New vice president of institutional advancement seeks solutions to decreasing state funding

Photo courtesy of Kent State University

Photo courtesy of Kent State University

Jimmy Miller

Early in his first week on campus, new vice president for institutional advancement Jeffery McLain carried a map in his suitcoat pocket, ready to mark recommendations for the best restaurants around the area.

This isn’t just because he’s looking for a great place to eat; it’s to help McLain transition into an area approximately 1,100 miles from his last home.

“People on campus and in the city are extraordinarily friendly,” McLain said. “I’ve actually fallen in love with the neighborhoods. Great couple of first few days.”

But McLain’s adjustments transcend getting accustomed to the area. McLain said he will spend this summer getting used to working with both the main and regional campuses, as well as further familiarizing himself with President Beverly Warren’s goals.

“One of the things that was attractive to me about the president was her enthusiasm. I had a chance to observe her the other day at an alumni dinner. They seemed to really enjoy talking to her,” McLain said. “I’m along for the ride now. I’m trying to drink from a number of fire hydrants. There’s a lot coming at me, and I’m trying to absorb as much as I can.”

While McLain’s transition to campus life must happen relatively quickly, Kent State itself is shaping into Warren’s vision. McLain is just the start of a slew of new cabinet members. The university recently announced three finalists for the vice president of research position, and there will be search processes for replacements for retiring vice presidents Greg Jarvie and Gregg Floyd.

Warren, who will enter her second year as the head of the university in July, also held a Listening Tour campaign that ended in February to try to find what the voice of Kent State is. Following the tour’s results, the university is gearing up for a rebranding process.

“I missed the town hall (meeting) a couple weeks ago, so since I haven’t been in those (meetings), I’m anxious to see how those take shape, take form and what the product is,” McLain said.

McLain brings 32 years of experience in fundraising to the university, including his most recent two-year stint at Louisiana State University, where he served as the senior vice president of the LSU Foundation. Prior to his promotion at LSU, McLain also served as the LSU Foundation’s vice president for development starting in 2005. Additionally, McLain worked as the associate vice chancellor for institutional advancement at Texas Tech and directed multiple fundraising programs at the University of Texas at Austin.

McLain said it is this experience in public universities that will help him most at Kent State, a university he said he sees as one that is on the rise.

“Since I’ve been at public universities, I understand the state funding model,” McLain said. “There’s always this tension and competition among our fellow schools, but we’re also Kent State. We have a distinctiveness, too, that sets us apart.”

McLain said increasing cuts to state funding for public universities will make his job challenging, but his goal is to grow the university’s endowment through fundraising.

“More and more, we’re depending on other revenue streams, including private philanthropy, to make a difference,” McLain said. “It used to be that private philanthropy could be described as the frosting on a cake. More and more today, in the funding models, private philanthropy is becoming the cake. We’re depending more and more on that to make sure that our school stays competitive and that our school has that level of excellence that benefits our students, our faculty and our staff.”

McLain also mentioned trying to create more scholarship opportunities for students as his goal for the university.

“I think what’s important is that we’ve got to tell our story, and tell our story in a way that our alumni and our donors understand what state dollars cover and what private philanthropy helps with,” McLain said. “I would never want to ask a donor to give money to keep the lights on. I would like a donor to give money for a scholarship.”

Steve Sokany held the interim position from last August until McLain’s arrival on May 15. An April university press release said Sokany will continue to serve the university by coordinating Foundation Board volunteer activities.

Contact Jimmy Miller at [email protected].