Lefton hires firm to step up university research

Tim Magaw

President Lester Lefton said research defines an institution. Research benefits not only the faculty engaged in it, he said, but undergraduates as well.

“Research universities tend to have cutting-edge equipment, the best laboratories as well as the sharpest minds,” he said, adding that quality research ensures faculty members are on the forefront of their disciplines.

Although Kent State has strong research programs, such as the Liquid Crystal Institute, Lefton said there is potential for more funded research.

To identify where the university could improve its funded research, Lefton commissioned Lewis-Burke Associates LLC, a government relations firm specializing in public policy interests of higher education and research institutions, to compile a report of the university’s research activity. He said the university paid the research consultants $47,500 for the report.

Oleg Lavrentovich, director of the Liquid Crystal Institute, said commissioning Lewis-Burke Associates to evaluate the university’s research endeavors was a wise choice.

“It was a brilliant idea because research is something very important to the whole society, and it’s important for those that do the research know the funding agencies,” he said.

According to the plan prepared by Lewis-Burke, one of the purposes of the report is to advise Lefton on opportunities for increased federal support for university research projects.

When Lefton was provost at Tulane, the university hired Lewis-Burke to do consulting. He said its consultants did a great job, which is one of the main reasons Kent State hired them.

Peter Tandy, acting vice president for research, said he thinks the report will be beneficial to the university’s search for more external funding.

“I think that it identifies a handful of areas that we’re currently strong in and that could help us improve our external funding and build our reputation,” he said.

In the report, Lewis-Burke identified Kent State’s strongest research areas: liquid crystals, psychology and advanced literacy for the 21st century, which includes technology, financial engineering and health education.

Liquid crystal research has received more than $40 million in outside funding in the past 10 years, according to the report.

Lavrentovich said when the Liquid Crystal Institute applies for funds, it competes with universities such as Harvard, Princeton and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Those chosen for the funding are the best in their field, he added.

Currently, Kent State is a small to midlevel player when it comes external funding, Tandy said. Kent State receives about $30 million in federal research funding. Ohio State, he said, receives about 20 times that amount.

The prestige of a university’s research program is determined by the federal contracts and grants for research and scholarship it receives, he added.

Lefton said in five years, he would like Kent State to have increased emphasis on and funding for research.

“There’s no question Kent State has enormous upside potential,” he said.

A cost-effective way to increase research activity on campus, he said, is to create synergy among the faculty through “research roundtables” that would combine research from various disciplines to foster ideas.

“When scientists get together and start talking about research, they say ‘Hey, we could do that. Let’s write a proposal,'” Lefton said.


Lewis-Burke’s report recommended several steps to help further the university’s pursuit for federal funding. Some of them include:

Internal Steps

– Building an “aggressive research culture” on campus.

– Enhancing incentives for proposal development.

– Creating cross-disciplinary synergies.

– Strategically coordinating its federal and state relations efforts.

External Steps

– Targeting mission agencies such as NASA or the Defense Department for sustained funding.

– Making the university’s research efforts more visible.

– Sponsoring “agency days” to acquaint Kent State faculty with agency priorities, protocols and personnel.

Contact administration reporter Tim Magaw at [email protected].