Picking the president: The people who will help choose Lester Lefton’s successor want to hear from you

Amish Patel, executive director, Undergraduate Student Government; communications studies major

Madeleine Winer

The Presidential Search Committee has been charged with the task to find Kent State’s next chief, and they’re asking for students’ help.

“I’ve been very impressed with the engagement of the students in the search process,” said Richard Marsh, chair of the 16-member panel that will choose the successor to President Lester Lefton when he steps down next summer.

Marsh, member of Kent State’s Board of Trustees and Kent State alumnus, announced the committee of university administrators, faculty, community members and two students in a university-wide email Aug. 8. The committee will have its second meeting Tuesday, where it will discuss advertising and recruitment for the position.

Michael Allen, executive chair of the Graduate Student Senate, and Amish Patel, executive director of Undergraduate Student Government, serve as the committee’s student representatives.

“My door is is always open,” Patel said. “USG and myself will be conducting open forums. We’ll also formalize smaller focus groups and meet with heads of student programs and get out there. We want to hear what students think.”

Patel said at the committee’s last meeting, he and Allen stressed the importance of the next president’s student engagement and financial literacy. He said USG plans to collaborate with student groups such as Black United Students, Kent Interhall Council and various Greek organizations, but also wants to hear from all 290 student organizations.

“Tweet at us, go on the Presidential Search Committee’s website and take the survey. We want to hear what students have to say,” Patel said. USG’s first meeting is scheduled for Sept. 15 in the Student Governance Chambers.

Marsh said while the committee does plan to keep the search transparent, it also plans to respect candidates by protecting their identities during the process.

“It’s the only way we will get candidates to participate in the process,” Marsh said at an open forum last week that addressed questions about the search process.

He explained that while Lefton gave the university one year to find his replacement, the search will be competitive with other public universities in Ohio that are also seeking candidates for president. In recent months, the leaders of University of Akron and The Ohio State University both announced they were stepping down.

“We have a lot of good things going for us, which is attractive for a presidential candidate,” said Marsh, who pointed out the school’s involvement with the city of Kent as well as its increased enrollment.

David Ruller, Kent city manager, was a member of the presidential search committee when Lefton was chosen as president.

“Under Dr. Lefton’s tenure at Kent State University, we’ve seen what’s possible when the city and university fully commit to working together, and I am looking forward to meeting the presidential candidates and hearing their thoughts on how we can build on that success,” Ruller said.

The Presidential Search Committee had its first meeting in July, when each member said what his or her priorities were in choosing the university’s next president. No candidates had been suggested, as the search is still in its early stages.

Marsh said the committee created a website (www.kent.edu/presidentialsearch) and a feedback page where students and faculty can participate in an online survey, send an email to the committee and find out about and request open forums attended by search committee members.

What committee members say:

“Looking at it as a faculty member, we look for someone who has a strong academic background. They should know what professors do and value it as the primary functions of the university to educate and do research.”

— Susan Roxburgh

“We’re looking for someone with a deep appreciation for higher education…a lot of energy and commitment to take the university to the next level […] someone who values diversity and can build bridges, someone who is highly intelligent and a great communicator.”

— Richard Marsh

“This person has to put us out on the edge in a big way. It’s like we’re looking for God on a great day. We want to find someone who can get this institution to move at internet speeds. We need someone who gets that. We think we have a great sales pitch.”

— Dennis Eckart

“Me and Michael (Allen) really weighed on student engagement and how the next president addresses the students […] We really honed in on affordability for every college student and addressed his financial literacy.”

— Amish Patel

How the process will work:

Stage 1: Forming the Committee

The Kent State Board of Trustees has appointed a sixteen-member presidential search committee consisting of university administrators, faculty, community leaders and two students. In May, it appointed Richard Marsh, fellow trustee and Kent State alumnus, to chair the committee. Marsh announced the other members Aug. 8 in a university-wide email.

Stage 2: Gathering Information

The committee had its first meeting July 31, said professor of music Thomas Janson, a four-hour session during which members learned the selection process and got to know one another’s role in the campus and city communities. The committee will meet next on Aug. 27.

Marsh said he and committee members have been meeting with student groups and getting their input about what they are looking for in the next president. The search committee hosted an open forum Aug. 20 at the Kiva for students and faculty to discuss what qualities they want in the next president. Marsh and Dennis Eckart, vice chair of the committee, led the discussion. Other open forums hosted by the committee are to be announced.

Stage 3: Finding and Interviewing Candidates

The committee has contracted with the search firm Storbeck/Pimentel & Associates to find candidates for the position. The search firm will seek out and suggest candidates to the committee. Charlene Reed, spokeswoman for the committee, said national advertising and recruiting for the position will begin this week and continue until the position is filled. Marsh said the committee will review each candidate the search firm suggests before deciding on which ones to interview. Marsh said the candidates’ identities will be kept private during the interviewing process, citing concerns about the security of their current positions.

Stage 4: Announcing Finalists and the New President

Marsh said the committee is too early in the search process to know if finalists for the position will be announced to the public. Lefton will officially retire the position June 30, 2014, and Reed said she anticipates the next president to be ready to fill his vacancy the day after he leaves.

Stage 5: Transition

Marsh said a transition committee will oversee the presidential transition through the end of next fall. Trustees Steve Colecchi, Margot Copeland and Ralph Della Ratta will be leading the committee. Reed said more members will be added to the transition committee this fall. Members will prepare the new president by introducing them to Kent’s campus, the regional campuses and Northeast Ohio.

Contact Madeleine Winer at [email protected].

Presidential Search Committee Members: