Diacon selected by Board of Trustees as 13th president

Provost Todd Diacon speaks with the press following Monday’s Board of Trustees meeting where he was named the next president of Kent State University.

Laina Yost

The Kent State Board of Trustees named Executive Vice President and Provost Todd Diacon as the university’s next president at a special meeting on Monday.

Diacon will replace current President Beverly Warren after she departs the university on June 30. He has served as the provost of Kent State for seven years. He came on board during former President Lester Lefton’s tenure.

Diacon told KentWired in an exclusive interview that he plans to carry on Warren’s strategic vision for the university, including her “students first” motto

He also said he wants to double down on student success and affordability.

“Even if our strategic plan didn’t have the primary goal of students first, you can have a university in many forms, many different types, but you literally cannot have a university without students,” Diacon said. “So, I think that’s always important to bear in mind. It should always drive the attitudes and actions of the president.”

As the provost, Diacon is currently responsible for recruitment and retention, enrollment, academic personnel and faculty and global education. Previously, he served as deputy chancellor at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst and vice provost at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

Diacon said executive search firm Russell Reynolds, which aided the search committee, reached out to him to apply for the job after he was nominated four times. The university paid the search firm a $170,000 retainer for its services, plus a $9,000 administrative fee. The price could go up later.

Diacon’s base salary will be $475,000, along with other terms that will be listed in his contract. KentWired has requested a copy of the contract, which it will receive when it is available. Warren’s base salary was $450,000 when she started.

The board unanimously voted for Diacon to replace Warren. Diacon said he briefly spoke with Warren about his interest in the job, but kept their dialogue brief to permit the current president to maintain her partiality during the search.

“We spoke a little bit about it, but she told me she thought I was ready,” Diacon said. “She was very supportive and had very kind things to say.”

The newly selected 13th president has a rich history with higher education in his family. Both his grandmother and mother received degrees when it was uncommon for women to do so. And on his father’s side, the history extends.

“My great uncle Howard quit college so that he could make money to pay for his three sisters to go to college; all three graduated,” Diacon said. “And this was right around World War I, which is just unheard of at the time. That side of the family has always had that kind of commitment to higher education.”

Shawn Riley, a board member and presidential search committee chair, told KentWired Diacon was “incredibly well-qualified” for the position and that they found the best candidate “hands down.”

“He is committed to the university and its success,” Riley said. “He’s been a critical player in the development of the university’s long-term plans, so he understands what the board and President Warren are trying to accomplish. And he is a very deep thinker when it comes to best practices in higher education.

“I’m always impressed when I speak with Todd on issues regarding colleges and universities. He clearly studies it and thinks about it a lot.”

Riley said the search process was inclusive and included allowing Faculty Senate’s Committee on Administrative Officers (CAO) to meet with Diacon before Monday’s board meeting, which did not happen in the last two presidential searches at Kent State.

“The idea was to give everybody a voice in this process,” Riley said. “And what I had learned at the beginning of this process was that the last two searches, while they both ended up with great results, the faculty, particularly the Faculty Senate and the CAO, felt as if they had not been an integral part of that process. And it impacted transition for the new presidents, whether it was Lester or Bev, and I wanted to try to avoid that if we could.”

In the search for Kent State’s next president, no finalists were brought before the public. Riley said Diacon would be considered the only finalist in the search, although they did look at other prospects. Riley said Russell Reynolds advised the search committee that if candidates went public, the university would receive fewer applicants for the position.

Riley said the board and presidential search committee chose to accommodate Faculty Senate’s interpretation of university policy and give the CAO a chance to speak with Diacon.

“The decision about who the university president is or will be is solely a decision to be made by the Board of Trustees,” Riley said. “The board is charged with that responsibility and it’s a big responsibility that the board takes seriously. … Nowhere in state law or university policy is there a requirement that the search be ‘public’ and that candidates, whether it’s one or more being considered, be paraded through campus and give everybody an opportunity to meet them. There’s no requirement to do that.”

The university policy for major administration positions requires that at least three candidates, and no more than five, are selected. Its policy also states that Faculty Senate’s Committee on Administrative Officers must interview candidates for administrative positions. Riley said the committee had prospects they considered before selecting Diacon as the only finalist.

Riley credited the presidential search committee members for their hard work and availability during the almost five-month search. Warren announced her retirement in October 2018.

For the soon-to-be empty provost position, Diacon said the university will appoint an interim for now. Diacon will take his spot as the university’s 13th president on July 1. Until then, he said Warren is still in charge as he works with a transition team.

Laina Yost is a senior reporter. Contact her at [email protected].