Former KSU presidents reflect on accomplishments, challenges

Headshot courtesy of the Kent State Special Collections and Archives

Christina Suttles

Whether you’re the president of the US, or a public midwestern university, success is based largely on your predecessor. Policies and projects take time, and it’s not unusual for the head of an institution to see results years, or decades, after they’ve moved on, leaving their successor to reap the benefits, praise or criticism. Each sitting Kent State president has sculpted the composition of the university, leaving marks that are sometimes overlooked by students and faculty today.

With incoming president Beverly Warren set to preside over Kent State this summer, former presidents discuss their time at Kent State.

When Carol Cartwright, Kent State’s second longest-sitting president behind George Bowman, came to Kent State  in 1991, the State of Ohio was issuing the first of many jarring budget cuts to higher education, which came as a culture shock to Cartwright, who’d experienced legislative expansion up to that point. Since then, policy makers are less likely to invest in higher education and university presidents are faced with the challenge of becoming more effective stuarts of an exhausted budget.

“We have to think differently about balance between state support and tuition,” she said. “All of those issues were relatively new in the early ‘90s, because they’d enjoyed eight years of a different approach.”

Cartwright found herself attracted to the position after years of teaching and facilitating at various universities including Penn State and the University of California-Davis. She said it was a natural transition for her, and served as the university’s first female president for 15 years, leaving for Bowling Green State University in 2006. Her position earned her the distinction of the first female president of a state college or university in Ohio. She can’t recall any outward discrimination, but said it’s hard to decipher subtleties in higher positions.

“I think we decided at the university that we would play it to our advantage,” she said. “That it was history making, and it was a way to bring attention to Kent State University and what Kent State was doing on so many fronts.”

During her time as president, the Math and Science building and the Recreation and Wellness Center were built alongside six new residence halls, an expanded front campus and renovated historic buildings. She also oversaw the first ever private fundraising campaign that earned $124 million in revenue for Kent State.

“When I arrived, there was very little infrastructure to go out and raise private money,” she said. “There wasn’t much in the way of alumni records, there was no staff, not a national foundation board, so we had to spend a couple of years building the infrastructure before we could actually launch the campaign.”

Under Cartwright, Kent State was designated by the Carnegie Foundation For the Advancement of Teaching, which works to improve educational standards, as a research two university which administrators had been working toward for years. She secured new facilities for the fashion program in New York and Florence, but it was president Brage Golding who accepted the original gift to start the fashion museum.

She said a lot of her accomplishments were a direct result of the momentum President Michael Schwartz had before her, including rebuilding Kent State’s image after the May 4 shooting in 1970.

“We all build on what our predecessors accomplished, and I had opportunities to really make a difference while I was president that I wouldn’t have had had others not come before me,” she said.

Timeline of Kent State Presidents

1. John Edward McGilvrey (1911-1926); (b.1867-d.1945)

2. David Allen Anderson (1926-1928)

3. James Ozro Engleman (1928-1938); (b. 1873-d.1943)

4. Karl Clayton Leebrick (1938-1943); (b. 1885-d.1982)

5. George A. Bowman (1944-1963); (b.1893-d.1976)

6. Robert I. White (1963-1971); (b.1909-d.1990)

7. Glenn A. Olds (1971-1977); (b.1921-d.2006)

8. Brage Golding (1977-1982); (b.1920-)

9. Michael Schwartz (1982-1991); (b.1938-)

10. Carol A. Cartwright (1991-July 2006); (b.1941-)

11. Lester Lefton (July 2006-June 2014); (b. 1946-)

12. Beverly J. Warren (July 2014)

Cartwright left Kent State in 2006 for Bowling Green in 2008, where she served as president for three years, increasing enrollment and issuing a series of university development. While she left the Bowling Green in 2011, she’s still active in the academic community, including consulting for the Association of Governing Boards, which works with trustees and foundation boards of private and public universities to help them improve governance.

Cartwright Hall, the former location of the library and executive offices of Kent State, was named in her honor.

During his time working toward a higher education, Michael Schwartz grew attracted to the idea of both teaching and managing at a university. Schwartz, a Chicago native, earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology, a master’s in labor and industrial relations and a doctorate in sociology from the University of Illinois. He later taught at various universities including Wayne State University in Detroit.

In 1976, he served as Kent State’s Vice President for Graduate Studies and Research and was promoted to Vice President for Academic and Student Affairs in 1977 until 1982, when he was appointed Kent State’s ninth president.

Managing Kent State so soon after the May 4 shooting became one of Schwartz’s most challenging goals. He wanted to restore prestige and peace to Kent State after such a difficult decade rocked the community. He felt the faculty and students were being robbed of their pride. He felt the faculty had been disparaged in the press following 1970. He said he did all he could to restore confidence and reinstate scholarship in the university.

“The issue was to make sure that professors had pride in their work because they really earned it,” he said. “I wanted the students to have pride in their degrees because they really earned it with a first-class faculty.”

Along with contributing to the construction of the May 4 memorial, he oversaw the opening of the museum of fashion in Rockwell Hall, the Liquid Crystal Institute, Athletic Field House, School of Fashion and Merchandising and began remodeling the Alumni Center. The Michael Schwartz Center was designated in honor of his accomplishments.

Like Cartwright, Schwartz said his biggest challenge as president was a limited budget, even during a time both said was prosperous for higher education.

“We were not well funded then, and it isn’t getting better by any means,” he said. “It’s gotten worse. The burden for paying for the education has shifted to the students’ backs in ways even I couldn’t have imagined.”

After he stepped down in 1991, Schwartz taught higher education administration at Kent State for a decade, after which he served as Cleveland State’s president. He retired in 2009.

While Schwartz said he’s not in the habit of giving unsolicited advice, Cartwright’s advice to incoming Kent State president Beverly Warren is to remember the magnitude of the position at hand. She said a president must be mindful of how quickly her personal life will fuse with her professional. More than anything, she said to have confidence in her abilities.

“I think you need to trust the experiences that put you in a position to become the president and be who you are,” she said.

Contact Christina Suttles at [email protected].