Lefton: ‘I want to be better than Ohio State’

Tim Magaw

Although he’s booked solid and making room in his schedule is tough, President Lester Lefton said he likes to make students one of his top priorities.

“It’s very difficult,” he said. “There’s no question about it because the presidential responsibility here and at other universities is a seven-day-a-week job.”

Lefton discussed some of the issues concerning the university and his job as president during an hour-long meeting with Daily Kent Stater editors Friday. Topics included the rising costs of higher education, taking the university to a new level and revamping freshman orientation.

“My expectation of this institution is to create real academic excellence, not an extension of high school,” Lefton said.

He said the current freshman orientation model is led by too many students and staff members; he would rather it be more topic oriented with a faculty member leading discussion. He hopes the students would connect in a “meaningful way.”

“You don’t force people into an orientation they’re not interested in,” Lefton said.

Although he acknowledged the importance of some of the educational aspects of the current orientation model, such as the session on how to use the library, Lefton said it could be condensed.

“I think we have a lot of smart students here, and they can learn that in three days,” he said.

Lefton said he would like to see about 10 students gather to discuss a certain topic for orientation, similar to the model used at Tulane University where Lefton was provost. Tulane’s program was optional, but Lefton said most students participated and enjoyed it.

If there’s one thing students don’t like, however, it’s the rising cost of education.

“The state has not sunk money into higher education,” Lefton said. “They’ve put the burden on families.”

Every year the state decreases funds for higher education, forcing universities to increase tuition. Lefton said the legislators have repeatedly made clear that they want students and their families to pay for education.

Lefton said higher education is the solution to the economic problems in Ohio.

“No big company is going to move to Ohio if they don’t have fine universities,” he said, adding that the state’s universities are good, but they aren’t great.

The possibility of increased tuition and fees at Kent State, such as a possible $100 technology fee, largely depend on state support, Lefton said.

Lefton will be meeting with Gov. Ted Strickland today and hopes to discuss affordability issues.

“I think (the governor) wants to set an agenda for higher education,” he said. “I hope it’s an aspirational agenda toward academic excellence.”

Some of Lefton’s long-term goals to bring the university to a higher level of prestige include bolstering faculty research and engaging faculty members in the “scholarship of discovery.”

“I don’t want to be as good as Ohio State,” Lefton said. “I want to be better than Ohio State.”

Contact administration reporter Tim Magaw at [email protected].