Kent State community voices opinions at presidential search forum

David Williams

Students, faculty and other members of the Kent State community raised hopes and concerns they have regarding the search for the next university president. 

The public forum, hosted by chair of the presidential search committee Shawn Riley, was the latest in an effort by the committee to determine what the community is looking for in the next president.

One of the concerns most echoed by those present was diversity of thought. “President Warren was a great ambassador for diversity at Kent State,” said Ken Ditlevson, director of the Kent State LGBTQ Student Center, who said he hopes the next president will continue to promote diversity both on and off campus.

Many expressed the importance of building the “town and gown” relationship between the City of Kent and the university. Doug Fuller, a Kent State alumni, who was a student during the events of May 4th, was emotional recounting raising his family and starting his business in Kent, and how he wants the next president to further build the relationship between Kent State and the City of Kent.

“The last three presidents have all brought new talents to Kent State,” Fuller said, noting the tendency of former President Lester Lefton to “get stuff done when it needed to get done.”

Fuller said he wants the next president to be someone who can engage the community but still be productive on and around the university.

The crowd of about 24 discussed the upcoming 50th anniversary of the May 4 shootings. They noted the importance of having a president who understands the history behind Kent State and can effectively handle the milestone.

“Excuse me if I put my chamber of commerce hat on, but history happened here,” Fuller said.

Compassion for students affected by poverty, homelessness and other situations beyond their control was also noted. Concerns were raised about students who sleep in the library and don’t have regular access to food.

Eric Mansfield, executive director of university media relations, noted the importance of collaboration and the sharing of resources with Kent State’s regional campuses, a concern Riley said was raised at other forums.

Mark Goodman, a professor of scholastic journalism, expressed his concern over faculty union issues, and said he wants a president who can break the gridlock and end the situation “where every three years someone votes to approve strikes.”

Others brought up enrollment issues and want to see a president who can encourage more students to come to Kent State, both from regional campuses and from other schools.

Another major point of discussion was the prospect of selecting a president from outside of academia, a concept which garnered mixed reactions.

Marianne Warzinski, director of CCI Commons, recalled the last presidential search.

“People wanted a businessman, I’m not sure that’s working out so well.” Others brought up the idea of hiring someone with fundraising experience, from a non-profit organization, or with law experience. 

Goodman, who specializes in media law, also raised concern over how transparent the process for a new president would be and asked if the community would be informed as the search progresses.

“Our objective is to find the best person for the university,” Riley responded. “Hard stop.” He assured the audience that the process would be “as inclusive as possible” and would follow Ohio law.

Another public forum took place earlier on Kent State’s Stark campus.

David Williams is a general assignment reporter. Contact him at [email protected].