‘We are the architects of our destiny’

Jessica White

President Lester Lefton called students and faculty “the architects of Kent State’s destiny” in his fourth annual State of the University address Thursday.

“The question is,” he said, “What do we want to design and build?”

Lefton stressed the importance of the university’s $250 million campus-wide renovation plan — $210 million of which is waiting on approval from the Ohio Board of Regents.

If the plan isn’t approved by Nov. 8, the Build America Bonds being used to fund it will expire, and the cost could raise as much as $57 million.

Lefton said modernizing the campus will allow the university to give students the degree they deserve and employers are counting on.

“We will continue to look for solutions to put our plan into place,” he said.

He also discussed plans to remake the university’s libraries using a 21st century model, updating their structures and functions to make them more technologically innovated and user friendly.

Lefton said he wants to update class structure, too.

He asked Provost Robert Frank and the Faculty Senate to reduce the number of classes from more than 100 to 35. This way, more students would have to take the same basic liberal arts classes and have common backgrounds when moving on to upper-level classes.

“In essence, we will be providing the common core experience that our students have already signaled they want and need,” Lefton said.

He also proposed short, intensive summer and winter break courses that would give students the opportunity to rack up credits. Lefton said during those breaks, the university’s facilities are often underused, so it would be a win-win situation for students and the school.

In addition, he encouraged greater international relationships with study abroad programs and the current partnerships in Turkey, China and India to bring more students to Kent State.

“Our international students enrich our classrooms, campuses and our communities immeasurably,” Lefton said.

In keeping up with the world market, he proposed doubling or quadrupling the number of online courses as well. Lefton said a growing number of respected universities offer online degrees, and his home state of Massachusetts spurred a 20 percent revenue increase and 14 percent enrollment growth since last year with its UMassOnline.

Finally, Lefton asked students and staff to continue the “year of yes” he initiated during last year’s State of the University address.

“Knowing what we have accomplished and contributed in our first 100 years, we can build that future with confidence, embracing change, innovation and each other along the way,” he said.

Lefton called this past year “a milestone in history and accomplishment.”

“Our centennial-year achievements leave no doubt that, despite state cutbacks, Kent State is going through an up cycle,” he said. “We can’t stop now.”

Among the 2010 achievements were best fundraising, with $39.9 million in private donations, best federally funded research, with $26.8 million in federal grants and best enrollment, with this fall’s record enrollment of 41,300 students and the highest-caliber freshmen class ever (based on GPA, ACT scores and diversity).

Lefton said now is the time to continue making history by embracing change and innovation.

Contact Jessica White at [email protected].