State of the University Address 2018

State of the university address
kent state university
president Beverly warren
Nov. 7, 2018


opening video

Opening Video: Year in Review 2018 (00:02:08)

Annual Report

full Speech

Thank you very much, Laina. I am honored by your introduction but most importantly, I am deeply grateful for you and your fellow journalists of The Kent Stater for embracing the important role of accurate and balanced reporting. I know you, like many of us, are a bit bleary-eyed and sleep deprived after following last night’s election results.

It is a pleasure to be with you once again for one of my favorite annual rituals: my report to you on the state of Kent State University. I especially want to welcome our colleagues who are joining us from our Kent State campuses across the region. Your presence is especially meaningful to me, since this is the last time I will have the privilege of performing this duty as your president.

I think you know I do not wear my heart on my sleeve. But today I wear Kent State especially close to my heart. This suit was designed for me by Professor Linda Ohrn-McDaniel, who directs the TechStyleLAB at our Fashion School. The suit, like its creator, is undeniably Kent State. The words of our mission, vision and core values are literally woven into the fabric. I am as honored to wear this suit, as any academic regalia I have worn at convocations and commencements over the years. I want you to know I will always hold Kent State values this close. 

In my years as president, this report has always begun with a brief review of outstanding accomplishments by Kent State faculty, students, and staff. I see no reason to break tradition now. Especially as we have had a most noteworthy year. And little in my service as your president, gives me more pleasure than turning the spotlight on those who have earned it, and who particularly deserve our esteem and our applause.

Let me start by recognizing eight Kent State professors for accolades from outside Kent State, at a national or international level. 

First, Professor of Art Education Robin Vande Zande. She received three national awards from the National Art Education Association for outstanding achievement in the field of art and design education. Professor Vande Zande was also named a Distinguished National Fellow of that Association.

I want to recognize Tameka Ellington, associate professor in our Fashion School. The International Textile and Apparel Association this year gave Professor Ellington its Rising Star Award for her work in African culture and fables. 
From fashion to business: Wendy Tietz, Professor of Accounting, has again been recognized for groundbreaking teaching practices. For the second time this decade, Professor Tietz won the Bea Sanders Teaching Innovation Award from the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants.

We are proud of the recognition for Associate Professor of Psychological Sciences Karin Coifman. The National Institute of Mental Health awarded Professor Coifman a five-year research grant in the amount of $2.7 million dollars to support her study of affective disease.

In addition, three Kent State professors were honored this year by the National Science Foundation. The Faculty Early Career Award goes to the most promising up-and-coming scientists, and provides up to $500,000 to build a firm scientific footing for innovative research.

  • Assistant Professor of Physics and astrophysicist Veronica Dexheimer received the award for her research into the dense phases of neutron stars. 
  • Assistant Professor of Geology and environmental geochemist Elizabeth Herndon was recognized for her discoveries relating to the way plants and soils store carbon.
  • And Bjorn Lussem, Associate Professor of Physics, was recognized for his work on miniature sensors that interact with biological tissue.

Finally, there is well-deserved recognition for Associate Professor Landon Hancock, in our School of Peace and Conflict Studies. Professor Hancock received a Fulbright U.S. Scholar Award to teach and collaborate in South Korea. Kent State will be proud to loan him temporarily to the Graduate Institute of Peace Studies at Kyung Hee University.

Eight outstanding members of our faculty — living Kent State values every day.

Next I'm excited to draw well-deserved attention to outstanding Kent State students. These students, like the professors just mentioned, have earned high recognition at the national or international level.

First, we are proud of Megan Swoger, Class of 2018, who not only graduated magna cum laude, but was recognized by the National Collegiate Honors Council. Each year the Council names four outstanding Portz Scholars from the ranks of undergraduates nationwide. For her superb honors thesis, Megan was recognized as a 2018 Portz Scholar. 

Next, please congratulate a team of Kent State seniors who placed second in a national competition held by the Public Relations Student Society of America. The team of Ashley Purnell, Samantha Ross, Molly Spillman, Arkayla Tenney-Howard and Abigail Winternitz entered the Bateman Case Study Competition with a campaign they conceived to increase funding for childhood cancer research.

