Former CIA intelligence executive, 50th Commemoration chair steps down following complaints

Rachel Karas

Stephanie Smith, an associate professor in Kent State’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication and former CIA executive, announced in a Facebook post Wednesday she was stepping down as university chair of Kent State’s 50th Commemoration Advisory Committee.

“Out of respect for the profound concerns held by some members of Kent State’s May 4 community about my former work in national security, I am stepping down as university chair of the 50th commemoration,” Smith said in the post.

Laurel Krause, the sister of Allison Krause, one of four students killed by National Guardsmen at Kent State on May 4, 1970, led an email campaign from her Facebook page to “PROTEST & STOP Stephanie D. Smith, the 25-yr #CIA veteran, from running the #KentState 50th.” Krause asked that the complaints be sent to Warren.

Krause is also the co-founder and director of the Kent State Truth Tribunal, an organization that is “seeking truth and justice at Kent State,” according to its website.

“It’s not a personal concern that I have. … In support of Mrs. Smith, she is probably a very fine woman. That is not what our cause or concerns are about,” Krause said.  

“Instead, we have concerns about anyone that has worked for the Central Intelligence Agency for 25 years and what they bring from their career background … to the May 4 Kent State massacre. We feel it is a conflict of interest and that her background is not suitable to represent protestors who stood for peace.”

Krause said several people reached out to her on Facebook about the email campaign; she thought hundreds of emails were sent, but the official number is unknown. It is also unclear if those emails led directly to Smith’s resignation from the committee.

More than 70 comments from faculty, students and others on Smith’s Facebook post were mostly supportive in tone. One from May 4 survivor Chic Canfora, who co-founded the May 4 Task Force with her brother, Alan, in 1975, said “What good does it do for Stephanie Danes Smith’s numerous supporters to come forward to defend her now, after a hateful and cruel public attack on her good name achieved its desired end? We lost her.”

Others were angry about the campaign to remove her from the committee. Several students spoke of their time with her in the classroom and how she “imparted the importance of May 4th.” 

Prior to her job at Kent State, Smith worked for the federal government for 27 years, 25 of which were for the CIA, according to her Kent State faculty profile page. She “led thousands of employees; designed and managed programs worth several billion dollars; interacted regularly with Congress; and traveled extensively.”

Kent State President Beverly Warren appointed Smith to the position in April. In an email to faculty in the College of Communication and Information, Dean Amy Reynolds said Smith would be a part of a committee that would advise the president, help communicate plans of the commemoration and “work collaboratively with all May 4 stakeholders.”

Warren said in a post on the May 4, 50th Commemoration website, “It is with deep regret that I share the news that I have accepted the resignation of Associate Professor Stephanie Smith as chair of Kent State’s 50th Commemoration Advisory Committee.

“While I respect her decision,” she said, “I regret that we will not have the benefit of her insightful leadership.”

Smith’s resignation, Warren said, “reminds us all of the importance to engage with one another across differences through respectful dialogue and a commitment to the strength of civility in our discourse.”

When contacted for comment, Rod Flauhaus, the project manager of the 50th Commemoration directed KentWired to reach out to Eric Mansfield, the executive director of university media relations.

Smith said she did not wish to comment on the matter at this time. Warren said Todd Diacon will “address the leadership of the Commemoration Advisory Committee” when he becomes president of the university on July 1.

In March, the May 4 Task Force sent an open letter to Shay Little, vice president for Student Affairs, Warren and Flauhaus, that listed four demands around planning for the 50th Commemoration.

On March 6, 2019, the Board of Trustees passed a resolution stating the university will commemorate the anniversary of May 4 for the 50th Commemoration and beyond, rather than leaving the responsibility solely to the Task Force.

Rachel Karas is the KentWired editor. Contact her at [email protected].