Lefton surprised by state’s response

Jessica White

Despite the renovation plan, Kent State President Lester Lefton said the university has been conserving money in response to current and possible future state budget cuts.

The university puts away money every year for one-time capital improvement projects, such as the Risman Plaza renovation, said Lefton in a meeting with Daily Kent Stater editors Friday. He said the university has been working on ways to save on yearly operating expenses such as heating and cooling and employee salaries.

One way is a new “coordinated hire” plan, in which the university will hire more faculty with backgrounds in two separate fields. So far the university has made one coordinated hire — a professor with experience in biology, chemistry and nursing.

Lefton said this would save money by hiring one person instead of two, and create an interdisciplinary structure where more colleges will be working together because their faculty will be interspersed.

“It’s really a smart thing to do,” Lefton said.

He said he hopes to make these hires across all colleges, but the university can’t afford to do it if the state slashes the current budget.

The state’s influence

Such cuts could come depending on the outcome of the November election for governor in Ohio.

“I’m hoping that the governor, whoever he is, will recognize the wisdom in keeping the economic engine of the state — that is higher education — in tact, rather than try to dismantle it,” Lefton said.

Incumbent Gov. Ted Strickland has emphasized affordable education on his higher education platform. On his campaign website, Strickland boasts a two-year tuition freeze in 2008 and one of the lowest tuition increases in the country — a 1 percent increase compared to the 6.5 percent average of four-year public universities nationwide.

Opponent John Kasich has promised in his higher education platform to “reduce spending so we can start reducing taxes,” according to his campaign website.

But Lefton said while reduced income taxes sound great, the effect is increased tuition at universities across Ohio.

Closer to home

On a local level, Lefton said the relationships between Kent State and the City of Kent, in particular campus and city police, couldn’t be better. He said although they are in different jurisdictions, they’ve been increasing efforts to work together by meeting formally about once a month and informally during and after incidents.

Lefton also said the Kent State police department hired six new police officers this year. He said relatively speaking, Kent State is one of the safest campuses in Ohio, but a university can never be too safe.

“I can’t manage what goes on off campus,” he said. “I can discourage, I can promote — but it’s really a tough situation.”

Lefton said on campus, the university is promoting dialogue and inclusive excellence to avoid fights or crimes because of ethnicity.

“Unfortunately I think when people get into fights, they’re not always about race or religion,” he said, “I think it’s about alcohol induced mania. People just lose their judgment completely.”

Contact Jessica White at [email protected].