We Don’t Just Survive, We Thrive

Dear Kent State University Students,

As we wrap up the spring semester, I keep thinking about all the challenges we have faced over the past 14 months. The pandemic forced us into uncharted territory. Every day, there was something new to learn and absorb – virus safety, testing, vaccines.

Our entire university community had to adapt to unfamiliar ways of living, learning and working, while dealing with serious economic uncertainty, at the very time our physical health and mental well-being were being threatened.

Yet, despite these challenges, one phrase keeps popping into my head: At Kent State, we don’t just survive, we thrive.

You didn’t just finish the semester, you finished strong. We graduated nearly 9,000 in 2020, and we are on track to graduate this many or more in 2021, including 5,000 students this May. Whether 2020-21 was your first year at Kent State or your last, you persevered despite the obstacles.

Now, as we look toward fall and hopefully begin to emerge from the pandemic, let’s not just be satisfied with getting back to normal. Let’s aim higher.

We can do better. We can thrive.

So, what does it mean to thrive? Dictionary definitions suggest prosperity, vigor and the idea of flourishing. To me, it also suggests doing the important tasks well, doing them better than others and engaging in transformational work.

At Kent State, our efforts to thrive are guided by our core values and by our commitment to providing students with access to an education and helping them on their educational journey to achieve their degrees. We all thrive through the sharing of knowledge and creative activities. We always aim to show kindness and respect in all we do, to look out for one another and to improve the communities in which we live.

Thriving and not just surviving means pursuing change, forging new ideas and reaching for lofty ideals, despite the problems thrust upon us by the pandemic – and we have done this. Despite a year of pandemic conditions, we have still made important and major strides forward.

Our university has made myriad decisions driven by what is best for students and their success, from bringing our dining services back in-house to eliminating standardized tests for admission to Kent State to launching sweeping diversity and anti-racism agendas.

When this university thrives, you thrive.

Our students have shown true grit and determination in their efforts to overcome obstacles and succeed. I think of how our nursing and public health students turned the pandemic not only into an opportunity to learn but also a chance to serve, by volunteering to perform contact tracing and administer COVID-19 vaccines.

Our Kent State Chorale and our many musical ensembles achieved some of the most captivating performances I can recall, despite their virtual format, or perhaps because of it.

Even our student organizations found ways to thrive, hosting their events online, achieving success and building community, despite not being able to gather in person.

You have thrived in many ways, and I know that we all will continue to do so in the future, no matter what challenges come our way. And when you thrive, our university thrives, too.

As we close out the academic year, I sincerely thank you for the many ways you have contributed to make our university a better place. Your academic research, your activism and your steadfast pursuit of your educational goals under difficult circumstances all prove that at Kent State, we don’t just survivewe thrive!

Sincerely,

Todd Diacon
President

Dear Kent State University Faculty and Staff,

There is a lot of talk these days about threats to the survival of institutions of higher education. Universities are eliminating tenured faculty positions, colleges are ceasing operations and those of us in the Midwest are facing a so-called demographic cliff that will see vastly fewer numbers of high school graduates – and thus college students – over the next 10 years.

It feels like a perfect storm of difficulties, and, by the way, there’s an ongoing pandemic.

Despite these challenges, one phrase keeps popping into my head: At Kent State, we are primed to thrive, not just survive.

As we wrap up the spring semester and hopefully begin to emerge from the pandemic, let’s not aim just to hold on. Let’s not declare victory simply because we are keeping the lights on. Let’s not pat ourselves on the back simply because we can pay our bills on time. Let’s not be satisfied with getting back to normal.

We can do better. We can thrive.

So, what does it mean to thrive? Dictionary definitions suggest prosperity, vigor and the idea of flourishing. To me, it also suggests doing the important tasks well, doing them better than others and engaging in transformational work.

If we aren’t careful, though, this commitment to thriving can become a cliché. If every routine operation or if every request for resources, for new hires and for purchases is justified through the lens of thriving, we risk overusing the word and robbing it of real meaning. Instead, we aim to do things that truly make us better and make us different, even while we conduct routine efforts conscientiously.

All efforts to thrive are guided by our core values and by our commitment to access, degree completion and the creation and sharing of new knowledge and creative activities. We always aim for kindness and respect in all we do. We aim to improve the communities we serve, and we look out for each other.

Thriving and not just surviving means pursuing change, forging new ideas and reaching for lofty ideals, despite the problems thrust upon us by the pandemic – and we have done this. Despite a year of pandemic conditions, we have still made important and major strides forward, as the following examples illustrate.

Thriving and not just surviving means eliminating the required submission of standardized test scores to gain admission to Kent State and replacing them with a holistic review that emphasizes coursework and course grades, other successes and as well as the overcoming of obstacles (which is often referred to as grit). A scholar mentioned to me once that standardized test scores best predict exactly one thing: your zip code. These tests don’t acknowledge different levels of access to college courses in high school and widely varying access to extracurricular and enrichment activities. I’m proud that our Faculty Senate voted to remove this vestige of exclusion from the admissions process.

Throughout the pandemic, we have pursued our anti-racism agenda, and this work will help us thrive. It will help all of us thrive. With Vice President Amoaba Gooden, Ph.D., leading us, we can expect to promote diversity, equity and inclusion throughout the university, from growing the diversity of our freshman classes to a continued commitment to diversifying our faculty and staff.

We committed to bringing dining services back in-house. Doing so will provide more opportunities to hire student workers, which is important because multiple studies point to enhanced retention and graduation rates for students who work on campus. It also will allow us to offer additional meaningful leadership development opportunities for our student dining hall workers.

We’re even continuing to fund ongoing campus beautification projects. So many students tell us they chose Kent State, in part, because of how physically attractive our Kent Campus is. In addition, our employees deserve a safe, attractive and supportive physical environment. This attention to detail – this commitment to a clean, inviting campus – doesn’t happen by accident, and it is expensive to maintain. But we chose not to cut these funds, despite the economic downturn, in order to keep Kent State thriving in appearance and attractiveness, too.

We have thrived in many ways, and I know that we will continue to do so in the future, no matter what challenges come our way. As we close out the academic year, I thank you for all your many contributions, which have ensured that at Kent State, we don’t just survive – we thrive!

Sincerely,

Todd Diacon
President