President Lester Lefton looks forward

Jackie Valley

President Lester Lefton told the university community he plans to “make every student a Kent State success story” by improving diversity and allowing greater degree flexibility.

In yesterday’s State of the University address in the Kiva, Lefton said a special fund is being created to improve the recruitment and retention of underrepresented groups of students and faculty on campus.

“In today’s society – one in which our students must be able to compete and collaborate with people of all backgrounds – we cannot tolerate cultural insensitivity, by commission or omission,” he said.

Lefton said he fears faculty members from underrepresented groups left Kent State in the past because they never felt at home on campus.

“This is frustrating because ours is a warm and considerate community,” he said. “But we have to ensure that everyone experiences that.”

Gina Spencer, student trustee for the Kent State Board of Trustees, said the diversity initiative is a step in the right direction – academically and socially – because it will “enhance the experience of everyone” at Kent State.

To make degree completion more student-friendly, Lefton said Provost Robert Frank will lead an initiative to make the Liberal Education Requirements less complicated and ease the task of scheduling classes or transferring between departments and colleges within the university.

Lefton said the initiative, which will include high-quality advising, aims to “ensure that Kent State offers straightforward and seamless pathways to graduation.”

Graduate history student Andrew Tremel said he is eager to hear what Frank will say about the LER requirements in relation to educational diversity.

“I’m hoping it will continue to have the impact it had in the past,” he said.

In addition, Lefton said he wants to break the barriers between colleges by encouraging more collaboration among students and faculty in different disciplines. He said he will ask leaders of the Faculty Senate to begin a task force to explore interdisciplinary approaches at the graduate and undergraduate level.

Along the same line, Lefton said students should not be isolated within their majors.

“Too often, we label and limit students on the basis of their majors and minors,” he said. “We need to allow our students greater flexibility – not only to finish their degrees in a timely manner, but also to create customized degree programs.”

He said students should be allowed to work with faculty to create unique programs of study that may not fit into the traditional major-minor framework.

Lefton also urged faculty to “seek truth and pursue it” by applying for patents and federal grants to support students’ experience while helping Kent State become a regional leader in research.

Lefton said the goal for this year is to increase grant applications by 200 – a goal he said is “ambitious but realistic.”

“As I see it, Northeast Ohio deserves a public research university of the first tier – the public equivalent of private Case Western Reserve University,” he said. “Kent State has the capacity to assume that mantle.”

Lefton said Kent State’s ability to become a magnet school for world-class faculty and high-achieving students will effect positive change throughout the university.

“This, in turn, will cause a well-deserved domino effect, including enhanced retention and graduation rates, and a much stronger case to make when we seek grant funding and private donations in the arts, humanities and sciences,” he said.

Lefton said with a clear vision for the future, Kent State can reach new heights.

“I believe that the most exciting chapters in Kent State’s history are ours to write together – chapters that will be so far-reaching and rewarding that they will be worth the discomfort that almost always accompanies change,” he said.

Contact administration reporter Jackie Valley at [email protected].