 In athletics, men’s basketball player Jalen Avery became Kent State’s first NCAA Division I leader for his assist-to-turnover ratio. Last season, Jalen led the Golden Flashes in both assists and minutes played, while committing just 24 turnovers.

We are also proud of 2018 graduate Holly Speers, named a Division I First-Team All-American by the National Fastpitch Coaches Association. Holly is the first player in the history of Kent State softball to receive this honor, and only the second player in Mid-American Conference history overall. 

Finally, I am excited to call your attention to Nola Daley and Jessica Janes, both second-year graduate students in the Department of Psychological Sciences. Nola and Jessica have both been awarded pre-doctoral fellowships by the National Science Foundation.

What an outstanding sample of Kent State student excellence. Congratulations!
We also have some institutional recognition to report that is truly gratifying. These achievements are the work of many at Kent State, and we should all take note of the effort made -- and take pride in the results.

First, in the annual U.S. News & World Report college rankings, Kent State was again ranked in the first-tier of public and private universities nationwide. We are the only public university in Northeast Ohio to be recognized in the top tier.

Our comprehensive fundraising campaign concluded a record-breaking year, with nearly $45 million dollars in gifts and other commitments. This total exceeded our goal by almost $3 million dollars. As you know, these funds support new scholarships, endowments, and other critical needs in the life of the university. We are grateful for the outstanding work by our Division of Institutional Advancement, and the many alumni and friends of Kent State in Ohio, across the country, and the world.

Our recently released Economic Impact Study quantified Kent State’s contribution to Ohio’s economy, valuing our impact at $3.8 billion dollars statewide.
We are making great progress toward our goal of doubling research funding in six years, as set forth in the Strategic Roadmap. In the past three years, we have boosted funding by 46 percent, bringing our NSF expenditures to $42 million in 2017.

At the conclusion of the last academic year, Kent State awarded a record number of baccalaureate degrees: the most in our history. For those of you who have been here since the dawn of the century, 18 years ago, that is nearly double the number of degrees awarded in 2000.

This year, we took the giant step of securing Board of Trustees approval for our long-discussed 10-year Facilities Master Plan. As you know, this plan calls for investing $1 billion dollars to transform our Kent Campus. We will see the revitalization of the Main Street Gateway and new or expanded spaces for our community. New homes for our Brain Health Researchers, the College of Business Administration and our Design Innovation Hub are the first projects taking shape.

There are other important accomplishments for us to savor: 

Kent State University at Ashtabula is now partnering with Laurello Vineyards to expand its wine degree programs. The new initiative creates educational opportunities for students including hands-on learning experiences. 

Also, Kent State was recognized this year as a champion of student health and wellness. We were one of seven American colleges or universities to receive the 2018 Healthy Campus Award from the nonprofit organization Active Minds. 

Kent State launched a partnership with Akron Public Schools, and the district's Firestone Community Learning Center. Three new college and career academies are getting started, and we've hosted hundreds of visiting students who want to explore our programs.
In a similar vein, Kent State teamed up this year with the I PROMISE program from the LeBron James Family Foundation. This partnership focuses on college readiness and personal development for these promising students.

And finally a look overseas: Kent State partnered with Pontifical Catholic University in Parana, Brazil to launch our American Academy. Students take Kent State classes at the PUKI campus and have the option to complete their degree here in the U.S.

So I think we can agree that on nearly every front, this has been a most exciting year! Congratulations to all! 

As you all know, this is the last time I will have the honor to stand before you and report on the state of the university. My term as your president will conclude next year. I have been deeply touched by the expressions of support and affection so many of you have offered, and I make this move with a tremendous measure of mixed feelings. This has been the most gratifying and fulfilling work of my career, and I feel incredibly fortunate to have had this time with all of you. 

Yet it is time for change. We all change as we move through life. The key is to get comfortable with regular transformation. To shed our fear of evolution, and embrace whatever is next. 

Transformation is my theme today. And not my own. I want to talk instead about accelerating the necessary and continuing transformation of Kent State University. 

