Evaluating the president

Last week, the Daily Kent Stater editorial board encouraged students to be diligent about filling out instructor evaluations here at the end of the semester.

But who evaluates President Lester Lefton? Students aren’t asked regularly to rate the university’s top dog – and maybe they should be. After all, students paying tuition are the institution’s biggest customers. Shouldn’t the university be concerned with its customer’s satisfaction?

After only one semester at Kent State, Lefton hasn’t had much time to learn the ropes, much less make major changes. Still, it’s worth taking a look at where’s he’s been – and offer recommendations for where he should be going.

President’s Practices

The president provides useful communication with constituents.


The editorial board’s biggest quibble with President Lefton is his weekly e-mail message. E-mail is widely considered to be an easy method for communication – but Lefton’s regular blast e-mail is easy to dismiss, especially when it contains so much “fluff” information, such as the progress of his house or his cat’s travails.

We get that such news is intended to humanize our distant president. But we’re all here seeking a college degree – we can handle weightier topics, such as how the new governor may affect funding or the status of the provost search. Don’t just scratch the surface – dig into some depth.

Then there’s the matter of the one-way nature of the e-mail blasts. They talk at us, not to us. A better method to disseminate information would be through regular interviews with student media, including TV-2, Black Squirrel Radio and, of course, the Stater. Those conversations would allow for questions, answers and follow-up questions – truly informing your constituency.

Of course, that brings us to our next point:

The president makes himself readily available for student consultation.


In all honesty, if you had asked this question just a few weeks ago, the rating would be “strongly disagree.” Lefton began this semester with what seemed to be a lack of interest in meeting with student groups. That caused real issues for groups that felt their appointments with him were postponed or scheduled so late in the semester as to devalue their worth.

In recent weeks, however, the president appears to have made an effort to meet regularly with student groups. The Undergraduate Student Senate, Black United Students and Stater have indicated he is making himself available more.

That’s a good thing. Now, schedule more meetings – with even more groups and students.

The president is visible at university functions.


Lefton has been quite visible at events across Kent campus, as well as the regional campuses. This is a definite positive, especially considering he should still be in the information-gathering stage – learning about the institution he runs.

We are concerned that too many of them appear to be simple appearances. We would rather see him find opportunities for real interaction with students, faculty, staff and community members.

The president seeks proper feedback before acting.


There was no bigger mistake during Lefton’s first six months at Kent State than his announcement about changing commencement to a once-a-year event. The issue sparked immediate backlash among students and faculty.

While Lefton reportedly spoke to several student leaders before making the decision, he clearly did not accurately measure the pulse of the whole student body. Based on the numerous letters and comments received by the Stater and our online, unscientific poll, the vast majority of students were against the plan.

So what went wrong? Clearly, Lefton did not ask the right people. For such a major decision, he should have commissioned a poll of students. That poll would have told him that his idea wouldn’t fly at Kent State.

To Lefton’s credit, when confronted with the angry opposition, he retreated from the plan on Monday. We are encouraged that, unlike certain other presidents (Bush, anyone?), he recognizes a mistake and adjusts accordingly.

President’s Characteristics

The president treats students respectfully.


From conversations with other student leaders, President Lefton has generally treated students well during this first period.

On occasion, however, several Stater reporters and editors have been present for conversations that have called that into question. Sure, everyone is human and has bad days. But if the president makes sarcastic statements or raises his voice in front of people who might report that information in a publication, what does he do when the media is not around?

We can’t answer that question. And we’re not sure this is a major concern. But it’s something we’ll be watching in the future.

The president shows school spirit.


This fall, few people have shown as much school spirit as President Lefton. Lucky for him, he arrived at the perfect time – the first good football season for the Flashes in a long while.

But every good college president should also be a cheerleader for the institution – and Lefton also has succeeded in that regard.


Overall, rate the president for his first semester at Kent State.


Admittedly, it’s difficult to rate President Lefton in the few short months he’s been here. As he stated when he first arrived, his first order of business has been to familiarize himself with the massive institution he runs. And from our outside observer standpoint, that’s what he has done.

Not all of Lefton’s initial actions have been received positively. The early lack of access by student groups was not a smart move. But he has proved in recent weeks that he is willing to meet. He also reversed course on the ill-conceived single-graduation plan. Both of these things mean we believe the president has room to grow.

But for the most part, Lefton hasn’t made any major changes yet. There are a number of major issues looming that the university needs to address: state higher education funding, student retention rates, minority student and faculty recruitment, fundraising – even parking.

Now that Lefton has learned about his new workplace, it’s time for him to act. Of course, just as a reminder: After last week’s graduation debacle, Lefton should probably not forget to ask the right people for advice before he makes any further decisions.

Even though the president’s learning process continues, we’re certain next semester’s editorial board will have a lot more on which to evaluate him.

The above editorial is the consensus opinion of the Daily Kent Stater editorial board.