Lefton pushes student success

Dana Rader

President Lester Lefton responds to questions and concerns from faculty members during his first Faculty Senate meeting Monday in the Governance Chambers in the Student Center. MICHELE ROEHRIG | SUMMER KENT STATER

Credit: Carl Schierhorn

Building enrollment, boosting retention and increasing Kent State’s graduation rate are Kent State’s highest priorities, President Lester Lefton said at his first Faculty Senate meeting.

Speaking to about 70 faculty senators Monday, Lefton said his first impression of Kent State is that it is an institution with enormous “untapped potential” trapped under self-imposed ceilings.

“One of my goals – my highest goal – is to help those departments, schools and colleges punch through those ceilings to really achieve national recognition,” Lefton said.

He said with adequate support, programs and departments on all eight campuses could evolve from “good or fine” to “great.” Lefton said this will enhance Kent State’s reputation regionally, nationally and in some cases, internationally.

“This is a challenge I want to help Kent State meet – for our students, our faculty and for Ohio,” he said.

Overall college enrollment in Ohio is declining, and Lefton said Kent State’s fall enrollment will reflect this trend. He said an increase in enrollment, retention and persistence to graduation will benefit the university’s reputation, self-esteem and bottom line.

However, Lefton stressed the major changes needed in these areas will take effort.

“The most effective strategy we have for attracting and retaining students is one that is tried and true,” he said. “And it is the one that requires an investment of time, as opposed to money.”

The number one thing that determines the success and satisfaction of students is faculty engagement, Lefton said.

“I’m talking about the efforts that make students feel that there is a least one faculty member who cares about them,” he said. “These efforts can be as simple as sharing a book with a student who shows interest in a specific topic or asking a student who is struggling to join us for a snack in the Hub. It may seem hard to believe, but a small amount of time and a large amount of coffee and doughnuts can change the way our students experience Kent State.”

In other business, Lefton announced the start of the search for the provost to replace Paul Gaston, who announced his retirement after this year. Gaston will stay on as a faculty member in the English Department.

During a question-and-answer session after his speech, Barb Hipsman, associate professor of journalism and mass communication, expressed the senate’s disappointment with the secrecy for the selection of the president and encouraged transparency in the search for the new provost.

Lefton assured the faculty that the provost search will be a totally transparent decision-making process.

“I want everyone involved, including mother-in-laws,” he said.

“Oh, mine will be,” Hipsman joked.

Lefton also announced he will be renaming the provost position as senior vice president for academic affairs and provost. He said, from a structural point of view, the new title will not will not change the current responsibilities of the provost but will more appropriately reflect the job description.

“I believe this change will signal the importance of academics in this institution, and it will aid in the recruitment of an excellent person,” he said.

The new title is identical to Lefton’s former position title as senior vice president of academic affairs and provost at Tulane.

Lefton said he will ask John Crawford, newly appointed interim dean for the College of the Arts, to hold his new position until after a new provost is selected.

In his first major decision as president, Lefton announced that he will be putting a proposed realignment of the structure for regional development on hold.

In a later interview, Faculty Senate Chair Cheryl Casper said she thinks faculty members were pleased with Lefton’s decision to put the realignment on hold because there had been some concerns articulated about it.

“It struck a good note that the president was willing to rethink the advisability to moving ahead with that,” she said.

The realignment deals with the reporting process among the regional campus deans, the provost and the vice president for regional development.

The regional campus deans currently have a dual-reporting relationship with Provost Gaston and Patricia Book, vice president for regional development.

Book said in a later interview that the change would mean the regional campus deans will simply have a reporting relationship with her, and then she will report to the provost.

Book said she supports Lefton’s decision to wait because it is important to focus on the core issues regarding enrollment and the needs of students and to wait until the new provost is selected.

“Everyone agrees that there is merit to the proposal. There are just a lot of other things we need to work on,” Book said. “There’s not a good use or time for it right now.”

Contact academic affairs reporter Dana Rader at [email protected]