In A Flash

Weekly Message From President Lefton

Good day,

I had planned to use today’s In A Flash to share some thoughts about the upcoming anniversary of the events of May 4, 1970. I still want to do that and hope you will read my longer-than-usual message in its entirety. But given the events of last weekend, you won’t be surprised that I also want to address the College Fest incident. Specifically, I want to speak directly to Kent Campus students. Although I do so in my role as president, I also remember a past role as the parent of college students. In each of these roles, my top priority has been ensuring the safety, security and well-being of people I care about.

When our daughters were about to enter college, Linda and I did what most of your parents did: We spoke to them about the importance of balancing the wonderful freedoms of college life with the serious responsibilities of adulthood. And we let them know that we trusted them to exercise common sense — and to listen to their inner voices — as they made decisions from choosing class schedules to choosing friends to choosing how many (if any) beers they would drink when they went out with those friends.

Despite last weekend’s College Fest — an off-campus, unsanctioned block party on College Avenue that only got ugly late in the day when a small number of individuals made some very poor choices — I trust that you and the vast majority of Kent State students also use sound judgment in your daily lives. I say that because, after three years here, I know the caliber of Kent State students. You are hard working, compassionate and determined to make the world a better place. I also know that, in the spirit of college students everywhere, you want to have as many experiences and as much fun during your college years as possible. Nothing wrong with that. In fact, your university and the city of Kent want you to enjoy your time here and to feel welcome on and off campus — it’s a big part of the reason we are working on projects from extending the Esplanade into downtown to providing space downtown for student-conceived businesses.

Of course, being part of a university community is a two-way street — one that calls for mutual respect between students and their nonstudent neighbors. Many students and staff members invested significant time and effort in reminding College Avenue residents of that fact prior to College Fest (e.g., Student Affairs staff members joined members of student government and Kent City Council in “walkarounds,” talking to area residents about the wisdom of keeping the celebration lawful and laid-back.). That’s because even though off-campus events such as College Fest are not sponsored or sanctioned by the university, and do not fall under the jurisdiction of our university police department, Kent State operates under the belief that everything possible must be done to ensure the well-being of students on and off campus.

As we saw, the well-intentioned, proactive efforts of the university and the city could not prevent the unhappy outcome of College Fest. So although you’ll find students and staff walking around the Lincoln and Sherman street areas in an attempt to avert problems this weekend, it’s unlikely they can do so if even a few party-goers act inappropriately (Given a party theme like “Drinkin’ on North Lincoln,” you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to predict the odds of that happening).

So if you are considering joining one of this weekend’s big blasts, I urge you to also weigh the following facts:

&bull City police will make the safety and security of everyone present “job one.” That means state and city laws will be strictly enforced — no debates, no second chances.

&bull You will be breaking the law if you engage in under-age drinking; walk or stand in a public area with an open container of alcohol; or violate the city noise ordinance.

&bull The events will again attract irresponsible people who have a lot less to lose than you do if they act inappropriately or illegally.

&bull If you act inappropriately, you not only are likely to be arrested, but your behavior may be captured on videotape by local news media and/or posted on YouTube for eternity.

&bull If you are arrested, you could jeopardize your ability to compete for scholarships, internships and jobs now and in the future.

&bull If this weekend’s parties end badly, your alma mater’s reputation and image will be damaged, which can lessen the value of your degree.

&bull Even if you behave responsibly — and despite the university and city’s best efforts — no one can fully guarantee your safety if chaos arises in a large (and not entirely sober) crowd.

With all that in mind, I ask you to think long and hard about whether you want to risk your safety this weekend (or any weekend). If you do choose to attend an end-of-semester party, I urge you to heed the instructions made famous in the landmark TV series Hill Street Blues: “Let’s be careful out there.”

As I mentioned at the outset, I think it’s important to mention another timely subject: the upcoming commemoration of the events of May 4, 1970. I’m sure most of you observed that many of this week’s news reports insinuated that the events of last weekend echoed the events of May 1970. Those suggestions were irresponsible, unfounded and untrue.

As most of you know, classes will be in recess from noon to 2 p.m. this Monday as part of the university’s commemoration of the day in 1970 when four Kent State students were killed and nine others were wounded in a confrontation with Ohio National Guardsmen during a protest against the Vietnam War. Some students, faculty and staff will use the time to attend the annual commemoration program organized by the students of the May 4 Task Force. And some (including me) will take part in the annual candlelight walk that starts Sunday night on the Kent Campus Commons and is followed by a silent vigil to honor the memories of Allison Krause, Jeffrey Miller, Sandra Scheuer and William Schroeder. The walk and vigil are a moving tradition started by Dr. Jerry M. Lewis, professor emeritus of sociology, with the help of students.

Because our community comprises students, faculty and staff from a rich diversity of backgrounds and multiple generations, this year’s commemorative events will, as always, elicit a range of responses — from apathy to anger to anguish. It’s understandable that the May 4 tragedy holds little or no meaning for many members of our community — especially those who, in 1970, were decades from being born. If you are part of that group, or too young to remember the polarizing Vietnam Era, you may not understand the continuing interest in the event and its anniversaries, and you may be perplexed by the continuing commitment to keeping the memory of May 4 alive.

Whether or not you feel a personal connection to the events and aftermath of May 4, 1970, I don’t think there is any question that the lessons of that day remain relevant, and that they are — or should be — important to Americans of all ages, backgrounds and political perspectives. Those lessons center on the dangers of taking democracy for granted. We must be vigilant about protecting and promoting the democratic values we cherish, including freedom of thought and expression; tolerance, respect and opportunity for all people; social engagement; and nonviolent conflict resolution. Doing just that is at the heart of the university’s annual Symposium on Democracy. This year’s symposium, which is free and open to everyone, will be held May 4 and 5 (details and a full schedule are available at

If you want to understand why the events of May 4, 1970, hold a prominent place in the pages of American history — and if you want to understand why the event holds so much meaning for many students who walked here 39 years ago and for countless other members of the Baby Boom generation — I encourage you to attend one or more of this year’s commemorative events. Whatever you choose to do, I hope that you take a moment to appreciate the privilege of living in our great democracy.

– Lester Lefton