Robert A. Oden

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Robert A. Oden


Early Years

Robert Allen Oden, Jr. was born September 11, 1946 in Vermillion, South Dakota. He continued to live in Vermillion until his enrollment in Harvard College. He graduated from Harvard Phi Beta Kappa in 1969, majoring in history and literature. He then attended Cambridge University as a Marshall Scholar and received his B.A. and M.A. in religious studies and Oriental languages. When he returned to the United States, Oden studied at Harvard Divinity School, where he obtained a master's degree in theology, with a focus in near eastern religious and the old testament. He went on to receive his Ph.D. in near eastern languages and literatures from Harvard University in 1975.

The Road to Kenyon

Oden became part of the faculty of Dartmouth University's department of religion in 1975, achieving the rank of full professor ten years later, and serving as department chair from 1983 to 1989. He is known for founding and becoming director of Dartmouth's Humanities Institute, and in 1979, he became the first recipient of Dartmouth's Distinguished Teaching Award. In 1989, Oden left Dartmouth and became the headmaster of the Hotchkiss School in Lakeville, Connecticut. During Oden's tenure, thanks to a very successful campaign, the endowment of the school doubled to $120 million. Oden also worked to better the school's academic reputation and expand its learning environment.

Years at Kenyon

Oden was elected Kenyon's seventeenth president in February, 1995. I his inaugural address on October 21, 1995, Oden told Kenyon: "'An intense commitment to the liberal arts' and the attempt 'to be the best liberal arts college possible.' Such is our history; such is my own commitment. That commitment and a love, already, for this college in this impossibly lovely setting, between these buildings and beneath these trees, these are my promises to all of you." Oden immediately began working to better Kenyon's financial situation and rework its infrastructure. By the end of this first year as president, Kenyon's endowment had risen nearly 40%, he had opened a new cafe and pub, and had hired several new administrators. "Kenyon, I think, for a long time has been satisfied with mid-length goals. ... Kenyon is [now] about outlandishly setting ambitious goals and then reaching them," Oden said in an article in the Collegian in 1996. Those ambitious, and attained, goals included the "Claiming our Place" campaign, which, when it culminated in 2001, had raised more than $116 million for Kenyon, had seen the construction of the Philip Mather Science Quad, the Horn Gallery, a new education building for the Brown Family Environmental Center, the administrative Eaton Center, and the renovation and expansion of the music facilities in Rosse Hall and Storer Hall. President during the events of September 11, 2001, Oden also encouraged Kenyon to discuss and continue practicing tolerance: "Nothing, truly nothing, would disappoint me more, now and in the days ahead, than to learn that any in our community has begun to depart from the long and honored Kenyon habit of honoring, respecting, and tolerating differences," he said in at a Service of Remembrance and Prayer, nine days after the attack. Oden also focused heavily on Kenyon's faculty. He created many new positions and reduced teaching loads, as well as increased support for faculty research and scholarship. In 1999, an anonymous donor gave Kenyon $1.5 million to create a new professorship, dedicated to President Oden. "The gift of this professorship," said Oden, "will allow us to signal our especially high regard for those teachers and scholars whose work in and out of the classroom openly takes that kinds of risks upon which ground-breaking achievements are based." In Februrary of 2002, Oden resigned the presidency after only seven years in office to become the president of Minnesota's Carleton College. He was the first Kenyon president ever to resign his position to accept a presidency at another college. Reactions to Oden's resignation varied from anger to acceptance. Bryan Stokes '05 wrote in the Collegian in April: "I will forever continue to appreciate President Robert A. Oden, Jr. ... Surely we cannot begrudge a man who has done so much for our college, a change to step back from it all and move on."


  • Oden, Robert--Collected materials
  • Barth, Christopher. The Kenyon Presidency: Profiles of Leadership 1824-2002. Gambier, Ohio: Greenslade Special Collections and Archives, 2002.
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