Spring 2009: Semester in Review

Kristine Gill & Ben Wolford

View a slideshow of the top stories of spring 2009.

1.) From tradition to turmoil

What really happened at College Fest

When officers shot pepper balls toward Adam Craig and his friends, people started screaming. They shut off the “Cops” theme song they were playing and ducked.

Some of the partiers on College Avenue lawns were throwing bottles at the police officers in the street, so the officers responded with non-lethal, crowd-dispersing weapons. Craig, a junior finance major, captured the scene on his digital camera.

“They’re not paintballs. They’re something else,” a man yells. A woman shrieks, “I can’t breathe!”

Pepper balls are designed to sting upon impact and induce debilitating coughing and a burning sensation in the throat, nose and face.

That worked for a little while.

“Stop! Don’t throw anything!” some people shouted at the rest. But when the officers left, another bottle flew, the “Cops” theme came back and so did the officers.

Kent city police, Kent State police and several other departments, including the Metro SWAT team, would need to come back a few times the night of April 25.

The College Fest parties started like they had every year. Students woke early Saturday morning and filed onto their lawns on College Avenue.

They woke in time for an early morning class, but instead of cracking books, they cracked open beers, set up beer pong tables and fired up grills. They called their friends and got ready for the highly anticipated end-of-the-semester party.

The police got ready, too.

City police made plans with university officers: They would patrol the street in pairs, watching for rowdy behavior and making the occasional underage arrest. They would maintain a presence to keep the crowds in line, and later that night, they would head home.

That’s what they’d planned, at least.

Wooden baton rounds and fires in the street weren’t what they had in mind.

Lt. John Altomare was in charge of Kent city officers that night. During his shift from 3 to 11 p.m., Altomare paired city and university police for patrol shifts. The first pair made a few underage drinking arrests and brought the arrested back without incident.

Then a few hours into the second shift, people started throwing bottles, and officers called for backup.

The bottle-throwers said their bottle throwing was provoked. Two officers arrested a girl for underage drinking, and her friend kept approaching them to ask what happened. They told her to step back. She didn’t. An officer pushed her.

She tripped and fell in front of hundreds of drunken onlookers.

When Altomare arrived at College Avenue, partygoers were throwing bottles and bricks. They threw debris into the street, and so Altomare ordered for officers to shoot the houses.

“When I saw in which direction the bottles were coming at us, I had them targeting the houses,” he said.

It didn’t do anything to clear the crowd, so Altomare brought his officers to the end of the road to regroup and wait for backup. Kent Police Chief James Peach took over from there.

By nightfall College Avenue was on fire.

A 20-foot, couch- and television-fueled blaze spanned the street as hundreds of red, flickering faces cheered.

“One of the College Avenue homeowners called dispatch to say students were stealing his expensive lawn furniture,” Altomare said.

More than 20 officers put on helmets and grabbed Plexiglas shields, formed a line at the end of the road and marched, shooting pepper balls and making arrests. They needed to clear the crowd so firefighters could get to the fire.

One man, who called himself Chris, leaned over a rail out the back porch of a house. His white T-shirt was sweaty, and his face was flushed.

“I’ve spent the last half-hour puking,” he said, showing the welt on his shoulder from a pepper ball.

Altomare was hit, too. Once in the back of the head with something like a brick – it probably wasn’t a bottle because it didn’t shatter. And it was heavy.

“It felt like someone walked up behind me with a baseball bat,” he said.

Then he was hit with a rock in his knee.

Down the street, people were setting more fires.

When a firefighter was inspecting one of them, someone on a front porch spotted him. “There’s one by himself,” he said to the person next to him. “We can take him.”

A few guys at the house next door overheard it and rushed at them before they could reach the firefighter. Moments before they had been talking with the firefighter.

It was clear the pepper balls weren’t working. They tried stinger grenades – shells filled with little rubber balls – but people still wouldn’t leave.

Baton rounds were the only things that worked. Police fired the cylindrical blocks, which skipped off the ground and struck the shins and knees of targets. After that, the last people cleared the street.

They went back into their houses and continued their parties.


Remembering Trudy

Kent State’s beloved Trudy Steuernagel died in early February, about a week after being found beaten in her home.

The political science professor’s son, Sky Walker, who has autism, was charged with two counts of murder, and the Portage County Common Pleas Court sent him to the Northwest Ohio Developmental Center in Toledo.

In her time at Kent State, Steuernagel fought for the university to cover autism in its benefits, which it doesn’t.

She also wrote letters to the editor to make the university aware of the challenges autism poses.

In a letter to the editor dated March 27, 2008, Steuernagel wrote that she had a “forever commitment” to her son. She described the two of them as “content,” despite the challenges they faced.

Hundreds attended her memorial service held at Kent State on Feb. 13.


Obama sworn in as 44th U.S. president

There was a lot of news on the Kent State campus this semester, but there was even more nationwide with the inauguration of Barack Obama as the first black president of the United States.

Obama is only about 100 days into his term, and he’s already faced an array of challenges – an economic recession, a resurgence of violence in Afghanistan, troublesome cabinet confirmations, the handling of the Bush torture memos and others.

George Garrison, professor in Pan-African Studies, spoke to what Obama’s inauguration means for this country.

“I think Obama is uniquely positioned to bring this global view that Martin Luther King had, that Mohandas Ghandi had: seeing us as one family of rational creatures trying to work out their difficulties, their problems,” Garrison said. “Obama understands . that we are a global village and that we must learn to live together in peace and harmony. I think the message of King, the message of his Christian beliefs, resonates through Obama’s vision of where he wants to take this country.”


Strained economy hits Kent State

Kent State was not immune to the effects of the economy this semester.

Over winter break, the Ohio Board of Regents announced nearly $1.8 million in budget reductions for Kent State.

The university opted to make another round of budget cuts in mid-February of about $5.5 million.

Faculty professional improvement leaves, better known as faculty sabbaticals, were canceled for the 2009-2010 academic year as a cost-reduction initiative. Sixty leaves were put on hold in mid-February, and Provost Robert Frank estimated the university would save about $500,000.

In early April, the university announced it would offer a buyout plan for more than 1,000 faculty and staff members.

“It was primarily prompted by our budget situation and a desire to try to come up with a creative approach to dealing with what we recognized would be some personnel issues,” said Willis Walker, vice president for human resources and chief university counsel. “We didn’t want to go to furlough; we were trying to avoid laying people off.”

The final budget won’t be available until after the state passes its budget on June 30. However, a preliminary budget estimates the Kent campus will have about $2.6 million less available for educational and general expenditures for the next school year.


Former KSU Stark dean resigns

The former dean of the Kent State Stark Campus was named in a vandalism incident reported at Stark State College in late February.

On Feb. 15, Betsy Boze, then dean of Kent State Stark, allegedly used a can of spray paint to deface or alter the appearance of a Stark State parking sign, according to a police report filed Feb. 17 with the Jackson Township Police Department.

“It was not defacing,” Boze said. “It was correcting an arrow.”

Boze explained an arrow on the sign was directing Stark State students into a Kent State parking lot. She removed the arrow.

“It was not graffiti or anything like that,” she said. “It was changing the arrow to make it correct.”

She gave no comment as to whether the incident had anything to do with her resignation.

“The time was right for me to resign,” she said.

Boze resigned Feb. 20 from her position as dean. A Stark campus press release said her departure from the university was for personal reasons and stated that her resignation was effective immediately.

Contact public affairs reporter Kristine Gill at [email protected] and campus editor Ben Wolford at [email protected]