Kent State President
Kent State University President Lester A. Lefton announced today he will retire from the presidency of Ohio’s second largest public university, effective July 1, 2014. He has served as Kent State’s chief executive officer since July 1, 2006.
“I am so proud of where our university is today, and our record-setting performances have exceeded even our own high expectations and captured regional, state and national attention,” Lefton said in an email message to university faculty, staff and students this morning. “Kent State is well-positioned for the future, and the academic and physical transformations we have begun – across our campuses and our home communities, most notably, in Kent – will pave the way for an even more exciting future.”
Jane Murphy Timken, chair of Kent State’s Board of Trustees, praised Lefton as a strategic thinker and student-focused leader whose tenure has been transformational for Kent State. “President Lefton’s contributions to Kent State have been extraordinary,” Timken said. “He has been the right leader at the right time who has brought a new sense of purpose and pride in Kent State.
“Through his comprehensive vision and relentless pursuit of excellence, President Lefton has strengthened Kent State’s position at the forefront of higher education,” she said. “He has led our university through an unprecedented period of advancement and growth in enrollment, academic standards and programs, student retention and graduation, faculty success, fundraising, winning athletics, and public-private investments in our campuses and surrounding communities.
“Over the past seven years, Kent State has reached new heights – in fact, it is at the top of its game, and the board is committed to continuing this momentum,” Timken continued. “Seeking a new president who will move us to the next level will be the clear goal of our board.”
Timken thanked Lefton for informing the trustees of his retirement plans well in advance, allowing for a thorough search for a successor, who will be chosen after a national search process that will be launched in the coming weeks.
Read comments from Kent City Manager Dave Ruller on Lefton’s retirement announcement (PDF).
Under Lefton’s leadership, key university accomplishments to date include:
- Kent State has solidified its position as Northeast Ohio’s #1 public university – leading in enrollment, graduates and retention. Since he assumed the presidency in July 2006, enrollment has grown by 25 percent to 42,513 students, the highest recorded enrollment in Kent State’s history. International student enrollment has more than tripled, and each year the university has attracted a more highly qualified, diverse and geographically dispersed entering class.
- With a focus on college completion, Kent State has made great strides and significant investments in student success and retention strategies. This spring, the university will confer 4,375 degrees, which is roughly a 13 percent increase from last year and freshman retention has risen to 75-78 percent in recent years.
- The transformational “Foundations of Excellence: Building the Future” program was developed and launched, funding some $200 million in campus improvements addressing academic needs, accessibility, energy efficiency and deferred maintenance. Among these will be new or improved facilities for the Sciences; Architecture and Environmental Design; Art; Applied Engineering, Sustainability and Technology; and Undergraduate Studies.
- Key academic objectives have been realized including creation of a College of Public Health, acquisition of a College of Podiatric Medicine, continued integration of the regional campus system, expansion of online programs and courses, and growth in international enrollments and partnerships.
- Kent State’s Centennial Campaign raised a record-breaking $265 million, surpassing its $250 million goal. University and foundation leadership together are building the pipeline to cultivate the next generation of donors and ever-higher levels of attainment, which are essential to the university’s future.
- The university began a multi-year diversity initiative creating a new division and cabinet-level officer, the vice president of diversity, equity and inclusion; implementing a diversity scorecard; and launching a strategic diversity plan with a focus on inclusive excellence.
- With 42,000 students coming to campus every year with expectations of technology that are rivaled in few business to consumer organizations, under Lefton’s leadership Kent State delivered technology-driven solutions that meet the campus community’s demands for support of a wide inventory of digital tools including smart phones, tablets, laptops and gaming devices. Additionally, the university empowered faculty and staff with IT tools to meet the pressures of a 24/7 environment created by the Internet.
- Lefton commissioned the university’s first independent study that quantified Kent State’s annual economic impact to the state of Ohio as $1.9 billion. He also invested in branding initiatives that raised the global visibility of the university contributing to its recognition twice as a “Top University in the World” from the Times Higher Education’s World University Rankings.
- During Lefton’s tenure, The Chronicle of Higher Education selected Kent State twice as one of the “Great Colleges to Work For.” Additionally, for three years in a row, the Employers Research Council ranked Kent State one of the 99 great workplaces for top talent in Northeast Ohio.
- The face of the Kent Campus has changed substantially during Lefton’s tenure. Risman Plaza and many campus academic buildings have seen renovation; campus landscaping, signage and many new student-focused facilities have been developed, including the new Student Green, new student study lounges, and a math emporium in the university’s library.
- Significant progress has been made in revitalizing downtown Kent, creating Ohio’s rising college town and making Kent a great place to study, work, live and visit. With the tireless work of public and private partners, the $100 million Kent Gateway Project has become a reality, including the openings in June of the long-awaited hotel and conference center and esplanade extension.
- Kent State celebrated its centennial in 2010 through yearlong observances, which included the 40th anniversary of the events of May 4, 1970, listing of the site on the National Register of Historic Places, and the opening of a May 4 Visitors Center marking its place in American history.
- Lefton has built a strong leadership team for Kent State, most recently appointing Todd Diacon, Ph.D., as senior vice president for academic affairs and provost. The board and the president have focused on leadership development and building bench strength as a strategic goal, as talent in the form of faculty and staff is key to achieving desired high-impact results in education, research and service.
- Kent State Athletics has achieved unprecedented success academically and competitively; among key highlights of his tenure are the Golden Flashes’ 2012 appearance in the College World Series; consistent national rankings and conference championships in sports as wide ranging as golf, wrestling, gymnastics, track and field; six 20-win seasons in men’s basketball; and football’s historic run in 2012-13, including the first bowl appearance in 40 years.
For more information about Kent State, visit www.kent.edu.