Bev says goodbye: Kent State’s charismatic president announces she’ll depart position in July

Kent State President Beverly Warren reads Dr. Suess’s “The Cat in the Hat” to school kids for Read Across America at the University Bookstore on Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2017. 

Laina Yost

When President Beverly Warren stepped on Kent State’s campus her first day, she hoped her legacy as the university’s 12th president would be defined by two words: engaged and caring.

On Tuesday, she announced to students and faculty in an email that her tenure would come to an end in July 2019. It will mark the end of an era at Kent State.

“After spending my career making work my life’s priority, I realize the time has come for me to shift my focus to family and personal considerations,” she wrote. “This has not been an easy decision. I continue to be energized by the spirit of this community and the important initiatives we have advanced in recent years.”

Warren arrived in 2014 as Kent State faced criticism for its secretive presidential search that led to her selection. Faculty and media outlets protested the lack of transparency in the hiring process, including accusations the private search firm hired by the university destroyed records.

Immediately, Warren embarked on a six-month, national “listening tour” where she traveled both on and off campus and spoke to students, faculty, community and business leaders and alumni.

Warren lived and breathed a “student-first” mentality that became even more evident after she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2016. Two weeks after surgery, she was back on campus and about a month later, she was shaking hands with students at graduation.

“I was talking to my doctors before surgery and I told them, ‘Look, I have graduation May 14, 2016. I shake every hand. I intend to do that.’ And my surgeon said, ‘You’ll be able to do that,’ and so then in a post-surgery follow-up he said, ‘Shake my hand; Oh, you’re strong!’,” Warren told KentWired in 2016.

The Kent State community rallied around the president and coined #BevStrong on social media to show its support, including painting the rock on front campus with the hashtag in bright pink.

Warren focused in on enrollment and retention rates and broke several records during her tenure, including enrollment of the largest freshman class this year.

Warren faced some challenges in her tenure as president, including protests during contract negotiations over wages for American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), a national public services employees union at Kent State that represents workers like janitors and maintenance workers. Recently, Warren had to handle September’s open-carry walk, a confrontation on Kent State’s campus that saw four arrested.

“We will always do everything necessary to safeguard our university community and those who visit us,” Warren said at a press conference after the march. “There’s no limit on what we would say is warranted to ensure safety.”

Warren’s legacy will continue to be defined after she departs Kent State, but students took to social media to comment on their love of ‘Bev.’

“It was finals week and my friends and I were in the library studying at midnight,” said alum Colten Dalton. “She actually came by to make sure we were all doing OK and taking breaks. She reminded us to get some sleep and wished us the best in our studies. It was amazing to see the president of the university personally supporting us even at late night hours. Truly reassured that I made the right choice in the university I chose.”

Deb Smith, a professor of philosophy and the former Faculty Senate chair, praised Warren’s transparency with faculty members and said she hopes it will continue with the next president.

“I think the improved communication definitely stands out for me,” Smith said. “She’s my third president now, and I’ve had some experience with presidents who were not quite as transparent or open to communication as President Warren was.”

The university will start the search for a new president in the coming weeks, said Eric Mansfield, the executive director of university media relations.

Jim Tressel, the president of Youngstown State University, joked about Warren’s 20-hour days and expressed gratitude for her support.

“President Warren is the best,” Tressel said. “She was a great source of strength and council, always available to answer questions. … I just admired and tried to be like Bev. She was a great role model.”

Tressel said he would continue to keep in touch with Warren after she leaves Kent State.

“She made the mistake of giving me her cell number, so she can’t escape,” he said while laughing. “She knows I’ll call with questions.”

Kent State Foundation Board Chair Nora Jacobs provided a prepared statement on Warren’s departure.

“I will miss her warmth, her energy and her vision,” Jacobs said. “I know I speak for all my colleagues on the Foundation Board in thanking her and wishing her well.”

Warren was the second female president of Kent State.

Just before Warren’s official inauguration in 2015, she wrote a poem reflecting how she felt about being a part of the Kent State community.

“Three hundred days at Kent State in our rising college town. / This champion of freedom and diversity. / This mecca of innovation and inspiration. / This transformer of lives. / This peerless place we call home. / Praise song for the path we will travel tomorrow, / arms linked, minds open, hearts full.”

Laina Yost is the enterprise editor. Contact her at [email protected]