Like all universities, our institution must respond to a changing world — a challenging new century. Unlike most, Kent State is well equipped to lead in a rapidly changing environment, and define benchmarks and best practices for future learning.

It is not in our DNA to fall meekly in line — to be an "us-too" kind of institution, content for others to innovate and lead the way. That is not Kent State. But serious transformation is never easy. It requires us to let go of predictable ways, and embrace something new and unfamiliar.

Kent State has great strength here. We have a history of tackling hard challenges with wisdom, logic, and heart. We are particularly good at reflecting, as a community, about where we have been and where we are going. 

We have another such opportunity now.

We have always sought to be a "students-first" university. That commitment alone is a clear case for change — because students of today are truly out in front of us. 

They are already transforming. They expect to learn differently. They respond to different stimuli. They team up; they explore; they generate insight in unexpected ways. 

We, meanwhile, cannot behave like a business that clings to tried-and-true products as public tastes and priorities change. We cannot force a 1998 curriculum on a 2018 student. You might say we do not want to be Sears and Roebuck in an Amazon world.   

In this era of uncertainty, what then, must we do? 

Will Kent State choose to tread water? Hunker down in our silos, turning our energies to self-preservation? Or have we arrived at a moment of singular opportunity and power? 

I propose that this is not a moment from which we can hide. It is a moment to seize. It is time to come together — in fundamental affirmation of who we are as a university, and the values that set us apart. 

This can be our moment to make a bold statement: Students today deserve more from their university experience, and Kent State is positioned to deliver.

Here we demonstrate that we know being a "students first" university means changing to anticipate their new aspirations and needs.  

Here we affirm our core belief:  Kent State transforms lives and communities through the power of discovery, learning, and creative expression in an inclusive environment. We support students in discovering their passion and purpose. That is a quantum leap from the outmoded, quantitative system of rigid curricular confines. 
We will never see a better moment to say: this is who we are and what we stand for; these are the students we attract; this is how we innovate; this is real impact that improves lives and communities.     

But to make that case convincingly, we must love the prospect of transformation. Including our own transformation.

We can opt for turf defense and passive resistance to change. But that would run counter to our innate drive to lift and lead. And in our hearts we know we are at our best when we put the community ahead of our own self-interest. Better for us to find the spirit to transform our work together, joyfully and optimistically. As our teaching and learning environment evolves, Kent State elevates to a higher level of impact.  

Now, you may fairly ask: what does transformation look like with a change of leadership coming, and the Strategic Roadmap in place — a roadmap we crafted collectively, from the ground up?  

Our mission, vision, and Roadmap provide great clarity and strength of purpose. We should all be proud of our joint efforts to define a more distinctive Kent State — a more perfect union, if you will. But the university must deliver on the promise we articulated. We have to execute. A lofty mission without skillful execution becomes merely rhetoric.

So today, we take the next step. And I call on all of us to recommit to, and revitalize, the teaching and learning spirit at the heart of this great university. I call on all of us to put interdisciplinary, team-based work at the center of everything we do. 

We must deliver on our promise to lift up the student experience, and remain true to our authentic selves in the process.

When we do, we will see:

Fearless reinvention in the face of change can be beautiful.

Where should Kent State start? The logical place is our most important work: the teaching and learning process. Now is the time to reimagine a distinctive environment that stimulates students, faculty, and staff alike. In this powerful learning environment, we must remember — all of us are teachers. 

What if we all felt empowered and secure enough to say: everything is on the table, there are no sacred cows? Our academic programs, our learning experiences, must align with the needs and expectations of 21st-century students.  From the major requirements at our colleges to the Core Curriculum. Literally, everything we do must support students to fulfill their highest aspirations. We must embrace a common, unifying goal:  invent new models of teaching, learning, and interaction that are meaningful, relevant, and forward-facing.

If we could innovate without penalty, how would we act?

To take one example, the Kent Core is ripe for reinvention. The Higher Learning Commission has challenged us to frame the distinct value and attributes of a Kent State degree – by transforming our general education. The timing is ripe to boldly reimagine a renewed, more relevant Core Curriculum with a distinctive blend of teaching, research and creative excellence. 

