Tulane reacts to Lefton’s Ohio relocation

Ben Breier

Reminders of Hurricane Katrina can be seen on Tulane University’s campus, even four months after the spring semester began. During the hurricane, two-thirds of the campus was underwater, displacing the entire student population. GAVIN JACKSON | DAILY KENT

Credit: Steve Schirra

NEW ORLEANS – Most of Tulane University’s faculty and staff discovered that Provost Lester Lefton was leaving for the Midwest via Kent State’s Web site.

Yvette Jones, Tulane’s senior vice president of external affairs, was one of the people Lefton spoke with personally about his aspirations to become Kent State’s next president. Lefton spoke with Jones at the end of last week.

“He was very excited about Kent State and its potential,” said Jones, who was a part of the team that recruited Lefton from George Washington University.

Lance Query, dean of Libraries and Academic Information Resources, was not surprised when he found out Lefton was leaving.

“I knew Lester was capable of being a president,” Query said. “I think this was a logical move for him, and for Kent State.”

Query described Lefton as having a keen, dry sense of humor. He also cited Lefton as a man with strong family values, as the two would often trade stories about the joys and trials of raising daughters.

Jones said Lefton has a love of Broadway – a love he carries into the office.

“When a guy comes in here singing and dancing, you pay attention,” she said.

With all of his personality traits, Query said Lefton has knowledge well beyond his academic and administrative areas.

“He has the best developed academic value system of anybody I’ve ever worked for,” said Query, who has worked under seven provosts across three institutions. “He gets it. His academic instincts are first rate.”

Despite those excellent instincts, Query said the jury is still out when it comes to Lefton’s abilities on being a fundraiser.

“Having come from private institutions, it’s going to be a bit of a learning curve for him,” he said.

Lefton started several initiatives at Tulane, including an academic living program.

Query said Lefton was looking at Zemurray Hall two years ago, and said it was generic.

As a part of the campus planning executive committee, Lefton helped install residential faculty into dorms, turning them into academic dorms.


He also helped create Tulane Interdisciplinary Experiences, referred to as the TIDES program. TIDES classes are small groups that meet once a week for the first 10 weeks of each semester and focus on discussions rather than formal lectures, according to information provided by associate provost James MacLaren.

“Students who participated in TIDES were happier and did better in school,” associate provost Ana Lopez said. “It improved the retention of those students drastically.”

As provost, Lefton set Tulane’s academic policy, assured that faculty and programs were running at the highest possible quality and managed the deans of the various schools within Tulane.

But he did much more than that.

When Hurricane Katrina hit, Jones and Lefton helped 650 Tulane students evacuate to Jackson, Miss. And the help didn’t stop there; the two made sure 250 students got on buses in Houston and Atlanta to ensure that they were able to get flights to their hometowns, Jones said.

When Lefton realized that an abbreviated semester directly following the hurricane would be impossible, Jones said Lefton went into planning what Tulane refers to as a lagniappe semester – an abbreviated nine-week term directly following the spring semester.

“We really didn’t want our students to fall behind in their coursework because of the hurricane,” said Jones, who added that 4,500 students are currently enrolled in the lagniappe semester.

Lefton also traveled to colleges including Vanderbilt and Georgia in order to re-recruit students Tulane had lost to Katrina. Lefton’s efforts helped keep Tulane’s post-Katrina retention rate at 92 percent, Jones said.

Not all of Lefton’s post-Katrina decisions were praised.

Kunal Verma, a former member of Tulane’s Undergraduate Student Government and recent graduate, said Lefton announced huge sweeping budget cuts in December after the hurricane hit.

Verma said his budget cuts took out the college’s school of engineering completely.

“Our engineering school is almost one-sixth of our undergraduate student population,” Verma said. “Lots of students had to transfer out, and after one more year there will be no more engineering school.”

Verma said the worst part about this decision was that top administrators at Tulane refused to discuss this issue with the university’s student population.

In contrast, Loyola University, located up the street from Tulane, announced the intent to make several similar budget cuts because of the affects of Katrina. Verma said Loyola waited until March to announce the cuts, and gave students and faculty the opportunity to speak out against the cuts until June 1.

This isn’t to say that Verma only has bad things to say about Lefton.

“In general, he is pretty well-liked and has been an effective provost,” Verma said. “He has been considered as a president at other colleges such as William and Mary. I have no doubt that he will make a good university president.”

Jones also expressed her approval.

“I think you guys (at Kent State) are very lucky,” Jones said.

Contact College of Communication and Information reporter Ben Breier at [email protected].