Lefton: It’s time to move ahead despite the economy

Nicole Stempak

President confident of Kent State’s future

President Lester Lefton knows the next few years will be rough, but he thinks now is the best time to continue with his initiatives.

“We are going to experience a couple difficult years, as families are in the United States,” he said in a meeting with Daily Kent Stater editors. “Does that mean the country’s going down the drain? No.

“Does it mean that Kent State is going down the drain? No.”

Now is the time to re-emphasize what Kent State is all about, Lefton said, in reference to the recession and uncertainty of budget cuts in the next two-year financial plan.

“The weak and the faint of heart retreat and say: ‘Oh, we can’t do this. We can’t do that,'” Lefton said.

President Lefton met with Stater editors last week. Here’s what the president had to say on a few important issues facing Kent State.

• Lefton on recruitment: “I’m not going to increase the size of the freshman class, but I’m going to replace students in the 4,000 with these kids from out-of-state.”

• Lefton on fundraising: “We’re concerned – but we’re not panicked – we’re concerned that our numbers of givers are down. But this is our best fundraising year ever.”

• Lefton on Commission on Inclusion: “They’re all very serious, thoughtful recommendations, and I’m considering them now, deciding how to proceed.”

“That’s the time to move ahead on your big strategic initiatives, while others are retreating.”

In a wide-ranging meeting with editors Friday afternoon, Lefton discussed his long-term plans to “bring Kent State up to the 21st century.”

Out-of-state recruitment

He said recruiting out-of-state students requires a strategy and patience.

Lefton said his strategy begins with students who visit their former high school guidance counselors. The guidance counselors, in turn, mention the visit with high school seniors. Those seniors then come to Kent State, have a great experience and go back to their guidance counselors.

The process continues and an increasing number of students apply to Kent State.

“What happens is you develop feeder schools, and there are certain schools that send a lot of kids to a university,” Lefton said, citing Theodore Roosevelt High School and Stow as examples. “My idea is to get the Kent Roosevelt High School of Chicago or Northern Virginia. But you can’t do that in a year or two years. It takes three or four years to develop a following.”

Lefton said his goal for next year is to have 100 more out-of-state students than this year. His goal for the following year is 200 more out-of-state students.

“I’m not going to increase the size of the freshman class, but I’m going to replace students in the 4,000 with these kids from out-of-state,” he said.


Kent State has raised more money through fundraising in the first six months of the school year than last year, Lefton said.

Fewer people are donating money, but those who do are giving more.

“We’re very happy to have more money, obviously, because most of it’s in scholarships,” he said. “The bad part is when fewer people are giving, it doesn’t set things up for the future.”

If there are 10 editors in the room, and eight of them gave $25, $50 or $100, those eight are in the habit of giving money, Lefton said. When they turn 50, the idea is for the editors to give $1,000, $10,000 or $100,000 donations.

Lefton said if only four editors are donating to the university, the likelihood of Kent State receiving those bigger donations 15 to 20 years from now decreases.

He did say, however, that the donors he has visited are “ponying up” and he is enthusiastic about one “multi-million dollar potential benefactor.”

Commission on Inclusion Recommendations

Lefton said he got a report with recommendations from each committee member over break.

“They’re good recommendations,” he said. ” … They’re all very serious, thoughtful recommendations, and I’m considering them now, deciding how to proceed.”

One of the commission’s recommendations is the appointment of a chief diversity officer who reports to the president. Currently, vice provost Steve Michael reports to the provost on international affairs and to Lefton on diversity issues.

The committee recommended the diversity position be a full-time cabinet-level position that reports directly to him, Lefton said. The officer would focus on diversity and inclusion concerns.

Lefton said having the officer report directly to the president is “very symbolic and visible and is likely to have a visible effect.”

Many of the committee’s other recommendations would likely fall under the responsibilities of the chief diversity role. Lefton said he plans to conduct a national search to fill the position.

Liberal Education Requirement reform

Lefton said LER reform is “really the provost’s domain,” but he has charged the provost with clearing a streamlined pathway to graduation.

“This should be a common core of LERs that are simple, easily identifiable that you don’t need to sit down with a professional adviser to figure it out,” he said.

Lefton said there are currently more than 100 different LER courses to choose from. He wants there to be only about 30 so the process can be simpler.

“I’m not saying lower the standards,” Lefton said. “I’m not saying lower the quality.

“I’m just saying instead of having 100 different doors that you can walk through … have a simpler set of choices and count them, and let them count in multiple different ways.”

He also wants LER credits to transfer easier between majors. That means, “if you switch majors from journalism to psychology, you don’t find you have to spend an extra semester here because of LERs.”

“You might have to spend an extra semester because you have to take writing courses or journalism courses, but not because of LERs,” Lefton said.

Contact administration reporter Nicole Stempak at [email protected].