We say we are a "students-first" university. Here is our moment to display the courage to march into the future as a unified community — dedicated to learning. A place where every student – and every member of our faculty and staff — are devoted to a life of purpose, and to making the world a better place.

I am not here to define terms for new teaching models, or to pour the foundation for a reimagined learning environment. I am here to support this work by our stellar and passionate community throughout this great eight-campus system. Now is the time for you to lead.

Now, I understand the pragmatic barriers. Most of us feel more comfortable staying anchored to what we know. That must change. Our commitment to transformation requires it. Think about it:  What if we had new ways to support faculty and staff — as well as students — in riskier, more audacious, interdisciplinary endeavors? 

What if we rewarded collaborative efforts as readily as individual triumphs? With more and better incentives to support one another, what more could we accomplish?  

With the right impetus, collaboration can be energizing — even a chance to reboot our academic and professional lives. With the right institutional support, more people can dare to dream boldly. And as we set out to optimize Kent State for a future of living, learning, and working together, there really are just two keys. A thirst for collaborative innovation. And freedom to dream bold dreams.  

We would not be starting from zero. Bold, innovative learning experiences already surround us. Dean Mark Mistur was just named one of the country's top 25 architecture educators — in part for his passionate belief in the power of interdisciplinary, collaborative teams. Dean Mistur's approach focuses not only on architecture and design, but includes disciplines as varied as public health and advanced materials.

Associate Professor Catherine Leslie, of our Fashion School, reveals the power of collaborative innovation in another way. Professor Leslie joined academic life after many other endeavors, and because of that makes our story even richer and more diverse.

Video: Catherine Leslie, Phd - Fashion Professor

We should take a close look at Catherine's and Mark's passion for fearless reinvention and recognize the potential for Kent State and ourselves. Together, we can roll back the barriers to the new learning environment this changing world requires.

When that happens, Kent State University will be a more vibrant, innovative place.  The transformation will bring numerous benefits. 

We already see how we thrive academically and culturally when different disciplines and perspectives collide. Diversity will catalyze even more creative excellence. If we fully embrace this spirit of transformation, we will become known as an epicenter of kinetic innovation. 

In the classroom, we will see more dynamic interaction. More problem-based learning, flipped classrooms, and other pedagogies we know resonate with today's students. More experiments, some with unpredictable compound impact. Less "death by PowerPoint" in our classrooms across Northeast Ohio.

We will help students transform from a state of "knowing" — to a focus on "being." So they think critically amid ambiguity and uncertainty. We will be far more adept at preparing our students for a dramatically changing world — a world that demands innovative thinking, and the ability to make nimble cross-connections. In the new century, a critical, nimble, questioning intellect will be mandatory for society's leaders. Kent State must intend to lead.

And I believe the Kent State community will thrive, professionally and personally, in a student-focused system of reimagined opportunities and rewards. When we support our students as they find security in the new world, we will engineer new security for ourselves. Kent State will rise by graduating students fully prepared to lead our chaotic, complex, interconnected world. 

We cannot solve today's new, sometimes intimidating challenges with the same kind of thinking that created them. 

I ask for your commitment today to build a dynamic bridge to a brighter future.

You may be thinking that bridge building is a very heavy lift. But think for a moment about the transformative initiatives we have tackled together, as a team. In these past few years, we have had the courage to actually define Kent State. We defined our strategic roadmap, our distinctive mission, our vision and our values. 

Today I am asking something more of you. I ask you to summon the courage to be Kent State. To step forward boldly and lead. To execute the vision as only you can.

Allow me to share a kind of mental blueprint for thinking about further transformation at Kent State.

