Decatur and Stull Leave Administration

Rosemary Boeglin and Julia Herbst

In late March, the College announced that both Sean Decatur, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, and David H. Stull, dean of the Conservatory of Music, will leave Oberlin to accept posts as president of Kenyon College and president of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music respectively.

Joyce Babyak, current associate dean of Arts and Sciences and associate professor of Religion, will serve as interim Dean of Arts and Sciences while the national-level search for a new dean is underway. Current Associate Dean of the Conservatory Andrea Kalyn will act as an interim dean of the Conservatory. College President Marvin Krislov said that while the search for new deans is in its infancy, the search committee members will likely be chosen before next fall. Once the committee members are selected, they will first set the criteria to determine the qualities they seek in the new deans.

“Typically, dean search committees focus on academic leadership. Encouraging diversity in the faculty and curriculum is an important part of that. At Oberlin, diversity in the faculty, the curriculum and the student body is central to our mission,” Krislov said in an email to the Review.

Decatur, a biophysical chemist who became dean in 2008, said that although an elected committee of faculty carries out the search for a new dean, student voices are strongly considered in the appointment of candidates to College positions.

“Fundamentally, Oberlin is an institution about education, and it cannot carry out this mission without understanding the needs and perspectives of the students,” Decatur said in an email to the Review.

Decatur said he would leave Oberlin having learned a great deal from his experience.

“Oberlin has a remarkable student body and faculty: curious, dedicated to learning and teaching and committed to improving the institution,” Decatur wrote.

But ultimately, Decatur said that despite his affection for Oberlin, the position at Kenyon was a “very attractive opportunity.”

“My Oberlin experience has been wonderful, so this was a difficult decision to make, but the opportunity at Kenyon was too good to pass up,” Decatur said.

Stull, OC ’89, who has been a member of the faculty at Oberlin for 13 years, serving first as an associate dean, before becoming dean of the Conservatory in 2004, said that he accepted the position at San Francisco Conservatory because of the opportunity to be involved in developing the school’s program.

“I think [the position is] just an extraordinary opportunity relative to leadership. It was an extremely difficult decision. Oberlin is, without a question, the top undergraduate conservatory in the world. It really is. … But in San Francisco, I think there’s a real chance to build an outstanding program and work on a new set of projects,” said Stull.

During his time at Oberlin, Stull was involved in numerous initiatives, including overseeing the construction of the $24 million Bertram and Judith Kohl Building in 2010, which currently houses the Jazz department.

“When I came on as dean, the Jazz program was operating in a gymnasium. Our faculty of color were teaching in a space that was completely unsuited to the instruction of music and my thought was, ‘There is no way to advance the Conservatory in any way unless we begin to recognize [that] the future of the Conservatory is about a diverse set of musical styles’, ” Stull said.

“And while we can’t teach everything on the planet, the things we are going to teach — that do provide a diversity of curriculum and a real diversity of experience — we need to do at the highest level and those facilities to support those activities have to operate at the highest level,” Stull said.

He hopes measures to encourage diversity within the Conservatory will continue after his departure from Oberlin.

“My hope is by the end of this year, what I think has been an excellent set of conversations will result in a series of initiatives to even further those activities and accelerate them going forward. I think that any great school must, by its nature, be a highly diverse school.”

Stull said that he will take lessons learned from his time at Oberlin to his new position at San Francisco Conservatory.

“To be dean of the Oberlin Conservatory is to understand what it is to offer a very significant education to students. There’s enormous intellectual and artistic depth in this place, in a way that’s nearly unrivaled. … I think that kind of education is transformative for students. So one of the things that I take away [ from my time here] is that any institution should give a student a transformative education. That’s what it means to be educated — it’s to be transformed I think.”