Celebrating President Beverly Warren
For the past five years as the 12th president of Kent State University, Beverly Warren has worked tirelessly to transform Kent State University into a top-tier institution of higher education.
From the day she began her Presidential Listening Tour in July 2014 until the day she led the construction launch of the new Design Innovation Hub in April 2019, she has enthusiastically championed Kent State as a national university of distinction and demonstrated a passion for helping students succeed.
She was the catalyst in bringing the Kent State community together to develop the new vision, mission and core values known as the Strategic Roadmap to a Distinctive Kent State. With President Warren at the helm, this living document, which outlines five major priorities (see page 18) and 16-university level initiatives, has capitalized on the rising trajectory and momentum of Kent State University. And it will shape Kent State University for generations to come.
Before President Warren leaves office in July 2019, we asked her to reflect on the best parts of the job, her most fun days as president—and what she would stow in a time capsule for the future Kent State community to remember her by.
How would you like your presidency to be remembered? As a time when we did our work collectively and creatively. There was never a top-down approach to strategic vision, direction or planning. We made grassroots efforts on things like the Strategic Roadmap to a Distinctive Kent State and our Be Bold campaign, and it resonated in ways even I did not expect.
I wanted everyone to consider what Kent State could contribute in a significant and distinctive way. I do think this university is lifting up its eyes and thinking about making a more lasting national—and global —contribution. We can, and we should, and we must.
With “Be Bold,” perhaps we have more confidence than we had in the past. Everyone still uses that phrase: “Let’s be bold about our thinking.”
When you assumed the presidency, what surprised you? The biggest surprise was the wonderful opportunity we had with eight rich, unique campuses. When I first was asked to consider coming to Kent State, I only knew the Kent Campus. Throughout my time, we have worked hard to demonstrate all the talent we house, at all locations. It is an amazing group of faculty, staff and students.
“From day one, Beverly Warren has had the capacity, the heart, the willingness to be all things at Kent State. She embraced the Regional Campuses, notably with the One University Commission. Her impact on the Regional Campuses is unmistakable.” —Nathan Ritchey, PhD, vice president, Kent State System Integration
What is the best part of being president? A really good day is being able to walk across campus and connect with the community. To go hear what a department is working on and striving for. To visit a student organization and hear about their passions, what they do outside of class time.
If you could give your 2014 self some advice going into the job, what would it be? Be careful about being caught up in the rigidity of the work. Do not suffer death by meeting. Make time and space to celebrate, appreciate and connect.
I wish I had told myself that over the years. Sometimes this job is 14- or 15-hour days, and ten of those hours are meetings, and you have to remind yourself of why you do the work you do, and of the students, faculty and staff who depend on all of us to make good decisions.
What are you most proud of? Certainly, improved retention and graduation rates. Our four-year graduation rate is up 14 percent since we drafted the Strategic Roadmap to a Distinctive Kent State.
I am happy to see more engagement in student life around campus—there is more blue and gold on display compared to five years ago.
Early on, I said that we must address our responsibility to contribute to the scholarship and research the world needs, and today we are close to doubling our annual research grant awards, from $24 million to $46 million.
Great research means a great faculty. Our best faculty teach introductory courses to freshmen and PhD seminars. They are doing top-level research, and they are also still in the classroom, working with our students. I am very proud of that.
“President Warren met with a group of elementary school children who were planning to write a tribute poem for her inauguration. It was remarkable and touching to see her hold this special ‘cabinet meeting.’ She told them about her responsibilities as president and her conviction that ‘words matter.’ Inspired by the visit, the students wrote a poem that ends: ‘You are the torch, we are your fire. Together we spark a new story.’ ”—David Hassler, director, Wick Poetry Center
“Countless times when I was with President Warren around campus, students would flock to her. They wanted to take pictures with her and tell her how excited they were to be at Kent State because of her leadership. And she would always say, ‘Well, it’s the organizations you lead and the things you do that make it such a special place.’” —Shay Little, PhD, vice president, Division of Student Affairs
What don’t people know about Kent State that they should? This is really a unique environment. There is a collaborative, welcoming, yes-we-can spirit that you do not always see at universities. When prospective faculty members come to interview, they tell me it is a breath of fresh air. I have been in higher education more than 40 years, at small institutions and quite large ones, and there is something different here.
What do you think you have added to the ongoing May 4 healing process? In the past five years, we have come closer than ever to honoring and commemorating May 4 together, arm in arm, engaged collectively.
It is important for everyone—every freshman or new faculty or staff member—to understand, know and embrace our history, and to make sure that we are all reflecting on lessons learned as we move forward in our daily work. And we must make sure every voice matters.
We have elevated peace studies to a full program—the School of Peace and Conflict Studies—because we think we are uniquely positioned to lead such a program.
I have seen the university start thinking about May 4 program by program. For the 50th commemoration we have asked each college to think about its contribution, and that has been phenomenal. I am pleased to see that.
We are still a work in progress, but we are getting there.
