Lefton rose from professor to dean at South Carolina

Amanda Garrett

Colleagues who worked with Lester A. Lefton, senior vice president of academic affairs and provost at Tulane University, at the University of South Carolina say he is an excellent administrator and teacher who has the courage to make the right decisions.

Lefton is expected to be announced as Kent State’s new president today.

“If I had to describe Lester in two words, they would be tough-minded,” said James Moeser, chancellor of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Moeser was the provost during part of Lefton’s tenure at the University of South Carolina. “He’s a quality administrator who knows how to make tough decisions. He’s got courage.”

Lefton began his career at the University of South Carolina as an assistant professor in 1972. He held several different faculty and administrative positions including psychology professor, psychology department chair and College of Arts and Sciences dean before he went to George Washington University in 1997.

David J. Cowen, director of the University of South Carolina’s geography department, is a longtime friend and colleague of Lefton’s. He said he had some advance notice of Lefton’s new position.

“I and another longtime friend were with him on Wednesday night,” he said. “He told us he was going to be the president of a major university, but he wouldn’t reveal which university.”

Cowen, who has known and worked with Lefton for 34 years, said the qualities which made Lefton a good dean will make him a good president.

“He is tireless,” he said. “He has so much energy, motivation and vision. He is quick to determine the direction in which an institution should go.”

Cowen and Lefton worked together in the psychology department before they moved on to different administrative positions. Lefton was an excellent teacher who wrote Psychology (ninth edition), one of the leading psychology textbooks, he said.

“He was tireless in working to help students find better ways to learn,” Cowen said. “He understood how important technology is to learning. You didn’t have to work too hard to convince him to add more technology.”

While a dean, Lefton supported the arts and helped build up the geography department at South Carolina.

“The geographers have a lot to look forward to,” he said.

Carl Evans, director of the religious studies department at the University of South Carolina since 1995, agreed with Cowen’s assessment of Lefton.

“He is a researcher, teacher and administrator par excellence,” he said. “You’re lucky to have him.”

Lefton encouraged the department chairs to focus on research and teaching, not only administration, Evans said.

“When I came to the University of South Carolina, he took all the department heads out to lunch and talked very personally with each one of us about our roles,” he said. “He encouraged us to take time away from the administrative load to further our personal growth as teachers and researchers.”

Moeser, who knows both Carol Cartwright and Lefton well, said the two administrators are hard to compare.

“I’m in a unique position because I know both Carol and Lester,” he said. “They’re both very alike and very different. It’s tough to compare Lester and Carol because they’re both very strong, very able and very visionary, but in different ways.”

Contact assistant news editor Amanda Garrett at [email protected].