Habemus Praesidem: Behind the Scenes of President Decatur’s Election

White smoke emerges from Peirce Tower to signal the election of a new president.

White smoke emerges from Peirce Tower to signal the election of a new president.

Sunday, March 17, 2013. Shortly after outgoing President Nugentus I flies off to her summer retreat in New York City aboard the College’s secret helicopter, the trustees solemnly file into the Great Hall of Peirce. President of the Board of Trustees Barry Schwartz ’70 bolts the doors. As Brackett Denniston ’69, chair of the Presidential Search Committee, sings a haunting Gregorian chant, vice chair of the Committee Aileen Hefferren ’88 sanctifies the room by walking around the perimeter and swinging a censer of incense. The trustees have gathered for only the 19th time in College history to participate in a secretive and mysterious ceremony: the conclave in which a new president is elected.

After he dons his flowing purple robes and obligatory funny hat, Schwartz reads the list of possible candidates. These names have been compiled over the past several months through a complex process mainly involving apocryphal biblical texts and a ouija board. The trustees then write their initial choices on the first ballot. Naturally, every trustee votes for him or herself, and no decision is reached. The ballots are burned in the fireplace, and black smoke drifts from Peirce’s chimney. During the subsequent ballots, progress is delayed because many trustees vote for ineligible candidates, including John Crowe Ransom, Rutherford B. Hayes, someone called “S. Neorgia Gugent” and, of course, the Peirce Panini Press.

Finally, just as the church bells strike midnight, a winner emerges, and white smoke spirals into the night. An address is phoned in to Campus Safety, and the waiting silver SUV speeds to the peaceful town of Oberlin. Before he knows what is happening, Sean M. Decatur has been plucked from his bed and hustled into the back seat. When he arrives in Gambier, the dazed dean is quickly dressed in the traditional purple tie and tweed jacket with elbow patches. While all the necessary publicity photos are being taken, Denniston sits down and begins to compose an email to student-info@kenyon.edu, employee-info@kenyon.edu. “Dear friends and colleagues in the Kenyon College community…”

It is unknown at this point what name Dean Decatur will assume upon taking office in July, but rumors are he will be known as President Philander II.

4 responses

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