Conversations with Bev

Henry Palattella

Q & A with President Beverly Warren from on Vimeo.

Editor’s note: Once a month, editors and producers from The Kent Stater and TV2 interview Kent State President Beverly Warren about issues of importance to the university. The following is a transcript of that conversation. Some changes have been made for clarity.

KW: The climate survey results were announced Tuesday. What do you plan on doing with that information now?

BW: What we want to do is take some of the recommendations in some of the areas where we see need for improvement and then start developing recommendations and initiatives and policies around how we can improve. We’re gonna transform the climate study and subset that committee and move into the great place initiatives committee. That’s going to be the committee that takes the climate study results, but we’ll also take results from things like the COACHE (Collaborative on Academic Careers in Higher Education) survey that surveys our tenure eligible faculty about their climate and feelings of support.

So, rather than have survey results sit on a shelf somewhere, we’re having this committee review and see where there are common threads for improvement. (We’ll also be looking for) strengths too. That’s how we’ll keep the results of this climate study alive, through this living breathing committee that will offer recommendations for improvement. I think it will involve some professional training and some professional development. One of the results that really had a great impact on me is the fact that staff feel that supervisors need more training to be a supervisor. Sometimes, you are promoted through the ranks (with) not enough background and training to be a supervisor of what were your peers. So, I think we need to look at things like that. The other thing that had an impact on me is when students and faculty felt that they had experienced somewhat of a hostile environment. Students said that it was predominantly coming from students, while faculty said it was predominantly coming from faculty.

So, that tells me that we’ve got a lot of work to do on interpersonal relationships. Student among students, faculty among faculty. And I hope that we will be able to offer some programming where we more seriously discuss climate and discuss how we treat one another. That’s what I said Monday in my introductions – that there’s nothing more important than climate, and for me climate is how we treat one another, how we value one another in what we say and how we treat one another. I just think we need to look at that. Social media can be very cruel and very heartless, and how might we begin to address that as a caring community.

KW: You’re going to be going to (an) all female university in Saudi Arabia. What inspired you to do this?

BW: We had the president of Effat University come and speak on our campus back in the fall, and we also signed a partnership with Effat University, particularly as it related to architecture, and in some ways engineering. This is an all female university in Saudi-Arabia, and I find that just remarkably exciting, as well as learning what their interests are, and in growing the talent in the women in Saudi Arabia. Hopefully, that then is going to spur more professional opportunities for women in Saudi Arabia. We will be leasing a building in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia together, and our architecture program will (be) coordinating with Effat University’s program, so that our students and our faculty can explore partnerships more fully. I was excited because I was very impressed with their president, I was excited that an all female university in a Muslim country is really looking at professional talent in women of Saudi Arabia, so that was really intriguing for me.

KW: What kind of things will you be talking about there?

BW: I just accepted that invitation, so I don’t have the speech prepared yet. If I had to think through though, one would be how we must remain globally connected. It’s important for student learning and faculty engagement, and for our country to thrive. I’m strongly committed to that for Kent State University, so I think they’ll be a good focus on partnerships, globalization and what it means, how we learn from one another, how do we learn from cultures unlike our own and how do we we value cultures different from our own. I think they’ll be a big piece from that. I would suspect with being a female president, and them having a female president at an (all female university) that I’ll say something about women, and the power of women to change lives and change the world. So, I’ll have some focus on that. Ironically, the commencement speech will be delivered on May 4, so that will have meaning for us and Kent, and I am certain that I will make reference to that.

KW: Do you have any plans to work with them in the future?

BW: Yes. The architecture program has identified a building in Jeddah, where we will jointly have faculty in that building offering programs in architecture. So, that’s the first round of our engagement, but we hope it will evolve into more.

KW: One of things that has been big in the news lately has been the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) bill, which protects students who were brought over illegally or overstayed their visa. President Trump has said that he will try to do away with DACA, but the opposite has happened in Ohio, as Ohio State University and Ohio University have expanded and protected DACA on their campuses. What does Kent plan on doing?

BW: Number one: We value all students, including our DACA students. We do not particularity track our DACA students because we want our students to be independent of any sort of university or governmental tracking. These students are great, great contributors here in the United States. The fact that we value their opportunity to value an education leads to many of those students remaining and being productive citizens in the United States. Our rule has been (the same as that) of the inter-university council presidents, and went on record and wrote a letter to our representatives of Congress, and say that we are in support of DACA students and continuing to permit DACA students to engage in our learning environments and higher education. I don’t think we’re standing back, but we’re also being very deliberate about the protection that all students deserve.

KW: Regarding the Big Ideas Initiative, what are you looking for from the departments?

