Board of Trustees award Lefton bonus through private process

Julie Sickel

In June the Kent State Board of Trustees awarded President Lester Lefton his full performance bonus—$100,394—for the fifth year in a row.

But the board and the university would just as soon not talk about it.

A three-month examination by the Daily Kent Stater, including three separate public records requests to obtain documents relevant to the president’s evaluation, revealed the administration at Ohio’s second largest public university operates much like a private institution in its awarding of the president’s bonus.

“We did a thorough process of reviewing his performance, and you heard a lot of it today, and we felt that everything he has done, and his staff has done, clearly justified going forward with the contractual agreement we have,” Jacqueline Woods, chair for the board, said at a media briefing following the June 2 meeting.

Past that statement from Woods, information that relates to how the board evaluates Lefton is kept hidden from public view, with little of the board’s dealings recorded in writing. The only records produced in association with Lefton’s performance bonus are produced by Lefton himself.

Refusal to talk

After the board’s action gave Lefton an additional $180,394 in compensation — he also received $80,000 July 1 for remaining at the university — the Stater attempted to find out how the board evaluates the president and what Lefton’s specific performance goals were that he “met or exceeded” according to Woods.

University officials told the Stater only Woods, as the chair, could speak on Lefton’s specific performance goals and evaluation. Multiple interview requests with Woods were denied.

The documents


Goals and Self-evaluation













Jacqueline Woods’ statement

Submitted questions



Lefton’s contract

“We have checked with board chair Woods, and she is not available,” Emily Vincent, director of University Media Relations, wrote in a June 29 email. “The president’s goals are all aligned with the strategic plan and include student success, enrollment, retention, sound financial management and fundraising. (Woods) said the best times to ask her questions are during the media briefing meetings that immediately follow the Board of Trustees meetings, like the one you attended on June 2.”

Other trustees also were unavailable to talk about the matter, Vincent said, adding that Woods, as the chair, was the sole voice of the board.

Contact information for trustees is not available on the board’s website or given out by the university.

James Hardy, special assistant to the president’s office, said in June all interactions must go through Charlene Reed, secretary for the board.

“The board should be open about the process and should let taxpayers – who are, after all, funding the university – understand how the president is evaluated and the general results,” Anne Neal, president of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni in Washington, D.C., said about best practices at public universities for setting executive compensation. The council is an independent, non-profit organization committed to academic freedom, excellence and accountability at American colleges and universities.

On Aug. 11, Kent State’s board held a special meeting in Columbus to discuss a land swap with the City of Kent. It was part of a larger gathering of trustees from other Ohio public universities.

After the meeting, Woods was approached in another effort to learn how the board evaluates Lefton’s performance.

“I won’t talk about that,” Woods said. “I’ve already, twice, done that in interviews with people, and I feel that’s over and done.”

In the 2009 to 2010 pay period, Lefton’s bonus was the second highest in Ohio and the fourth highest in the nation for public universities, according to a survey by the Chronicle for Higher Education. Ohio State University’s Gordon Gee ($296,786), Ball State University’s Jo Ann Gora ($222,750), and University of Central Florida’s John Hitt ($210,000) edged out Lefton ($157,470) for the top spots in yearly bonuses for public university presidents, the study stated. More recent figures were not available.

Records requests

The Stater finally acquired information on Lefton’s performance bonus through three separate records requests filed July 19, Aug. 15 and Sept. 1 under the Ohio Open Records Act.

Following the Aug. 15 records request, the Stater met with Iris Harvey, vice president of university relations. Harvey dismissed the premise that the system for determining Lefton’s compensation isn’t transparent.

When asked why Lefton’s goals and self-evaluation were not made available when asked for in June, Harvey said, “Nobody wants to give anything out that (Woods) doesn’t want.”

Harvey told the Stater in an Aug. 26 interview that there was no set person to meet with the president or a standing evaluation committee.

Who are the trustees?

Jacqueline Woods



Jacqueline F. Woods is the former President of AT&T Ohio.  Woods serves on the board of directors of The Anderson’s Inc., Timken Co., and School Specialty Inc.  She is a member of the board of trustees of University Hospitals Case Medical Center, Playhouse Square Foundation, Muskingum University, and a member of the National Association of Professional Women and In Counsel with Women.  She is the former board chair of The Cleveland Foundation.

Margot James Copeland


Margot James Copeland is Executive Vice President — Director of Corporate Diversity and Philanthropy. She’s also an Executive Council member at KeyCorp. Copeland serves as chair of the Key Foundation and has held positions at Xerox Corporation, Polaroid, and Picker International. Prior to joining Key, Copeland served as President and Chief Executive Officer of the Greater Cleveland Roundtable and Executive Director of Leadership Cleveland.

Dennis Eckart


Dennis Eckart is a Cleveland-area attorney and former U.S. Congressman. Eckart served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1980 to 1992. He served as chairman of the Small Business Subcommittee on Antitrust, Deregulation and Ecology, and as a member of the House Energy and Commerce and the Education and Labor committees. Eckart has also served as president and CEO of the Greater Cleveland Growth Association.

