Meet Kent State’s next president: Todd Diacon

Shawn Riley, board member and leader of the presidential search committee, gives President-elect Todd Diacon a bouquet of flowers and a gift basket. 

Laina Yost

Editor’s note: Some changes have been made for clarity.

The Board of Trustees selected Executive Vice President and Provost Todd Diacon to replace current President Beverly Warren on July 1.

Diacon spoke with KentWired about his new position and what he plans to do in his tenure as president of Kent State.

Q: When did you think you might be interested in the position?

Diacon: When Bev told me that she was stepping down, that’s when I knew that I wanted to be a candidate. We spoke some about it. I didn’t want to put her in a position that might not be appropriate for her because she needed to be impartial on the president. So, we spoke a little bit about it, but she told me she thought I was ready. She was very supportive and had very kind things to say.

Q: What will the transition from provost to president look like?

Diacon: I really look forward to working with all of the team that we have in place — Karen Clarke, Char Reed — to start planning out the transition. The first thing I’d say, though: President Warren is in charge until July 1. So, I’ll start my preparation more, but always recognizing that President Warren is in charge until July 1. I really look forward to after July 1, particularly to being introduced various communities and community groups and I’ve always very much enjoyed fundraising and I look forward to doing that very quickly as well.

Q: What type of community groups do you plan to speak with?

Diacon: On the fundraising side, I certainly look forward to getting to know the businesses that are in Ohio, particularly Northeast Ohio. One of the things that really struck me when I moved to Ohio seven years (ago) is how many things are actually made here. I’d never lived in a place that had so many companies that make the things that we use everyday. And I just think that’s one of the great things about Northeast Ohio. So, certainly want to continue to be introduced to business leaders, to the various community round tables that one finds in cities such as Cleveland and in Akron. I’ve had pretty good interactions with the Kent community leaders and then look to meet community leaders in other cities and towns as well.

Q: Last semester, KentWired sat and talked with you about your mother and grandmother’s history with higher education. What does it mean to you to be able to take this new role as president?

Diacon: Thank you for remembering that. And I’m going to mention that. About a week ago, I found amongst some things that my brother left behind — my oldest brother died a year ago. He left me a drive with the family history that my grandmother had written. And one of the things that I didn’t know was that my great uncle Howard quit college so that he could make money to pay for his three sisters to go to college; they all three graduated. 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.

Q: What are some of the things you would like to accomplish in your tenure as president?

Diacon: I think the greatest legacy that President Warren will leave behind is our strategic plan. And it was really my great joy and honor to be a part of creating that strategic plan. It’s the best I’ve ever seen it at the universities that I’ve worked at. And so I really looked forward to continuing the work of the strategic plan, particularly doubling down on student success and doing everything we can to make the cost of getting a college degree affordable. I look forward to working with our new brain health director and watching that endeavor grow and prosper, which I’m sure it will. And also look forward to hiring a new director for the Americas for the Advanced Materials and Liquid Crystal Institute. So, we have a really great roadmap and I look forward to working on those things, but particularly doubling down on student success and affordability.

Q: You’re coming into a presidency with the 50th anniversary of May 4 right around the corner. What does this mean for you?

Diacon: Certainly my experience as a historian has made me understand the larger context and impact of May 4 and so, I take that responsibility with really a sense of honor and also look forward to conversing with President Warren and seeing how we can keep her engaged during this year of commemorating May 4, I think she still has a lot to add with that as well. But that’s another one of those communities I look forward to working with and getting to know. I know some of that community, and I look forward to being introduced to other parts of that community.

I think really as important or more important for my role now as the incoming president and then president, is to help the rest of the country understand the what the lessons of May 4 are for us today. And in particular, the dangers of polarization and really poisoned discourse.

Q: What do you see as the future of higher education in Ohio? How will you address some of the challenges with enrollment and budget?

Diacon: Those will be some of the primary challenges we’ll face. There’s a real demographic decline, particularly in Northeast Ohio, with a double digit predicted decline in the number of high school graduates, and then that’s just happening at the same time that there’s a very crowded higher educational infrastructure in Ohio with the number of public universities and private universities that we have. So that’ll be a real challenge. We’ve been looking into that for some time now, and I was thrilled to chair the search that hired Mary Parker as the vice president for enrollment management. And then another challenge, but I would think of it more as an opportunity, is that we just want to continue to expand the population that can attend our university and graduate. I think we still have large populations in Ohio that aren’t attending college and graduating. And I think that will be one of my opportunities is to expand that population of Kent State going students.

Q: What do you want students to know about you as the new president? 

Diacon: Well, I’m really proud to be at Kent State, very passionate about being at Kent State. I’ve been here seven years now. I very much appreciate the breadth and the depth of our academic offerings. I would like students to know that I very much pay attention to the great things that our students are doing, be that winning journalism awards in the Hearst competition, I attend all theater productions. So, Friday night I attended Any Resemblance. (Saturday) I was thrilled to attend the fashion show. So, I want students to know that I attend those kinds of events. And to me that’s really one of the most important things I can do. But it’s also one of the most enjoyable things that I could do.

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