  • Let’s start with our learning culture. It must evolve from an emphasis on passive description — to active intervention. Development of new ideas to disrupt the status quo. We are already proving the merits of this active learning approach. Just look at the Media and Movements initiative in the College of Communication and Information. Here, students connect with community organizations, and produce media to address social problems. Under Assistant Professor Stephanie Smith, one group conceived targeted campaigns against opioid abuse. This initiative relies on student innovation to make genuine local impact. In this era, the best universities are not merely static repositories of conventional wisdom. We are called upon to interact, create and drive change.
  • Next, we must abandon fragmentation in favor of holism. When we believe in holism, we say parts of a complex whole are intimately interconnected. They cannot exist in isolation. We must live up to our "one-University" commitment, fostering closer strategic and operational ties among our eight unique campuses.  When we embrace holism, we lift the communities we serve. And in doing so, we lift ourselves to a higher calling.
  • Next, we must enlarge our focus from individual academic endeavors to honor the social co-creation of knowledge. The example of Dr. Matthew Lehnert comes to mind.  Dr. Lehnert, an associate professor of biological sciences on our Stark campus, led a team of students studying the way butterflies ingest liquid nourishment. Their amazing insights inform new targeted drug delivery systems for possible use in saving human lives. How uplifting it is to think massive changes in the quality of human life may begin right here at Kent State, literally with butterflies — and the compound power of our own collaborative teams.   

These examples prove Kent State is capable of dynamic transformation. 

Passive description to active intervention. 

From fragmentation to holism. 

And from a focus on the individual to the co-creation of insight and impact. 

Guided by this blueprint for transformation, Kent State's essential promise will be realized:  to support our students in their own transformation. To ignite a spark that illuminates their purpose. And inspire their confidence to live meaningful, satisfying lives, no matter what the future holds.

We have all chosen this path because it is a higher calling. Since making the difficult decision to conclude my presidency, I have been keenly aware of this special kinship we share. 

All the forces and factors that attracted me to Kent State remain in place today. It is a true community, committed to making a difference in the lives of its students. A courageous community coming to terms with its legacy on the American landscape — one that has assumed the role of the wounded healer. A community that now devotes great energy and resources to peaceful conflict resolution when it has never been more needed.  

This is a community that truly feels … like home. 

That sense of place, that feeling of home, is why I first fell in love with Kent State. There are many more reasons today why I love it still … and always will. But that enduring sense of home is why I feel such optimism for the future of this university. 

Presidents come and go, but a community that feels like home and offers you its heart? That lasts longer than any president. That sense of home might — just might — be eternal. That is up to us and the commitments we make. It is up to leadership from the ground up.

Kent State has a heart that is radically inclusive. A convening spirit that welcomes and respects contributions from everyone.

Kent State stands up for what is good and right about higher education. 

We come together to live a distinctive blend of teaching, learning, scholarship and creative expression. This dynamic mix is challenging to realize. I have never seen it done with greater passion and impact than right here at Kent State, where each of us defines our purpose and uses it for the greater good.

Working with you has been such a gift. In another State of the University address, I quoted from one of my favorite Broadway shows, "Wicked." Glinda the Good Witch sings: 

Who can say if I've been
Changed for the better?
I do believe I have been
Changed for the better
And because I knew you...
I have been changed for good.

I felt that way the first time I said it. I feel it even more deeply at this moment. 

Our journey together does, indeed, remind me of what the friends in The Wizard of Oz went through as they followed the yellow brick road. We too have traveled a roadmap — not knowing exactly how the adventure ends, but keeping faith in one another and learning from our companionship. 

I think of what Glinda tells Dorothy at the end of her sojourn in Oz, after she has missed the balloon back to Kansas. Dorothy learns that she always had the power to direct her fate and realize her dreams. She never actually needed the Wizard to transform her situation and send her home. 

Likewise, my traveling companions, the power to transform Kent State does not reside up here. It lies within you. It — always — has, and always will. Innovative transformation will come to pass, and every bold dream will be realized, with energy from each and every one of you.

I am with you for some time yet. You have supported me for four years. Now tell me how I can support you in the months ahead on this crucial, inspiring campaign of transformation. 
No matter where the future takes me, you will have my undying support. A large part of my heart will remain forever with Kent State. I will need another Broadway lyric to show my gratitude for membership in this loving, caring community. 

I will always believe in you, always stand with you, and never doubt your ability to lead — nor your capacity for innovation and transformation — as you guide this special university toward its brightest future.

We are Kent State.  You are Kent State.  And Kent State, indeed, is in very good hands.

Thank you.