepair and the financial aid budget struggles. Kenyon needs a leader who will, more than ever, direct the investment of time and money to the faculty, staff and students who make this place so special. I urge the next president of Kenyon College to not only build Kenyon but to sustain Kenyon.
Colleen Damerell is a senior English major with a minor in mathematics and a concentration in IPHS. A proud recipient of need- and merit-based financial aid, she manages the Crozier Center for Women and has experience working at several College offices including the Writing Center, Student Activities Office, Career Development Office, Office of Housing and Residential Life, Office of Admissions and the Kenyon Review.