Sean M. Decatur became the 19th president of Kenyon College on July 1, 2013.
Shortly after arriving in Gambier, he led the community in a yearlong conversation to identify the strategic initiatives that would propel the College into its third century. The result is the Kenyon 2020 Plan, which lays out three priorities: continuing to attract a diverse group of academically talented students; preparing students for post-graduation success; and building community on campus, in the region and among the worldwide Kenyon family. In October 2018, the College announced a $300-million comprehensive campaign to support these priorities, buoyed by a $75-million lead gift, the largest in the College’s history.
Under Decatur’s leadership, Kenyon has attracted its most diverse and academically talented incoming classes in history. In 2017, Kenyon became a member of the American Talent Initiative, a coalition of colleges working to expand access and opportunity by graduating 50,000 additional highly talented lower-income students by 2025. Efforts like this, combined with an ensemble of Kenyon programs aimed at increasing diversity and fostering inclusion, support Decatur's commitment to building educational communities that talented students from all backgrounds can access, and where they thrive.
Decatur is a lifelong champion for the liberal arts and an emerging voice in the national conversation about higher education. His writing has appeared online in the Washington Post, the Chronicle of Higher Education and the New York Times Room for Debate commentary forum. He has twice appeared at SXSWedu and been a guest on the Ezra Klein Show on Vox. One of his essays, “When the Number 9 Bus Was Like Home, and Downtown Was My Playground,” was selected for the 2012 book Rust Belt Chic: The Cleveland Anthology.
Prior to assuming the Kenyon presidency, Decatur served as a professor of chemistry and biochemistry and as the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Oberlin College from 2008 to 2013. From 1995 to 2008, he was an assistant and associate professor of chemistry at Mount Holyoke College, where he helped establish a top research program in biophysical chemistry. He was a visiting scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology from 2004 to 2005.
Decatur has won research grants from the federal National Science Foundation and National Institutes of Health and from private foundations including the Alzheimer’s Association, Dreyfus Foundation and Research Corporation for Science Advancement. He is the author of numerous scholarly articles and has received a number of national awards for his scholarship, including a National Science Foundation CAREER award in 1999 and a Henry Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar Award in 2003. He was named an Emerging Scholar of 2007 by Diverse: Issues in Higher Education magazine and currently serves on the Science Education Advisory Board of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. Decatur was named a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 2017 and was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2019.
Born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, Decatur attended the Hawken School before earning his bachelor's degree at Swarthmore College, where he was elected to Phi Beta Kappa in 1990. He earned a doctorate in biophysical chemistry at Stanford University in 1995; his dissertation was titled "Novel Approaches to Probing Structure-Function Relationships in Myoglobin."
Decatur 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 and Owen.