Dr. Lester A. Lefton became Kent State University's 11th president in July 2006. As Kent State president and chief executive officer, Dr. Lefton oversees one of the nation's largest university systems. Kent State's eight campuses provide more than 280 academic programs to more than 42,000 undergraduate and graduate students from throughout Ohio and the nation, and from more than 100 countries. One of the largest employers in Northeast Ohio, the university employs more than 5,000 full- and part-time faculty and staff.
Prior to coming to Kent State, Dr. Lefton was senior vice president for academic affairs and provost at Tulane University, dean of George Washington University’s College of Arts and Sciences, and dean of the University of South Carolina’s College of Liberal Arts.
Dr. Lefton is respected internationally for his scholarship in the field of experimental psychology. An authority on visual attention and memory, his research has been supported with numerous federal grants and has been published widely in scholarly journals. He was elected a fellow of the American Psychological Association, an honor that recognizes his impact on the field of psychology.
Dr. Lefton has been active in a number of national higher education organizations. He is known nationally as a passionate advocate for undergraduate education. An award-winning teacher with nearly 40 years of university teaching experience, Dr. Lefton’s introductory psychology textbook, now in its ninth edition, is used in college classrooms nationwide.
In keeping with Kent State’s strong support of regional and state economic development, Dr. Lefton is active on the boards and executive committees of NorTech and the Greater Akron Chamber. A graduate of Leadership Cleveland, Dr. Lefton also upholds the university’s role as a regional cultural resource through service on the board of the Musical Arts Association of the Cleveland Orchestra and the American Jewish Committee’s Cleveland Regional Office.
At the national level, Dr. Lefton serves on the American Council on Education’s (ACE) Commission on Effective Leadership. The commission advises the ACE’s Center for Effective Leadership, which provides a variety of leadership and professional-development programs for presidents and other higher education administrators. He also serves on the Council on Competitiveness, a forum through which CEOs, university presidents and labor leaders work to ensure U.S. prosperity.
A Boston native, Dr. Lefton earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Northeastern University (1969). He holds a Ph.D. in experimental psychology from the University of Rochester (1974), where he held a U.S. Public Health Service Predoctoral Fellowship.
At the start of his presidency, Dr. Lefton instituted an approach to all university operations that is founded on the pursuit of excellence. He initiated an excellence-driven, university-wide strategic plan to lead Kent State into its second century. After nearly seven years, this approach and investment in excellence have yielded accomplishments, contributions and recognition of unprecedented size, scope and real-world relevance. For example, Kent State has:
- set records in student enrollment and student academic quality
- created a vice presidency for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion
- launched a multimillion-dollar initiative to modernize the flagship Kent Campus, including construction of new homes for the College of Architecture and Environmental Design and the College of Applied Engineering, Sustainability and Technology
- provided students on the Regional Campuses with 21st-century facilities, including the Robert S. Morrison Health and Science Building at Kent State University at Ashtabula and the Performing Arts Center at Kent State University at Tuscarawas
- fostered a new era of cooperation with the city of Kent, including collaboration on a project to build a downtown hotel and conference center
- entered into a number of mutually beneficial agreements with leading international universities
- begun modernizing the curriculum and streamlining the path to graduation for undergraduates
- celebrated its centennial year; completed a $250 million fund-raising campaign for student scholarships and other university priorities that exceeded its goal by $15 million
- saw the May 4, 1970, site added to the National Register of Historic Places and created a May 4 Visitors Center
- created a College of Public Health that offers baccalaureate, master’s and doctoral degrees to help meet a state and national need for highly trained public-health professionals
- added the Kent State University College of Podiatric Medicine in a friendly acquisition of Ohio’s only podiatry school
- opened the Kent State University Regional Academic Center in Twinsburg, Ohio, to expand access to higher education in Northeast Ohio
- set records for federal funding of faculty research
- earned international recognition with its inclusion in The Times Higher Education Rankings list of the world’s top 200 universities
The president and his wife, Linda J. Lefton, have two daughters and five grandchildren. Mrs. Lefton’s strong support of Kent State takes the form of volunteer work on a variety of university events and activities. She is an attorney who served as a state prosecutor in South Carolina and was an academic advisor for pre-law majors at George Washington and Tulane universities. A graduate of Leadership Portage County, she served on the board of the Pediatric Palliative Care Center at Akron Children’s Hospital and on the Women’s Committee of the Cleveland Orchestra.