March Update from the President
Dear Members of the Kent State University Community:
As we approach the midpoint of the semester, I write today to thank you for your continued efforts to advance our work together and to provide an update on issues central to the university's success.
State Budget Proposal
Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to offer testimony before the House Higher Education Subcommittee on Gov. John Kasich's state budget proposal that is now being deliberated in the Ohio House of Representatives as House Bill 49. The proposal includes the following provisions related to higher education:
- State Share of Instruction (SSI) — The proposal allows for a 1 percent increase each year in SSI funding, which is allocated to public colleges and universities based on a formula that takes into account university performance in areas such as retention and graduation rates. Under this plan, Kent State's projected SSI increase would be $1.52 million in Fiscal Year 2018 and $3.04 million in Fiscal Year 2019.
- Tuition and Fees — The proposal freezes all tuition and fees, including general, educational and special fees but does not include auxiliary fees such as room and board.
- Textbooks — The proposal introduces a new policy to include textbook costs in the tuition and fee structure and to cap that cost at $300 per year per student. For Kent State, the unfunded cost for textbooks in House Bill 49 is between $300 and $900 per student for a potential annual loss to the university of $17 million to $30.6 million. The textbook policy would be implemented in the second year of the biennium.
- Need-Based Financial Aid — The proposal provides a 3 percent increase in the Ohio College Opportunity Grant (OCOG). The income eligibility threshold for OCOG would increase from $75,000 to $95,000.
As a member of the Inter-University Council (IUC) and through the efforts of our government relations team, we are advocating for stronger levels of support for higher education through an increase in SSI and elimination of the fee freeze and textbook policy. You can view the full text of my testimony online.
Outcomes From Board of Trustees Meeting
The Kent State University Board of Trustees met for its quarterly meeting March 2 on the Kent Campus. The Board approved several strategic items, including:
- The creation of the new School of Peace and Conflict Studies within the College of the Arts and Sciences. This is a critical step to enhance Kent State's reputation as a leading institution of research, teaching and practice in constructive conflict management.
- Following a competitive bid and review process, the Board approved the recommendation to begin contract negotiations with Aramark LLC for dining services and PepsiCo for exclusive cold beverage rights. Both contracts will transform the student experience throughout the university system. We offer sincere thanks and appreciation to vice presidents Shay Little and Mark Polatajko and the entire systemwide committee that collaborated to oversee and implement the highly complex RFP and review processes for these contracts.
- The Board also approved a University Employee Separation Plan for eligible staff (those who have at least 15 years of service or are eligible for retirement) effective for this academic year. Discussions are underway to offer a similar plan for faculty for the 2017-2018 academic year.
Healthiest Campus in America
We are making strides in achieving our goal of becoming the healthiest campus in America. Many programs related to smoking cessation and positive lifestyles have been offered in this academic year. We will launch our smoke-free, tobacco-free policy beginning July 1, 2017. I want to thank our Division of Human Resources and Division of Student Affairs in their partnership to ensure our campus is prepared to join the many other universities across the nation that have implemented similar policies.
Congratulations to the Division of Student Affairs in the grand opening of a new fitness facility, Tri-Rec. This new 7,000-square-foot fitness facility is exclusively for on-campus students and is located above the Tri-Towers Rotunda. This convenient space includes more than 70 exercise machines and free weights for an in-and-out workout. Happy fitness journeys!
The negotiations for new dining and beverage contracts will afford the university impressive options systemwide for enhancement of healthy behaviors and improvements in our dining facilities.
Comprehensive Facilities Master Planning Process Underway
We have launched a collaborative process to create a comprehensive facilities master plan for the Kent Campus, a major planning initiative approved by the Board of Trustees at its September 2016 meeting. The integrated architecture, engineering and planning firm SmithGroupJJR is serving as our consulting partners on this project, and they will be here on many occasions throughout the spring, summer and fall to gather data, engage with the stakeholders and seek feedback and ideas.
SmithGroup's March 15-16 visit will include more than 20 separate meetings with approximately 100 faculty, staff, students and community leaders to discuss nearly all aspects of the university's operations and strategic goals. An open campus community comment table will be set up in the Kent Student Center lobby from noon-2 p.m. on Thursday, March 16, to solicit feedback from the general population.
Additional public comment sessions will take place in April for the campus community, city of Kent residents, local business owners and other interested community members to offer thoughts at the start of the planning process. We will soon provide a web presence where information about these and other meetings will be posted and where community members can share advice and input and stay up to date on the status of the project. We aim to complete the plan in time to seek Board of Trustees approval at the December meeting.
We will continue to seek additional ways to bring members of the community together to discuss aspirations and issues of concern while also building on our traditional events and networking opportunities. Since the start of the semester, we have seen a number of creative expressions of unity, including:
- The School of Journalism and Mass Communication's panel discussion titled "Journalism's Way Forward: Looking Back at Election 2016 and Envisioning the Future";
- The Division of Student Affairs and the Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion's KENTtalks featuring "Let's Talk Trump: Understanding Both Sides of the Vote";
- Undergraduate Student Government's gathering at Manchester Field that drew some 500 students for hot chocolate and s'mores around a roaring fire; and
- The Employee Wellness Office's Gratitude Graffiti project that is inviting us to experience the beneficial health effects of gratitude. Some 80 interactive displays of gratitude can be found across the Kent State system.
Looking ahead, screenings of the award-winning film "Hidden Figures" on the Stark Campus, Feminist Fridays on the Kent Campus, and other gatherings and events populate our #KentStateUnited programming agenda. All colleges, divisions and departments are invited to consider how they will express their own #KentStateUnited vision.
We can feel the momentum of the spring semester building as we receive invitations and announcements of events such as the Undergraduate Symposium on Research, Scholarship and Creative Activity; the Graduate Research Symposium; and our annual Faculty Appreciation Week among many other programs and celebrations. I look forward to joining in these traditions and continuing to build new ones as a meaningfully engaged and united Kent State family.
With best regards,