November 26, 2018
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Sean M. Decatur became the 19th president of Kenyon College on July 1, 2013. He arrived at Kenyon after serving since July 2008 as the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Oberlin College. He was also a professor of chemistry and biochemistry at Oberlin.
Decatur was born September 4, 1968, in Cleveland, Ohio, where his mother, Doris Decatur, was a career teacher of mathematics and science in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District. He attended Cleveland public schools and the private Hawken School in suburban Cleveland.
He earned a bachelor's degree at Swarthmore College and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa in 1990. Decatur 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 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. On the faculty at Mount Holyoke, Decatur helped establish a top research program in biophysical chemistry. He also developed unique courses, including a race-and-science lecture series; a course exploring ethical, social, and political questions related to scientific topics; and a team-taught course that integrates introductory biology and chemistry. Decatur was a visiting scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2004-05.
During his time as dean and under his leadership at Oberlin, Decatur helped lead a review of major curricular requirements with a number of significant changes under way that bring more focus to the academic program. He also helped strengthen the Oberlin faculty and planned a new system for post-tenure faculty review and pushed for a deep curricular connection between Oberlin College and the Allen Memorial Art Museum. Oberlin also established the Center for Languages and International Cultures while Decatur was dean.
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.
He has contributed to the New York Times Room for Debate commentary forum. Decatur also wrote an essay called "When the Number 9 Bus Was Like Home, and Downtown Was My Playground," which was included in the 2012 book Rust Belt Chic: The Cleveland Anthology.
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 and Owen.