Stephen Colecchi


Stephen Colecchi has served as president and CEO of Robinson Memorial Hospital since 1994. Colecchi worked with the firm Martell, Cimino and Colecchi from 1979 to 1985 and previously served as prosecutor and assistant law director for the City of Kent and assistant prosecutor for Portage County. He is currently a member of the board of trustees for the Akron Regional Hospital Association, the Area Agency on Aging and the Children’s Advocacy Center of Portage County. He formerly served as a member of the board of trustees of the Ohio Hospital Association.


Emilio Ferarra


Emilio Ferrara is an oral-maxillofacial surgeon in Kent. He is a member of the board for the Portage Community Bank and the Robinson Memorial Hospital Foundation. Ferarra served on the board of the Kent City Schools for 32 years and was a member of the Kent State University Foundation Board.


Patrick Mullin


Patrick S. Mullin is a public accountant and managing partner for Deloitte & Touche. He serves as board chairman for University Hospitals Case Medical Center and is also a board member for the Cleveland Zoological Society, the Cleveland Scholarship Program, the Greater Cleveland Partnership, United Way of Greater Cleveland and the Cleveland Leadership Center.

Lawrence Pollock


Lawrence Pollock is managing partner of Lucky Stars Partners LLC, a private investment firm.  In the past, Pollock had leadership positions in companies like Cole National Corporation, Pearl Vision and Things Remembered, HomePlaces Stores, Zale Corporation and JB Robinson Jewelers. Pollock has been involved in ownership of broadcast properties, including multiple Cleveland radio stations.  He holds trustee positions with the Cleveland Clinic, Musical Arts Association and IdeaStream.

Brady Ruffer


Brady Ruffer is a senior integrated social studies major with a minor in political science. He is currently the president of the Delta Sigma Phi Fraternity.  He is also a member of the National Society for Collegiate Scholars and Alpha Lambda Delta Honor Society.

Jane Murphy Timken


Jane Murphy Timken is a practicing attorney concentrating in employment law and general civil litigation.  She is a member of the American, Ohio State and Stark County bar associations.  Timken has been a vice chair of the board of trustees of Arts in Stark and as a board member of the Community Mediation Center of Stark County, Family Services, Inc., Ohio Legal Assistance Foundation and Center for Grief Counseling and Education.


“I don’t think it has to be” a standing evaluation committee, Harvey said. “It can be, while there’s clarity and consensus across the group they can say, ‘Well, let the whole committee meet,’ or, ‘Let the chair sit down and do this.’ ”

Reed, secretary for the board, said in an email Aug. 30 that the chair is the only person to meet with Lefton, acting on behalf of the board in the performance bonus process.

In July 2010, then-board chair Patrick Mullin met with Lefton about his proposed yearly goals. Following meetings July 1 and July 19, Mullin shared the goals with the other trustees, according to Reed. There are no meeting minutes available for these two dates — at least none that were provided as part of the July 19 request for all documents relating to Lefton’s goals, evaluation and performance bonus.

Mullin and the board made no changes or additions to Lefton’s 2010-2011 objectives. The board has never made changes to any of Lefton’s yearly goals, according to Harvey.

Harvey explained, “Once you figure out what the critical goals are, you don’t really need to hammer them out, because you know what the critical ones are. Now you can do more, and you can certainly demonstrate that you’ve done more.”

“Basically, if you discuss what’s truly important, you don’t need to change or delete the goals,” she said.

There is no way to know what the board or the chair thought about Lefton’s performance for each specific goal, as there is no written evaluation ever made in addition to the president’s own self-evaluation.

“They don’t sit down and write an evaluation,” Harvey said. “I don’t know if you’ve ever worked in a large organization, but usually when you get to this level of running an organization — a half-a-billion dollar organization — you’re given goals and you know the most effective way is to let you reflect on it and justify, quantify what it is you’ve done. And the board can sit down, they’ve worked with you, they’ve looked at all the numbers, they see the numbers, and they can tell if they’re real or not.”

According to Secretary Reed, Woods met with Lefton May 31 and again June 17 — 15 days after the board had already given the bonus — to discuss Lefton’s evaluation. Again, if any minutes or written records of this meeting were produced, they were not given for the July 19 records request.

Harvey defended the board members against questions of whether the whole bonus process is too shorthand and hidden from the public.

“It may be shorthand to a (student)… and I can see how this is a valuable exercise for you to see what the process is and to make it more transparent to students,” Harvey said. “You’ve got (11) trustees; they run billion-dollar companies; they’ve been in this for fifty years, and in some ways, this is not at all shorthand to them.

“They do have the capabilities to evaluate; they do have the data, and they do have all of the strategic sense to make judgment,” Harvey said.

Neal at the American Council of Trustees and Alumni cited the University of Missouri Board of Curators as a best practice example for making the executive compensation process open. That board publicly outlines the specific performance measures set for the president.

Similarly, the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities System Board of Trustees provides a summary of its presidential evaluation at the next open meeting after the board’s private presidential review, Neal said.

“(Kent State) is a public university funded by taxpayers,” she said. “It would make sense for the board to be as transparent as possible in the use of taxpayers’ dollars and how it is evaluating the president.”

Contact Julie Sickel at [email protected].