BW: So, the Big Ideas Initiative originated from the fact that we are in the quiet phase of our next Comprehensive Campaign. Our last campaign was called the Centennial Campaign, which concluded in 2012. And what we have gone on record at our board meeting in September in saying that we will launch a campaign – that will be the biggest and largest ever in Kent State’s history. So, if you look at the data then, the Centennial Campaign raised $265 million for the university, and if we’re going to be the largest campaign ever, it’s going to be north of that. I’m hoping significantly north of that because we have so many needs on campus, but we also have so many exciting initiatives that are going on. So, rather than create the ideas in a vacuum, I asked the community, “What are your greatest ideas around what we most need to support? What would make us more distinctive? What would be something that donors would be gravitating towards supporting?” and what has been said in the world of philanthropy is that there’s not a shortage of finances in America, there’s a shortage of big ideas. So, the (Big Idea Initiative) is what would be a very distinctive idea for Kent State, and how might we tell that story to future donors. That’s what the big ideas are all about. We went through the deans and the provost for big ideas that bubbled up from colleges to the deans to the provost’s office. Concurrent with that, we launched a social media Think Big campaign, which was an opportunity for anybody at the university to filter a big idea they had through social media and we would look at all ideas to see which we think had the greatest capacity to garner support, passion and excitement. So, we have about 200 big ideas and over $1 billion in offering of those big ideas, so the community really did respond. So now, our chore is to take those 200 big ideas and $1 billion and craft it into something that we think is the most compelling and the most manageable idea based on what our capacity to raise funds would be. It’s exciting to have this kind of grassroots engagement of everyone understanding that it’s up to us to craft the future for Kent State. It starts with big ideas.

KW: Kent State will be going to healthier dining options soon, what are the guidelines for what makes the new vendors healthy?

BW: Basically what we said was that we were required by law that we have the end of Sodexo’s contract with us, so we have to put an RFB (request for bid) out on the street. Three vendors responded. These vendors are on campuses across the country. What we were asking them to really focus upon was healthier options, better options and better services for our students, because we think you deserve better than you’re getting now. Sodexo’s contract is a long contract, and when it was signed, it was a different world in dining options. Now the sky’s the limit in dining options. We’re asking them to define for us some healthy options. It would be less processed food, it would be more natural products. All of this is going to wrap into (the vendors’) presentation based on that; here’s how we can transform the dining within the Kent State Student Center, as well as the dining across campus, so you’d have better options out where you live. This also includes the regional campuses, which could transform their dining options. It’s a big contract, and we will be presenting a recommendation to the board in March. I think the other thing they’re looking at, and I’m saying I think because I haven’t seen the details, this was managed by Dr. (Shay) Little, is how you even craft your meal plans, and might we look at options around your meal plan.

KW: How will Kent State work towards civil discourse following the election cycle?

BW: I think it’s more important than ever to be a university where we be known as the global convener around civil discourse. I think with our background of May 4, 1970, we certainly had a community that stood up for what it felt was right and stood up against what it thought was wrong, and we lived through a tragedy that is known worldwide. There are very few universities that have that background and that grounding of the importance of civil discourse. From May 4, we emerged with a Center for Applied Conflict Management that sits in political science at the moment. A little later, we were able to form the May 4 Visitors Center – all organic, all staff and students who wanted to see us make meanings of one of the most horrific tragedies in American history. What I want to do is raise that to a higher level, and by that how might we take the May 4 Visitors Center and move the Center for Applied Conflict Management, and move it into a School of Peace and Conflict Studies. How might history contribute to that? (We could) create curriculum that could be curriculum that students could pursue. We could create convenience with major speakers coming to campus. I’d love to see a presidential lecture series where we really bring individuals who have had experience in civil discourse, or even in the world of peaceful protest, and really talk about how you can protest peacefully and articulate your voice without being so disruptive and mean-spirited. There’s certainly a place for us to be a leader.

KW: What type of programs or solutions are being worked on, or will be worked on, that will help Kent State gain national recognition regarding civil discourse and conflict management?

BW: One thing that is happening that just happened last month is the naming of our May 4 site as a National Historic Landmark. So, I think once again that brings us to a national stage around our May 4 site. I think as we renovate our May 4 Visitors Center, it’s going to be much the same Visitors Center experience, which I think is powerful. I’ve been through that many times and I’m touched every time I go through. We’re also building out convening space and conference space, so I think you’ll see more faculty being recruited to Kent State who are experts in civil discourse, conflict management, and peace and conflict studies. I think you’ll see us lift up the voices of the current faculty we have, and I think by lifting a center out of a department and into a university school, we’ll give it much more exposure and resources to reach out and really tell that story to the world. Part of our issue at Kent State is we do great work and then don’t tell the story so powerfully, nationally. This would be one way to lift up our work and have a national platform that we do this, and we do it well. We have to do more invitation to come to our campus and experience that.