Provost under review for potential renewal


Provost Todd Diacon

Andrew Keiper

It’s been nearly five years since Kent State hired Todd Diacon as vice president of academic affairs and provost in April 2012. In that time frame, accomplishment and controversy have marked his tenure at the university.

A 39-question, university-wide performance review is underway for Diacon as he prepares to enter his fifth year.

The review, a standard university policy, is spearheaded by the Provost Review Committee, an 11-person panel formed from academic leadership at Kent State and Faculty Senate, according to John Crawford-Spinelli, chair of the committee. Diacon also penned a self-assessment that was made available to faculty and staff before they completed the online review.

While the decision to renew Diacon as Kent State’s provost will ultimately be made by President Beverly Warren, Crawford-Spinelli said the feedback from administrative staff and faculty is necessary for her to make a sound decision. He said the president hopes to make a decision by the end of this semester.

Diacon worked at the University of Massachusetts Amherst as deputy chancellor prior to coming to Kent State. Before that, he worked at the University of Tennessee Knoxville for 21 years. In 2009, he was appointed the executive director for academic assessment and program support.

When he was hired at Kent State, public records indicate his initial $275,000 salary was in the top 1 percent of all university employees. This past September, he received a 2 percent pay raise, putting his salary at just over $303,000 for the year.

Diacon noted in his assessment that the academic profile of Kent State has risen nationally while he’s spearheaded policies aimed at putting students first.

U.S. News and World Report has Kent State’s online graduate programs ranked 72 in the nation. Diacon said he’s proud of the successes and accolades of the university’s online programs.

“Kent State is one of the best in the country — among large, public state institutions — at delivering online courses and online programs,” Diacon said.

Diacon is proud of the fully-online master’s programs that allow graduate students to attain an education without being tied to campus.

“We have experienced considerable success since my arrival, as our retention rate has increased from 77 percent to 82 percent since 2012,” Diacon wrote in his self-assessment.

The Kent Stater verified these numbers as freshman retention rates.

“Our five-year graduation rate is now higher than the six-year rate was four years ago,” he said. “More students graduating in less time is proof of student success.”

Kent State’s Institutional Research shows the number of graduates increased from 7,636 in 2012 to 9,563 in 2016, for a total increase of 1,927 graduates. The department did not have statistics showing an increase in the rate of graduates, only the total number.

The growth in retention and graduation statistics are on par with the administration’s goals for the university, and Diacon said they would put Kent State among the best in the nation for institutions with a similar academic makeup. Kent State ranks in the top 200 of universities nationally, according to U.S. News & World Report.

Diacon said intentional initiatives like online programming enhanced freshman transition classes and mandatory academic advising help to ensure Kent State’s growth as a well-regarded academic university.

He said he prides himself on the collaborative spirit of his leadership style, and said many of the academic initiatives he’s led have succeeded due to team cooperation. The programs have been working, and Diacon said academia is noticing.

“In the past 12 months our success programming earned three national awards: best freshman year transition program, best programming for students with undeclared majors and best learning center in the country,” Diacon wrote in his self assessment.

To Crawford-Spinelli, metrics and accolades only measure part of Diacon’s success. Also weighted in Crawford-Spinelli’s evaluation of the provost is his interactions with the university’s faculty and staff.

“I find the working relationship to be excellent with the provost,” he said. “He’s a good communicator, he’s very supportive of the deans, in my view, and has been very accessible when we need his input on things.”

While Crawford-Spinelli finds Diacon to be an apt and capable leader of the university’s academics, some faculty have bristled with dissent at his decision making in the past.

“The integrity of the (Reappointment, Tenure and Promotion) process has been seriously compromised due to the actions and decisions of Provost Todd Diacon,” the petition to the Faculty Senate for a vote of no-confidence read. “His decisions appear to lack sound logic and are clearly arbitrary and capricious in nature.”

At the center of the tenure controversy that sparked the petition is Diacon and Navjotika Kumar, a former School of Art professor whose tenure was denied by the provost. Kumar’s denial of tenure came despite her earning unanimous yes votes from external reviewers, the director of the School of Art and the dean of the College of the Arts.

The petition had a total of 109 professors listed, 26 of whom chose to sign on anonymously “due to the legitimate fear of retaliation in the future RTP process,” according to the language of the petition.

“He acts as if he is the monarch of Kent State,” Kumar said. “Large swaths of university-wide tenured faculty and students felt that Todd Diacon was violating both shared governance and academic freedom through his actions.”

The Kent State chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) felt so strongly about Kumar’s case that it took the university to court for an arbitration hearing to resolve the dispute.

Kumar said her goal in arbitration is not monetary — she is seeking acknowledgement from the university of their wrongdoing in her tenure case. Diacon said the case is out of court, but didn’t elaborate on the outcome.

“I won’t speak to any particular personnel case because that’s our policy at Kent State,” Diacon said. “Since I’ve been here I’ve made two decisions that were appealed all the way to the Joint Appeals Board. In both cases unanimously — the professors on those appeals boards voted unanimously — that the decisions were reasonable.”

Andrew Keiper is a senior reporter, contact him [email protected]