Suppose you could fill a shoebox-sized time capsule with artifacts from your Kent State years, to be sealed until 2119. What goes in it? I think I would put in the two poems recited at my inauguration. One was by me, the other by fifth-graders in Kent, wishing me well, and it was brilliant—better than mine. A daffodil from my first May 4 commemoration. And pieces of the basketball nets from when our men won the MAC championship and our women won the East Division Championship. And 600 students recently wrote me farewell letters. I read every single letter, and they are precious. Some of those would go in there.
What is your favorite Kent State tradition? I love the painting of the Rock—what you could call our free speech rock. It celebrates, it mourns, it cautions, it shouts, and it is front and center on campus. It is vintage Kent State.
Take us on a private campus tour. What is your favorite place to hide out with a good book? The third floor of Wick Poetry Center. A perfect venue with great curl-up seating. I love that.
Where is the best view? Go up to the twelfth floor of the library. You can see all of Portage County.
Best place to meet for a cup of coffee? It used to be Captain Brady’s, now it is a Starbucks, but it is where you will see many faculty, staff and students hanging out and enjoying the scene.
“President Warren is a real champion of new and emerging programs, allowing us to be recognized as a university of national distinction. She has been a beacon for our future, creating a culture where cross disciplinary collaboration and research generation will continue to grow and thrive.”—J.R. Campbell, executive director, Design Innovation Initiative
What makes a great Saturday night out in downtown Kent? I might start out with cocktails at the Franklin Hotel Bar, then stroll down and take in any one of our great restaurants. Then to the Kent Stage for a show. And then I think I would go to Ray’s Place to cap off the night.
Speaking of the stage, you are a Broadway fan. If you could bring any Broadway show to Kent State, with any star, who is going on? I have always been drawn to music, but I grew up in a blue-collar Southern environment; Broadway musicals were the furthest things from our minds. Les Miserables was my first Broadway experience, in the 1990s, and I was blown away by its power. I saw Colm Wilkinson play Jean Valjean, and he was incredible. He would star. In a separate production of Les Miz, our own Alice Ripley [BFA ’86] played Fantine. So she goes on with Colm.
How has the presidency changed you? I am more optimistic about our future than I have ever been. I see this next generation of students who are passionate and engaged, who really do want to change the world. They are kindhearted and care about their fellow men and women. Some may be fearful, but I am optimistic.
And I have been touched by “Midwest nice”—I think and hope some of it has rubbed off on me. I hope I have internalized the Midwesterner’s approach to life: down to earth, hard-working and nice to our core.
What day of your presidency made you laugh the loudest? My first Geauga County Fair. I grew up a city kid, not a 4-H kid. But here I milked a cow, I petted pigs, I posed for pictures with the winning steer, I turned a prize turkey upside down to judge its breast. . . . I laughed until my sides were hurting.
“I met with President Warren last week for her final interview with Student Media. This was the first time I heard her open up about her mother with Alzheimer’s, whom she is going to care for after she leaves Kent State. She seems ready to just be in the moment, whatever that moment offers. Every time I’ve interviewed her, she’s given off such positive energy. Watching her leave is bittersweet, and I’m not alone in feeling that way.” — Valerie Royzman, editor-in-chief, The Kent Stater
What day made you mentally stand up and cheer? I wish you could have been at the Board of Trustees meeting this March when we passed the resolution for the university to assume responsibility for the May 4 commemorations. We had individuals present who had been student activists on campus on May 4, 1970, who were so grateful for a moment they thought might not happen in their lifetime.
Everyone marvels at how you get through your marathon days without flagging. What is the Bev Warren power breakfast? I make a green smoothie every day. A couple of celery sticks, one third of a cucumber, half a Granny Smith apple, half an avocado and a good dose of spinach. Add pomegranate juice and a few blueberries, run it through the blender, and there you have it.
At the other end of the dietary spectrum, what’s your favorite pizza topping? Anything veggie!
No anchovies? No anchovies. Nothing with eyes.
“President Warren’s ability to craft a strategic plan that is actually in place and followed, as opposed to being in a notebook on a shelf, is a singular achievement. Her energy has transformed us as a university; her energy has made us a better place.” —Todd Diacon, PhD, executive vice president and provost, president-elect of Kent State University
PROGRESS ON PRIORITIES
PRIORITY 1: STUDENTS FIRST
Provide an inclusive and engaged living-learning environment where all students thrive and graduate as informed citizens committed to a life of impact.
Drive innovation, idea generation and national distinction
through top-tier academic and research programs including
the recruitment and support of talented faculty and staff.
Advance Kent State’s impact and reach as a leading international university.
PRIORITY 4: REGIONAL IMPACT
Serve as the innovative engine and engaged partner to meet community needs and enhance quality of life in the region and state.
PRIORITY 5: ORGANIZATIONAL STEWARDSHIP
Ensure a culture of continuous improvement and the efficient stewardship of university resources and infrastructure.