Family Squabbles

Web Extra: More Squabbles

In response to our call for "Kenyon family squabbles," alumni sent in lots of memories of controversies. There wasn't space to print them all. Here, then, in no particular order, are a few squabbles that didn't make it into print.

In the fall of 2007, Kenyon's administration took up an idea that had been simmering on the back burner for a while. We live in the real world, went the reasoning—a world of theft, campus shootings, liability concerns, and worried parents—so it's time to lock the residence-hall doors. From now on, in addition to their room keys, students would carry their Kenyon ID cards, which would have computer chips allowing the kids to get into their dorms with a swipe and a click ... just like at most other schools.

Responsible. Reasonable. Unremarkable. Right?

Not so fast.

What ensued was an uproar that became known as the Swipe Card Controversy. Debate swirled. Accusations flew. Satire spewed. The ruin of Kenyon was predicted. And it all felt so familiar.

How does the expression go? "We fight because we care." Maybe that's why Kenyon's history is full of wrangles that seem to rage way out of proportion to the humdrum of this eccentric little hilltop. We love the place so much, and so personally—love, most of all, the idea that it isn't the real world. And so, when we differ, it can feel not like a tempest in a beer keg but like the Apocalypse, at the Division III level.

It doesn't help that in Gambier you've got a lot of hyper-verbal, intellectually dexterous, idealistic, opinionated egos, fueled by hormones—and, let's face it, prone to creative silliness—all packed into a place where there's not very much to do.

Here, then, a tribute to classic Kenyon controversies, in the spirit of chuckling over old spats rather than reopening wounds. And, don't worry, we'll get back to the swipe cards.

Sacred Ground

Back in the rough-hewn early days, piles of debris cluttered the hilltop and hogs rooted among the tree stumps. ("Local food," one presumes.) Kenyon being Kenyon, it's likely that somebody objected when our first technocrat president, David Bates Douglass (a civil engineer), destroyed the ambiance by laying out Middle Path and turning the campus into a park. But there was no Collegian or e-mail then, so we have no record of any protest.


The details are complicated. But the fact is that student frustrations were mounting in the mid-1970s, in part because a number of popular professors left Kenyon, having failed to win contract renewals or tenure.

Sacred Gravel

If the apocalypse ever does come to Gambier (and, as with everything else, we'll have to wait until it's already passé on the coasts), the cause will be a proposal to pave Middle Path.

Turf War

The mother of all Kenyon battles, at least in the modern era, erupted in the fall of 1989, when the trustees' Commission on Student Life proposed ending the housing privileges traditionally enjoyed by fraternities.


The saga of coeducation at Kenyon, at least its first chapter, could be read as a twisted Garden of Eden story, although it's not clear whether the old all-male preserve would figure as a bizarrely blissful paradise or a vale of puerility. Or whether change brought an end of innocence, or of ignorance.

The CLOK Strikes

The first female students arrived in Gambier as something like second-class citizens, having been admitted not to Kenyon but to that odd, artificial, and ultimately unworkable entity called the Coordinate College.

The Parking Riot of '64

It happened on a fine April weekend in 1964, and all because the Village of Gambier had decided to get tough on crime—that is, on traffic and parking violations.

The Catwalk

Surely one of the most ennobling of all Kenyon experiences was when you entered the Great Hall at mealtime, gliding forward amid your fellow scholars, with Chaucer and Shakespeare glowing in stained glass overhead and a cheese casserole of indeterminate odor awaiting you in its glistening servery vat.

Swipe Cards

Lock the dorms and destroy kenyon's atmosphere of openness and trust? When the proposal went public in October 2007, e-mails lit up the campus network, most of them enraged. DeliciousFacebook FacebookStumbleUpon StumbleUponDigg Diggreddit reddit