One of more than 3,500 new faces

Kate Bigam

Kent State prepares for its first year under new president

Kent State President Lester Lefton sits in his new office while discussing his personal ambitions and plans for the university. CARRIE WICKS | SUMMER STATER

Credit: Steve Schirra

When Kent State’s 10th president, Carol Cartwright, announced her retirement last October, the university was abuzz with anticipation about who might follow the popular leader’s 15-year presidency.

Enter Lester Lefton, senior vice president for academic affairs and provost at Tulane University in New Orleans. On May 9, the Kent State Board of Trustees announced Lefton would succeed Cartwright as Kent State’s 11th president.

At 59, Lefton already has 34 years higher education experience on his resume. Before making his way to Tulane in 2001, he served as the dean of the college of liberal arts at the University of South Carolina and the dean of arts and sciences at The George Washington University. In 2005, Lefton was a candidate in the College of William and Mary’s presidential search process, although he was ultimately cut from the pool of finalists for the position.

Lefton called his new presidential position at Kent State “the peak of my career” and said he and his wife, Linda, are thrilled to make the move to the Midwest.

“I couldn’t be any happier,” he said on the day he was announced president.

High on Lefton’s list of goals for Kent State are increasing student retention and graduation rates and improving communication between faculty and students.

“I want to put particular concentration on graduation rates,” Lefton said. “It’s important for Kent State’s reputation, students and finances. Student retention is a very high priority.”

Lefton also said increasing state funding and external fundraising are among his top priorities as president. To help him in his first year, Cartwright will remain on university payroll, working from home to advise and help fundraise. Under Cartwright’s leadership, the university raised more than $122 million in its 2003 fundraising campaign.

As the university’s most prominent figurehead, Lefton has made it clear that he wants to be an approachable administrator. He has begun sending weekly “In A Flash” e-mails to the entire student body in an effort to directly communicate his presidential progress to the Kent State community.

“As part of becoming more familiar with the university and in developing a transparent leadership style and administration, I will explore ways for us to share information and ideas,” he wrote in his first message.

Lefton and Linda, his wife of 37 years, have two grown daughters who reside in California, and they welcomed their first grandchild to the family in early August. In September, the Leftons will move into their first home in the Midwest, where the president said he hopes to entertain students on a regular basis.

Check out for more about Kent State’s 11th president.

Contact administration reporter Kate Bigam at [email protected].


• On July 1, the Kent State Board of Trustees named the Carol A. Cartwright Auditorium in the former president’s honor.

• Bowman Hall, home to the College of Arts and Sciences, was named after George A. Bowman, president of the university from 1944 to 1966.

• As the third residence hall built on campus, Engleman Hall, was named after James O. Engleman, president from 1928 to 1937.

• In honor of Robert I. White, president of Kent State from 1963 to1971, the location of the College of Education, White Hall, was named after him.

• McGilvrey Hall was named for John J. McGilvrey, first president of the university from 1912 to 1926.


• A fan of the artistic and the intellectual, Lefton said he makes his own stained glass windows. He likes music, theater and the symphony. Model railroading, bicycling, stamp collecting and painting all make his list of favorite things to do.

• Even with his busy schedule, one thing does get done at least 40 minutes a day for six days a week. “I always exercise. The elliptical is my favorite easier on the knees,” he said.


• “Dream bigger dreams. We seem to think we can only go so far. It’s like we’ve set up a glass ceiling. Let’s be great. Why not? There is so much talent. I want (Kent State) to dream big and turn those dreams into realities.”